Treasures Found in the MidWest

Finding the humor in everyday life: from tick removal inventions, hay harvest between lanes on the highway, to hand-painted 5-gallon buckets that serve as outdoor porch lights and the graffiti on water towers (or is it?).

Growing up in Kansas, I always thought that the MidWest was defined only by the central states due North and South of Kansas: Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma. Period. The first time I heard Ohio was considered MidWest, I didn’t understand because it was so far Northeast from where I lived. However, after living back East and having traveled across the country I have discovered that the state lines are blurry and the transition from East to West, North to South can be subtle in some places and abrupt in others.

For instance, driving East from Silicon Valley to Reno is abrupt with 3 distinct landscapes: city, mountains, and desert all in one day.

Traveling West from Arkansas to Oklahoma is a subtle shift from mountains to the Plains; from rich in arts to rich in oil; from hot to…well, still hot. The accents are similar. Maybe a little more “twangy” in Arkansas while Oklahoma has more of a “draw.”

And traveling from Oklahoma, across Texas to New Mexico and then North to Colorado is a treat to experience: plains, desert and finally mountains. And my favorite: the clouds. They look like cartoon clouds and commonly arrive in the afternoon and sometimes gift us with a few minutes of thirst-quenching rain before going away.

But First…Family & Cake

Did I mention cake? Lisa is an incredible cake baker and decorator! We talked cake at Erika and Steve’s wedding and I casually mentioned my upcoming birthday. Lisa’s generous offer to bake a delicious chocolate cake with buttercream icing came true. Yum!

Meeting up with family along our journeys are the emotional connections that keep family bound between visits, miles, and time. One thing is sure, whether you share the same values or simply an appreciation of adventure there is a sense of comfort of being with family. When we got to Rick and Dianne’s, we comfortably dropped right in. It may have been years since seeing Dianne in person but we didn’t miss a beat. Her tour of Bartlesville gave me great insight to her community from her point of view as assistant superintendent—the many elementary and middle schools she oversees and demographics of each school and the surrounding neighborhood. She asked great questions about what I have learned since leaving DC, our transition and how we perceive our future. I love this. It’s what I ask myself frequently and part of the stories I tell myself. While I had a hard time articulating it at the time. I have given much thought since and I appreciate her prompting as I know that the closer I get to our final destination, the more we will be asked this question.

What a tight-knit family! From the menagerie (not pictured: Annie) to sharing the fun in chores and creativity, we ended up spending an extra day with the Martinez clan of Oklahoma.

Lisa made a wonderful tour guide at the Price Tower and Rick made a wonderful guide at the Phillips 66 museum.

The Tower, a.k.a. Tree that Escaped the Crowded Forest, Frank Lloyd Wright’s only skyscraper is truly a Bartlesville and Oklahoma treasure. Based on the equilateral triangle and faced in copper, the 221′ tower tapers to a single conference room at the top and has 2 elevators. The building was built for business, retail, and residential. As part of the sale of Phillips 66, the building and adjacent outdoor sculpture garden were left to the Price Tower Arts Center (as it should be) and continues to house offices and retail and is also a hotel.

Bartlesville surprised us. More than just a small town in Oklahoma or a town built on oil, it is a rich cultural and artistic community with strong schools. The Phillips 66 museum was free and taught us much about the company, the city, and it’s place in history with the building of service stations across the country and it’s technological advances. I loved seeing all of the vintage signage, marketing, and reading about all of the engineering and patent work the company has accomplished. We met an engineer who helped develop off-shore rigs in the North Sea and discovered that Phillips 66 holds 15,000 patents including plastics that contributed to the hula hoop craze.

Nostalgia rolled in when I spotted this hand-painted gas truck. When I was a kid, I fed my nerosis

Texas has fun roadside attractions: Cadillac Ranch and the giant cross in Groom. It was a fun transition to get us back to where our hearts belong: in Northern New Mexico and Southwest Colorado where the air is dry and the temperature changes naturally throughout the day.

Tucumcari, NM was a big surprise. I’ve driven through it several times in the middle of the night. This time we woke up there and discovered the Historic Route 66 strip with incredible hand painted and neon signs. I’m already planning our next trip with Tucumcari as an important stop. I plan to use it as inspiration for retro and vintage hand lettering styles. Maybe there is another book in me that can be inspired there?

You know you’re home when…

It’s different for everyone but one thing is true, you can feel it. To me it’s how my mind expands in the desert and pure cyan sky, my nerves soften when I breath in the dry, sage-filled air, how I’m aesthetically inspired by the beautiful mountains, and when I feel the grounding energy of the forest. When I asked Ray to describe how he knows when he’s home. He said he can feel it, he just knows, and that his family is there.

Mountain storms in New Mexico are fascinating. Leaving El Rito and heading back to Ojo Caliente for a soak, we drove into a rainstorm. #nofilter #doublehalfrainbow

We landed back in Southwest Colorado just in time for Mancos Days. It usually takes just minutes to get downtown to the park. But with all the people it was like a large family reunion. We met friends and family, new and old along our route to watch the kids at the watermelon eating contest. Ray stayed behind for hours playing with the boys, which seems never to get old and I took a much-needed nap. I settled into Ray’s childhood home and could feel myself unwinding back into myself. It seemed like I was in bed for days. It was then that my dreams of travel caught up with me and I awoke to a new dream.

I keep thinking that this journey will never end, perhaps it won’t. I plan to continue writing as we head to Paonia for the next art residency, or when I travel for work and workshops. This blog has become a repository of memories for us. The journaled backstories and the lessons learned on the road are in various sketchbooks I’m still finding in the car and storage. We will definitely share some of our favorite places from our journey, some stats we have collected along the way, and maybe dig out some photos we haven’t previously shared. Still reflecting on our journey, this has been such a learning experience for us, a life-changing journey that will be with us forever and continues to inform our plans for the future.

Regardless and perhaps this is a bit of an announcement…we’ve finally made it back home.



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