Chili Dog Road Trip Part 5: Cheyenne, Nebraska, Iowa
Chili Dog Road Trip Part 5: Cheyenne, Nebraska, Iowa, and questions about food, not including chili dogs
This boot was made for stompin'
From Santa Fe, we drove a long way north through the congestion of Denver traffic, along the front range of the Rockies, to get to our destination in Wyoming: Cheyenne, the Frontier City. By the time we arrived, we were really tired of driving. Lily insisted that we go downtown and try to find a place to stay in the historical center. This is what I love about Lily. She is such a great travel companion for me because she always has the better idea. I was beat and was more than willing to settle for another Super 8. But instead, we got onto the business highway of Interstate 25, and found our way to the center of town. We drove around in circles, trying to find an old hotel or an inn. Lily stuck her head out of the window to ask a passerby if there were any bed and breakfasts around. He shook his head, saying he just didn’t know. We were just about ready to give up, when I decided to take one more loop. And there it was: The Nagle Warren Mansion B&B. An old Victorian, circa 1888, about three blocks from the Cheyenne Depot, it was perfectly suited to our desire to capture a piece of history. Although it was about twice what we wanted to spend, we decided to go for it, and spent the night in the luxury of the Old West, where the Vanderbilts waited in the parlor to meet the Governor. History is a lovely thing sometimes, pushing people to preserve gems like this. (naglewarrenmansion.com )
Nagle Warren Mansion, B&B, Cheyenne
Downtown Cheyenne still has the feel of the Old West. Its huge Wrangler Ranchwear building, its historic depot, and a wild assortment of huge cowboy boots scattered about the area added to its deep charm. We enjoyed seeing the bronze sculpture of a single woman as she must have looked at the turn of the century, having just disembarked from her passenger train, her hat shielding her eyes from the bright sunshine. This sculpture was dedicated to the state of Wyoming, commemorating the fact that it was the first state to grant women the right to vote.
Cheyenne, where ranchers can get good jeans
Cheyenne Depot, statue honoring the first state to allow women the right to vote
The next morning we headed out after a lovely breakfast at the mansion. We drove again through miles of corn fields, and although a drought has decimated much of the Midwest, these fields seemed well irrigated. We decided to spend the night in Lincoln, Nebraska, and got there early enough to venture out for a BBQ dinner and some live music. After the hotel clerk gave us a map with her favorite spots circled, we found out that driving around Lincoln meant several more miles in the car. Ugh. After passing up the first BBQ spot in a strip mall, we ended up on a tavern patio ordering ribs and pulled pork. We ordered corn on the cob as the side, figuring here we were in corn country. I mean, isn’t the University of Nebraska’s mascot a “cornhusker”? The corn they served us tasted worse than feed corn. We sent it back, not something I do easily. The server had no clue where the corn came from, but she did inform us it was frozen. Frozen corn in Nebraska at the end of July? This experience appeared to shed light upon an issue in our crazy discombobulated food chain. Have the mega food processors actually been successful at circumventing a restaurant’s ability to obtain local corn? Or is this simply a result of laziness and myopia closer to home? Either way, the whole idea is chilling. We later were told by a bartender downtown that he knew this restaurant and their supplier. The corn they serve comes frozen…from California. This depressed us for several days. If we couldn’t get fresh corn in Nebraska, then what was this country coming to? Don’t get me started.
Cowboy ducks for peace
That night we ended up in downtown Lincoln where the college kids, apparently attending summer sessions or perhaps just working locally over the summer (obviously NOT shucking corn), were roaming the streets while an outdoor music festival was on. We ducked into a large local bar and had a beer, which is where the bartender told us about the California corn. I honestly didn’t know they grew corn in California. Of course, the way things are going, the California supplier probably gets their corn delivered from Nebraska, flash freezes it, and then sells it back to Nebraska. Okay, I said don’t get me started. Sorry. Anyway, the nice thing that happened in Nebraska was this: At the bar that night a young man approached me and Lily to compliment us. He seemed sincere when he said he wanted to let us know that he thought we were beautiful women. We liked that and it felt good, regardless of whatever you may want to think about it. It made us forget about corn for a few minutes. We had already forgotten about chili dogs and corn dogs a long time ago. But corn on the cob? Were we going to have to give that up already too? I am hoping not.
A depressed town in Iowa where we ate lunch, if you can call it that
Okay, so one more food item. That is, a story about where our food is coming from and how we need to figure out where the heck it IS coming from. (Forgive the bad grammar, please.) As we were traveling the next day through Iowa, we thought we would stop for lunch somewhere near Des Moines. However, we don’t eat in fast food restaurants, so that makes finding a place on the road rather difficult. Now, I understand that chili dogs might qualify as fast food, but we were no longer ingesting any hot diggity dogs. We ended up pulling off the interstate into the small town of Colfax. We had seen a sign for a pizza and salad restaurant on the highway, but getting into this town we realized that we had entered a place that was extremely depressed. The pizza place looked closed. We drove another block, to the end of the town, and parked. A little “café” caught our eye, probably because it had “cowboy” in its name, so we wistfully thought that it would be a great little place to settle our hunger. When we walked in, both of us had the same feeling, but we didn’t share that feeling with each other and leave. We were polite. We sat down and ordered the “best tenderloin sandwich in the area”.
The place was a dump. There were loads of things piled into a corner, kind of like a garage sale that never happened. There was only one other customer there, and he looked kind of sad. The waitress was nice, but seemed confused that she had customers to eat lunch. We ordered the sandwich to split, along with “homemade onion rings”. I thought, this could be heaven or this could be hell… Well, about 15 minutes later (it must have taken a long time to make the homemade onion rings) we received what looked to be a deep fried piece of shoe leather on a white hamburger bun. The onion rings were dark brown, stringy and tasteless. I don’t know why we ate the sandwich. It tasted like it had been microwaved three times. Any semblance of pork was long shot out of it. Okay, so I DIDN’T ask if the meat was local. My fault. I didn’t think to ask. It is Iowa. The number one type of farm in the state of Iowa is a PIG farm. So, I didn’t think to ask. The heaven part about this particular experience is that we did NOT get sick from eating this food. Proof that there are guardian angels. Seriously.
Now, I really don’t want to end this story about our journey on a bad note. It was a good trip. The Chili Dog Road Trip was a journey to the West and back again. It truly seemed that home was around every corner, as long as we were willing to keep our eyes open. We learned that giving up chili dogs, corn dogs, and dogs in general is probably good for our overall health. Nostalgia at times may render a Chekov-like reality. Which means to say that nostalgia is best left to the past, sort of like the chili dogs. So I guess we also learned to keep paying attention, ask if you don’t know, stay on the road, and keep moving. Moving, that is, in forward motion. And when you order corn in the Midwest, ask where it is grown, for heaven’s sake. And when you order pork in Iowa, ask where it is raised. In other words, don’t assume anything at all. Pay attention, listen, and learn.
Garden in Elgin welcomes us home...
Becky Burns, our Soulful Traveler editor, is an educator living in the Chicago area. Her column will give you insight and inspiration, taking you to the core or essence of the travel experience, something we all feel as a result of exploration and discovery. Look for her monthly postings describing local exploits in and around Chicago, regional road trips in the Midwest, national adventures from coast to coast, and overseas excursions. You are bound to be inspired and enriched, nodding your head in agreement as a familiar reminiscence comes to light again. You can find her work at beckyburns.com or soothethespirit.com
All photos courtesy and copyright Becky Burns