Then, on to Greensburg, Kansas, the site of a massively destructive tornado in May of 2007. We’d heard news stories of how Greensburg and its surrounding communities had faced the tragic loss of community members and the destruction of their town and done one better – they had committed themselves to rebuilding Greensburg as a "green" town. Not only are they rebuilding what they lost, they’re doing it with a true sense of American ingenuity and idealism.
We stopped at the Greensburg Farmers Market and talked with Harlin Yost who was selling birdhouses and other "Wood Creations," as his card said. Harlin, 87, and his wife, 85, had lost their home and several rental units. As we talked, the repeated theme of Harlin’s stories was how thankful and amazed he was by the generosity and untiring support that Greensburg residents received from surrounding communities, the country, and the world. Another Greensburg resident, farmer Mike Secat, stopped to show us snapshots of his ruined home before heading out to cut wheat in the early summer morning. On the back of Harlin’s business card I found this verse: "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might," from Ecclesiastes 9:10. In Greensburg they haven't just gone on with life, they've gone forward.
"Don't Give Up" Sign, Downtown Greensburg June 2008
Harlin Yost tells Jeff his story
Solar/wind powered Art Center donated by KU Students
We rolled across the remainder of the tallgrass, into mixed-grass, and finally through the short-grass prairie of western Kansas, watching, and waiting now, for the appearance of the telltale shadows of mountains in the distance. Those shadows promise the cool, sub-alpine, pine-perfumed air we always associate with "out west." As evening approached, we climbed the eastern Colorado plateau, through Walsenburg, and then into the San Isabel National Forest. We all felt a certain exhilaration to be "up in the mountains" again, and opted to camp above 10,000 ft in elevation. After dinner, the kids played in their first "snow of the summer," since many patches up there were still not melted. The night was a bit restless since we weren't acclimated to the altitude -- I woke several times catching my breath.
San Isabel Nat'l Forest Camp near Cuchara
To GSDNP . . . see dunes to left of sign in distance
Up the next morning, we made our way to Great Sand Dunes National Park. Finding sand dunes of this magnitude pushed up against the Sangre de Cristo Mountains was remarkable. The kids quickly asked for their Junior Ranger booklets and started gathering the info to get their badges. They love this program, and have a dozen or more from the many parks and monuments we've visited. Usually the Junior Ranger program teaches the parent-rangers a thing or two as well. We waded and played in Medano Creek and swatted the mosquitoes as we ate lunch along the creek's edge. We had planned to hike to the top of one of the dunes, 650 ft in elevation, but as the afternoon approached, so did some storms, and the sand became airborne in great clouds across the valley. We were advised to wait until our next visit to climb the dunes. We learned about the Student Conservation Association's internship programs in the National Parks from Kelci, a pre-law junior studying environmental law who led the kids' program. Sherri talked with a 97 year-old man who had helped to build the roads in the park -- again, a richer understanding of a place by paying attention and talking to your fellow travelers.
I look over Winter's shoulder at the Jr. Ranger Program
Sylvie wades in Medano Creek
On our way out across southern Colorado from the park, we passed a huge field of solar panels, owned by a local power producer. It was a hopeful sight -- acres upon acres of panels gleaming in the late afternoon light. It got all of us at Green Family Summer excited, anyway. A hawk perched on one of the higher arrays, screaming at the open brushland around. Someday, I hope a sight like this is commonplace, not something that makes us point and gape.
We came across Wolf Creek pass as we pointed ourselves toward Durango, CO, where we hoped to meet our friends, the Mattsons, from our neighborhood back home. The drive out of Wolf Creek was a bit like coming through Brigadoon -- the emerald valley dotted with small ranches and encircled by plunging waterfalls made a fairytale impression. We stopped to camp near the East Fork National Forest campground on the west side of the pass. Another beautiful night in the mountains.
West side of Wolf Creek Pass, the emerald valley
Salesman Sean, Nancy Miller, nat'l sales mgr of Aliner, & Jeff
It was time for some re-fueling, laundry, and to meet our friends in Durango, CO. As I pulled into the gas station to fuel up, I noticed another Aliner behind a red pick-up at the pumps. I commented to the guy at the pump that I liked his Aliner, and he told me he was a new salesman with Aliner. If that wasn't enough of a surprise, Nancy Miller, Aliner's national sales manager, was inside the store paying for the gas. We had only met Nancy face to face two weeks before when we picked up our Aliner Ease in Mt. Pleasant, PA. Of all the gas stations I could choose, and to need gas at that particular moment, that we would happen to be in that place at the same time . . . stranger than fiction. We agreed that we needed a photo to prove it, and there it is above.
We cleaned ourselves up and met with our friends from home for dinner. The Mattsons make a summer trip similar to ours around the west each summer with their 9 year-old, Joseph, one of Sylvie and Winter's good friends. After a good dinner, we aimed for some dispersed camping high above Durango in the San Juans, snaking up forest service roads, even encountering a downed aspen we had to move off the road. Actually, I let the kids do all of the work. Our reward was a high, sub-alpine meadow with excellent views and enough space to "circle the wagons" and have our own personal courtyard between the vehicles. As the adults caught up on our adventures, the kids decided to build themselves a survival camp, complete with a shelter and grass beds, food storage area, "wheat" field, lookout, camp kitchen, and an orphaned wolf as a pet (played by Mattson's dog, Utah, renamed "Claw" for the purposes of their game). Very impressive.
Winter shows off survival camp
The Mattsons went into the San Juans on a week-long backpack the next morning, and we went back to Durango to pick up a few last-minute items and answer some blog-viewer e-mails at Durango Joe's, a great coffee house with free wifi. There we met an American doctor in Durango for his son's graduation, but living currently in Nairobi, Kenya. While he was interested in keeping up with GFS on-line, he said that his internet access in Africa was spotty and slow at best. When we asked him to blog about his experiences, he said that he had to keep a low profile there, and didn't want any more attention than he already got. Again, an interesting story sitting next to us in a coffee shop.
Viewer mail at Durango Joe's Coffee House
Then we were ready for the road again, refreshed by our clean-up and recharged by our meeting with friends. We were ready to have some adventures of our own. I did a last-minute voice-over from the cab of the Tahoe Hybrid, and then we were off toward Natural Bridges National Monument and, ultimately, Great Basin National Park.
Stick around . . . there's more to come!