Taking a two-lane vacation

For some, the joy of travel is the destination. For me, the joy of travel is the journey.

So it was that Julie and I recently took off for Colorado Springs. Now, unless you don’t plan to return home you need a destination from which you can return home and our destination was a city we have both visited before.

While Colorado Springs did not disappoint, the trip itself was pleasurable, too.

We have traveled to Colorado a number of times, always on Interstate 80 and Interstate 76. This time we traveled on two-lane highways most of the way to Colorado Springs.

We left West Des Moines on I-80 but turned south on US 169 and followed it all the way to Iowa Highway 2 at Mt. Ayr. Then we followed Iowa 2 all the way to the Missouri River and on into Nebraska City where we dropped south to US 136 and followed it most of the way to McCook, Nebraska.

Thanks to 14 years in Sioux City, I am familiar with Northeast Nebraska but had never spent any time in the southern part of the Cornhusker State. It was a pleasant discovery.

Though farther apart than most Iowa communities, the small towns across southern Nebraska appear to be doing relatively well.

A community that stood out was Red Cloud, Nebraska — a town of 1,020 residents that boasts an attractive main street business district and even a community hospital. Red Cloud is the home of 20th century writer Willa Cather whose memory is sustained by the National Willa Cather Center in Red Cloud.

Like many of the small communities across Southern Nebraska, Red Cloud makes Iowans feel at home with a Casey’s Store.

It was interesting to watch the terrain change from crop land to grazing land and then back to crop land again.

We spent our first night in McCook, Nebraska, a city of about 7,500 in southwestern Nebraska. Because of its isolation from larger cities, McCook has many amenities that make it seem larger.

The next morning we left McCook for Colby, Kansas, where we picked up I-70 for about 145 miles to Limon, Colorado. From there we took US 24 southwesterly about 75 miles into Colorado Springs. This drive through a sparsely populated part of the state was uneventful but the GPS unit took us on a convoluted route through Colorado Springs to our hotel.

Two highlights of our time in Colorado Springs were: (1) a trolley tour through the Garden of the Gods Park and (2) dinner at Mollica’s Italian Market and Deli.

When practical we enjoy eating at local restaurants and we found a gem at Mollica’s. The food was excellent and Mary, our waitress and a member of the Mollica family, shared the history of the family and the market. We were too full for dessert so Mary gave us each a Baci which is the Italian word for “kisses.” This little treat is made of Italian chocolate cream and hazelnuts covered by a layer of extra dark chocolate. We purchased some Baci kisses to go.

Continuing our two-lane quest we departed Colorado Springs on State Highway 94 which leads a traveler straight east into the high plains of eastern Colorado. Leaving the city the rolling terrain quickly becomes grasslands and except for a few tiny villages along the way and an occasional oncoming vehicle the only sign of life is cows.

We drove some 180 miles along Highway 94 and US 40 before we found an authentic convenience store in Wallace, Kansas. Trust me, finding that c-store was a great relief. Forty-five more miles of two-lane road brought us to Oakley, Kansas, from where we took I-70 all the way to Manhattan, Kansas, and our last night on the road.

From Manhattan we took two-lane roads to St. Joseph, Missouri. The two-lane highways were interesting enough but I have previously seen much of northwest Missouri and southwest Iowa so we took four-lane US 36 and I-35 the rest of the way home.

I am at the point in life where it’s fun to travel but it’s even more pleasurable to return home and enjoy my own easy chair, my own bathroom and my own bed. That said, we had a nice time on our two-lane vacation.


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