I’ve lived in Florida for 42 years. I’d never been west of the Mississippi prior to flying to Los Angeles, a couple years back. I don’t think that qualifiesbeagle_picnic_table though. I’ve been looking forward to seeing “the west” for a very long time. So, when the time came to say goodbye to the new Grandson, it was a bitter sweet moment for me. I knew it would be quite some time before I was around the Grandson and the fam for some time to come. So, the good bye was rough. But I took solstice in the upcoming destination, Colorado, as this was our first stop in ‘the west’.

Visiting St Louis, first, then leaving there passing the Gateway to the West, the Gateway Arch, like so many others had done in the past, was a great way to really begin our journey west.

Also, like all those folks from yesteryear,  we had to get through Kansas first.  I have to say, Kansas driving is rough. It’s very flat. It’s very dry. The wind is constant, strong and changes direction in an instant. Wind and RV’s aren’t really friends, they have a very pushy relationship. 150 miles in to Kansas, you find yourself begging for a turn, a road sign, a tumbleweed, anything to break the monotone scenery. Another surprise, in Kansas a portion of the interstate is a toll road …still trying to work that one out in my head.

church2Don’t get me wrong, Kansas wasn’t all bad. The sun over the ocean-like plains makes for an amazing view. The wind blowing across the grasslands makes eddys and waves in the grasses. Quite hypnotic and surreal are the flowing patterns created.

We also had some incredible finds. The Basilica of St. Fidelis, “the Cathedral of the Plains”, for one,  took us totally by surprise. We saw the sign and wondered what it was, a short detour off the Interstate and we were there. A magnificent hand hewn stone church, out in the middle of the plains. Most unexpected!  Turns out to be one of :Eight Wonders of Kansas”. We soon learned why.

We parking in the parking lot and somebody’s wonderfully loud & friendly Grandma yelled across the parking lot that we could inside if we wanted to. We smiled and yelled back, “Thank you!” and wandered inside. The outside was impressive, we learned, upon entry into the foyer, that it had been hand built by it’s own congregation. They turned out to be some Russian folks that had moved to the area when the west was being settled. From their website:

“The original founders of Herzog gathered at Saratov from the nine villages of Herzog, Boregard, Liebental, Obermonjour, Marienthal, Louis, New-Obermonjour, Marienburg, and Graf. They left Saratov on October 24, 1875.

Sailing from Bremen, Germany, on November 2, 1875, they landed at Baltimar, Maryland, on November 23 following a rough, 21 day sea voyage. church3Traveling by train, they arrived in Topeka on November 28. They were quartered for several days in the Kings Bridge Building until rental accommodations could be secured in north Topeka. During the winter of 1875-76 they worked out of Topeka at common labor, on the railroad, or for local farmers.

church1Some of their leaders recommended land in the Hog Back vicinity in Ellis County but this was rejected by the group. Eventually they agreed on the site where Herzog was ultimately located.

The first dwellings were erected immediately after the April 8, 1876, arrival on the bank of Big Creek a short distance west of the present town.

The friends and relatives who had remained in Russia were obviously impressed by the glowing reports church4from Kansas. On July 8, 1876, the largest single expedition to leave for the colonies departed from Saratov. Within this group were 108 families for whom Balthasar Brungardt had undertaken to secure emigration passes. This contingent sailed on the “Mosel”, landing in new York and then arrived in Victoria on August 3, 1876.”

From the foyer, we stepped into a work of art whose creation was fueled by passion unmatched. The area commanded respect, shining, glistening, dominating. Stained glass in the many windows told stories. Corinthian style columns, with elaborate tops, all hand carved  – looking today, like they did when created, well cared and loved for many, many years.

We wandered around for a while, taking it all in, in awe of the accomplishments of those folks that built it. If anything were to be called a representative icon of the struggle these people faced, daily. I think this church could be a contender. Such beauty and presence, built in the face of such hardship and adversity really defines the type of fortitude it took to do as these folks did.

After our tour of the church, we loaded back into the RV and continued out journey west. Colorado was very close!

A short while later, we crossed into “Colorful” Colorado. There wasn’t much of a scenery change though, that stayed pretty constant, except for the horizon. There, things were changing, as the land appeared to soar up into the sky way off in the distance. The Rockies were beginning to make themselves known.

Not too long after crossing the border, evening was falling and a boondock at WalMart was in order once we reached Colorado Springs. The next morning we set off in search of a camp site. We settled on Rocky Top RV Park in Green Mountain Falls, CO the trip from Missouri had taken 2 days, two nights.

Before starting the trip to Green Mountain Falls, CO we decided to walk the dogs around the WalMart parking area. I opened the door and walked out, looked up at the horizon and was just set right back on my heels. I had heard the Rockies were awesome. I had, of course, seen pictures as well. But this does not prepare you for the real life effect and presence. I’m not too proud to admit that I welled up at the sight. It would come to pass that this effect would happen many times in the coming months, but his was the first. Never had I been brought to near tears by simply looking at the horizon. It touches you in such a way as to disallow words to be used to describe it.

After considerable time passed, I realized I was standing in the WalMart parking lot staring at the horizon. The dogs were starring at me quizzically, wondering if perhaps i had lost my mind. Truth be told, I had. I knew, then, that the mountains were calling and I must go.

Next – Off to Green Mountain Falls! (aka You mean I have to drive up that?)