Hole in the Rock

Two Days Spent in Phoenix

To wrap up October, I set off to explore another state – Arizona. This trip had been in the works since May, when I decided to throw in a mini mid-week fall vacation. Since Southwest had bargain fares for Phoenix, I decided to head for “The Grand Canyon State”. After arriving on my early morning flight, I was ready to start seeing everything that this desert city had to offer!

Arizona is known for its mountains, and so I decided that Dobbins Lookout, a scenic mountaintop observation point, would be my first stop. A part of South Mountain Park, one of the largest municipal parks in the country, Dobbins Lookout is the highest publicly-accessible point in South Mountain. The best part is that there is no hiking required – winding mountain roads take you all the way up to the summit, clocking in at an elevation of 2,330 feet. Look at those views!

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A stone ramada made for a great place to hang out, while also providing shelter from  the direct sun in those hot summer months.

dobbins lookout

Due to it being a weekday, there weren’t a lot of other people around. The lack of noise made it a pretty serene place to be, and although the temperatures were slowly starting to climb, the lack of humidity kept it relatively comfortable.

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Dobbins Lookout is one great spot to see Phoenix and the Valley of the Sun.

After enjoying the sights for about an hour or so, it was time to explore the city, starting with the Arizona State Capitol. Located close to downtown, the state capitol complex is unlike any other I’ve seen, with a design similar to the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Unlike D.C. though, there was an abundance of free parking!

Arizona State Capitol
Making up Arizona’s capitol complex is the Bolin Memorial Plaza, with the capitol museum and executive tower in the background.

Starting off with the Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza, different memorials paid tribute to military veterans, law enforcement, and firefighters, just to name a few. There was also a 9/11 memorial, and other various markers commemorating the different wars the U.S. has been involved in.

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A mast and anchor from the USS Arizona, which was one of the ships bombed during Pearl Harbor, was also on display here.

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Before heading into the capitol museum, I stopped by the House and Senate buildings flanking it. Both were open to the public, and it was pretty neat seeing the legislative chambers where the laws of Arizona are made.

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The House chamber.
Arizona State Capitol
The Senate chamber.

The capitol museum, formerly the working capitol building until 1974, was well laid out and allowed me to get a good understanding of Arizona’s history. Different exhibits on the four different floors talked about various events in the state’s history, ranging from statehood to a boxcar full of gifts received from France. On that day, it was pretty busy, with a few groups of schoolkids coming here for a field trip.

Arizona State Capitol
The Arizona State Capitol Museum.

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The majority of the rooms were open for visitors to explore, including the old legislative chambers, the governor’s office, and Supreme Court chambers once used to keep Arizona running.

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The old House chamber.
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The historic Arizona Supreme Court chambers.

The capitol museum had a rotunda design, like most state capitols. However, I found it to be pretty small. It wasn’t just me, as one of the main factors that caused the state to build the present day Executive Tower was overcrowding of the historic capitol.

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Arizona State Capitol

Before leaving, I briefly looked around the Executive Tower. It really is as plain on the inside as it is on the outside – nothing but state employees walking around a rather un-appealing lobby. Definitely not worth the hassle of having to go thru security.

Arizona State Capitol
The Executive Tower, where the Governor and other state officials office out of.

After lunch was a journey to the days of the Wild West, with a visit to the Wells Fargo History Museum, located in the heart of downtown.

Wells Fargo Phoenix Museum
The Wells Fargo Plaza, which houses the Wells Fargo History Museum.

As the name implies, the museum is owned and run by Wells Fargo. Admission is free, although they are closed on the weekends and bank holidays. Here, you can learn the story of the company’s history, and how they started from hauling gold and other precious metals to being one of the biggest banks in the nation.

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In addition to different artifacts and relics from their early days kept in glass displays, there were also several interactive exhibits, perfect for families with kids. Here, you get to ride on a stage wagon, get your picture taken at two photo booths, and try your hand at Morse code.

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After learning about Wells Fargo’s connection to the American Southwest, I set off to visit another museum, this one talking about the Native American population here in Arizona. At The Heard Museum, all sorts of artifacts related to American Indians are exhibited, from rows and rows of pottery to different pieces of art.

Heard Museum
Due to copyright issues, I barely took any photos. However, this is a museum that’s worth seeing, especially if you are into art or Native American culture!

With two stories and over 40,000 items, the Heard is the largest private museum dedicated to exhibiting all things Native American. All-in-all, it was an interesting hour-and-a-half experiencing the culture and story of the indigenous peoples.

Heard Museum

With the sun setting soon, it was time to head to my last stop of the day, the Hole-in-the-Rock at Papago Park. One true geological marvel, it literally is…a hole in the rock!

Hole in the Rock
The Hole-in-the-Rock at Papago Park.

One of the most popular places to watch the sunset here in Phoenix, this giant rock formation was created by the forces of erosion over millions of years. Early indigenous inhabitants used this hole to mark the different seasons and positions of the sun. To get up to the hole, a short hike is involved, with different rock formations and man-made stairs leading you all the way to the top.

Hole in the Rock

Hole in the Rock
The view while hiking up.

The hike up took around 7 minutes, although I’m sure more experienced folks can ascent much faster since it’s not a steep elevation by any means. From there, I joined others watching the Arizona sunset.

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After picking a comfortable spot, I spent around 30 minutes up here, taking in the beautiful scenery.

There was some rain that had begun to fall on the drive to Papago Park, which luckily had stopped by the time I began my ascent. Seeing some dark clouds in the distance, I decided it was time to get back down before the rain moved back in. It took me around five minutes for the descent, and I was ready for dinner and wrapping up the day after that.

Hole in the Rock
The beautiful sunset with downtown Phoenix in the background. It was a successful and fun first day here in Arizona!

After breakfast the next morning, I was ready to start another day’s worth of exploring. Yesterday I had gone to see the stuff within Phoenix, and today I wanted to hit some spots in the suburbs. Universities are someplace I usually visit in every city, and so I stopped by Arizona State University, located in Tempe.

Arizona State University Campus
The entrance to Arizona State University.

Parking my car in one of the pay-per-hour covered garages, I spent close to two hours here, checking out the various buildings that made up one of the largest public universities in the nation by enrollment.

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Most of the buildings were pretty modern, and reminded me of my school, UT Dallas. The exception to that would be Old Main, the first building constructed at ASU back in 1898.

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Arizona State University Campus
Old Main.

Old Main, used by the alumni association, is open to the public and welcomes visitors. The lady that greeted me gave me a brochure, which detailed a self-guided tour thru various rooms like the historic auditorium. Unfortunately, most of these rooms listed were closed off. However, the second-floor balcony was open, providing a great view of University Drive.

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Arizona State University Campus
Photos show different historical milestones here at ASU.

After this short tour was over, I continued exploring the campus. I happened to walk into a random building when I discovered a room with a glass observation window. It turned out that this was the operations center of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera, capturing the surface of the Moon in a partnership with NASA.

Arizona State University Campus

There were free posters, postcards, and other small souvenirs that were placed by the guest book for visitors to take. Definitely unique!

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Finishing up at ASU, I stopped by several other places on campus, like the Memorial Union and the W.P. Carey School of Business. Much like what I had seen before, they were new and modern.

Arizona State University Campus
The Memorial Union, ASU’s student union. On a weekday morning, it was pretty busy with students studying, visiting different offices, or grabbing some Starbucks.
Arizona State University Campus
The W.P. Carey School of Business.
Arizona State University Campus
A state-of-the-art video wall located inside the business school.

In the afternoon, it was time to get a real-world look into the lives of Native Americans, with a visit to the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, located in Scottsdale. Having watched various documentaries of the living conditions on many of the nation’s Indian reservations, I was curious to see firsthand how good or bad these communities were. After driving around for a few minutes and seeing mostly barren land, this ominous sign greeted me, a reminder of the substance abuse problems present.

Salt River Indian Community
The sign reads “Tradition not Addiction”.

Not all of the roads here were paved, and there were some crops being grown in fields within the reservation.

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Offices used by the tribal government were relatively modern. I didn’t go inside, but they reminded me of my visit to the Choctaw Nation in Durant, Oklahoma.

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On the other hand, a lot of the houses here were in less-than-ideal condition. Unfortunately, the landscape of the community appeared deserted and run-down in general.

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Seeing how the Native Americans live today was a real eye-opener. Problems like alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence, and suicide are prevalent amongst this group of people, and real change is needed so that conditions improve.

Departing Salt River, I headed for my last destination of the trip, the Hall of Flame Fire Museum, located close to Papago Park. Originally founded in 1961, the Hall of Flame is the world’s largest firefighting museum, containing over 90 fire engines in five galleries. Add in over 10,000 various other artifacts, and you have quite the collection that displays everything in the world of firefighting.

Hall of Flame Museum

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After paying the admission fee, I got handed a binder full of information about each fire apparatus on display, which served as my virtual tour guide. From horse-drawn wagons all the way to modern-day engines, it was super cool seeing how the technology of firefighting has evolved over the years.

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Close to the back of the museum, one particular engine stood out. It was the New York Fire Department’s Rescue #4, which responded to the World Trade Center on 9/11. I learned that none of the 6 people that responded to the scene on this truck made it back.

Another exhibit I found neat at the Hall of Flame was the patch wall. Over 4000 arm patches from fire departments across the world were displayed. I was able to find the ones used by fire departments close to where I live!

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For families, this would be a great place to visit, as there is a small Fire Safety section specifically for kids, with different interactive objects to teach fire safety. On top of that, there is an antique fire engine that everyone can board for photos.

After spending over an hour here checking out all the different pieces of equipment, it was time to head to the airport, since my flight was leaving in a couple of hours. I enjoyed my time at the Hall of Flame, and Phoenix in general. This city wouldn’t have been much fun to visit had it been July, but the relatively temperate fall weather made it nice for all that exploring. Every state that I’ve visited had something unique to offer, and Arizona was certainly no exception. Although “The Grand Canyon State” is now officially off the list of states I have yet to see, I know that since I haven’t visited the Grand Canyon National Park, I will be back!

The chamber of the Iowa House of Representatives

A City Surrounded by Farmland- Visiting Des Moines, Iowa

After a day of exploring Lincoln, Nebraska, I was ready the next morning to go see the other state I planned to visit on my Midwest trip – Iowa. Another place labeled by many as a “flyover state”, I chose to visit its capital city, Des Moines. Located close to the center of the state, it is Iowa’s most populated city. In fact, Des Moines is the only city in the Hawkeye State with a population of over 200,000!

After a nearly two-hour drive, passing by pretty much nothing but cornfields and farmland, I arrived in town. The first destination I went to was the John Deere Des Moines Works factory, located in the city of Ankeny, a suburb of Des Moines.

John Deere Des Moines Works

I took a tour of this massive plant, which I had arranged in advance. Tours are available to the public, and can be arranged by following the instructions on John Deere’s website. Although photography was prohibited, the tour was amazing! Our group of around ten people started off watching a film in a “briefing” room, followed by getting onboard a small tractor with attached seats in the back. We then went around to pretty much every building on the lot, seeing how equipment like sprayers and cotton harvesters are made first-hand.

John Deere Cotton Harvester
A cotton harvester module.

From the assembly line to the painting booth where the famous John Deere green is applied, it was a cool 1.5 hours spent seeing the work that goes into making these huge pieces of equipment.

John Deere Des Moines Works
This tour should be on your list of things to do here!

Leaving John Deere and after a nice lunch at a local pizza place, was the Iowa State Capitol.

Iowa State Capitol
The Iowa State Capitol.

Standing out immediately amongst the Des Moines skyline with its gold-covered dome, the capitol was built in 1886 at a cost of close to $2.9 million dollars. It is the only five domed state capitol in the country.

Inside, many parts of the building were open to the public for exploration, including the Governor and Lieutenant Governor’s offices!

Iowa Governor's Office
The Governor’s office.
Iowa Lt. Governor's Office
The Lieutenant Governor’s office.

On the map I got from the information desk, it showed that even the Secretary of State and the Auditor of State’s office was open for exploration. What’s to see there?, I thought. It turned out there are a few items unique to their offices that makes it worth the stop. In the Secretary of State’s space, there was the Iowa Constitution, while the state auditor had a historic safe that they let me check out.

Iowa State Constitution
The Iowa State Constitution.
Iowa State Auditor's Safe
This safe door was heavy!

Much like the rest of the country, Iowa has both a House and a Senate, and I got to see their chambers. Although the architecture of both of these chambers were not as grand as those of Nebraska, they were still very nice. Both the floor and gallery were open.

The chamber of the Iowa House of Representatives
The chamber of the House of Representatives.
Iowa Senate Chamber
The Senate’s working space.

One of the last places I saw here was the State Law Library, located on the second floor. Gorgeous would be an understatement, as the combination of five floors accessed through a spiral staircase makes this one of the grandest libraries I have seen to date.

Iowa Law Library
Libraries can’t get much nicer than this design-wise!

Although a guided tour of the Capitol was available, which (of several destinations) included a visit up to the dome, I had to get going to my next stop. However, if you have time I’d go for walking the 130 steps up there!

My last stop in “DSM” was the State Historical Museum of Iowa, located just west of the Capitol.

State Historical Museum of Iowa
The State Historical Museum of Iowa.

At first, I didn’t know that this museum was so close to the Capitol, for I would have just left my car in their free parking lot. After a few minutes of circling around trying to find a spot, I eventually found some free roadside parking, which was surprising considering there were meters everywhere else.

The museum was free of charge, and talked mainly about the story of Iowa.

State Historical Museum of Iowa

State Historical Museum of Iowa

The importance of agriculture to the state’s economy was well-mentioned, as there were a couple different exhibits talking about food production and the importance of Iowa in feeding the world.

State Historical Museum of Iowa

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There was also a section talking about the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, or RAGBRAI for short. An annual bike ride going from one side of the state to the other, it is the largest and longest bike-touring event in the world. Artifacts from previous years rides were on display here, and display panels provided me with a detailed history as to how the event got started, equipment used, and so on and so forth.

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State Historical Museum of Iowa

Did you know Iowa had coal mines? I didn’t! A section here talked about the history of this often-dangerous job, as well as life in the mines.

State Historical Museum of Iowa Coal Miner Exhibit
Mining was(and still is) a hard and dangerous profession.

All in all, the State Historical Museum of Iowa was nice, although I will have to say the content can get pretty dry at times. It might have just been me being a bit exhausted from all the sightseeing, but some of the stuff just wasn’t too interesting to read through. That being said, this place does provide you with a well-rounded glimpse into Iowa’s past, present, and future.

Although I didn’t get to see everything in Des Moines, due to me heading off to visit Iowa State University in Ames next, many of the highlights were covered. Every state in the country has some significance, and I certainly learned quite a bit about what Iowa had to offer and the highlights of their capital city!

 

 

 

Lincoln, Nebraska – The Capital City of the Cornhusker State

A few weeks ago, I set off to visit two new states – Nebraska and Iowa. Although most folks associate these midwestern states with nothing but farmland and cornfields, I wanted to see what really was out there, as well as to just get a deeper understanding of our country’s backbone. My first stop on this three-day trip was to Lincoln, the capital city of Nebraska.

Although the city’s roots started with settlers arriving in the mid-1800s, Native Americans had occupied the area for thousands of years. After the passage of the Homestead Act in 1862, more people began to inhabit this new village. In 1869, the City of Lincoln was incorporated, named after President Abraham Lincoln. Today, Lincoln is home to over 280,000 people and is the second most populated city in the state.

The first place I checked out was the Nebraska State Capitol. Completed in 1932 and rising 400 feet into the Midwestern sky, it is the second tallest capitol building in the country.

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The Nebraska State Capitol.

The interior of this building was nothing but grand. It felt like I was walking into a historic church or castle of some kind tucked away in Europe.

picture of the interior of Nebraska State Capitol

Nebraska State Capitol

One of the places I enjoyed seeing here was the observation deck, located on the 14th floor! Free and open to the public, you can get some great views of Lincoln.

The state library was also open, and it contained an abundance of books spread out across two floors.

Nebraska State Capitol Library

Nebraska State Capitol Library

Something that I hadn’t seen elsewhere were these handheld reading lamps!  Fully functional, they looked like they could belong in an antique store. I could see these lamps being handy, especially back in the day when the lighting was dim.

Nebraska State Capitol Library reading light
Quite a few of these were installed throughout the library.

No visit to a state capitol would be complete without checking out the legislative chambers. I was surprised to hear that although there are two chambers, only one was being actively used, since Nebraska only has one legislative body! This unicameral setup is the only one of its kind in the nation. The west chamber(the one in use) happened to be closed, but I was able to peer in and take a look.

Nebraska State Capitol legislative chamber
The actively-used legislative chamber.

I was able to go inside the east chamber, used until the start of the unicameral system in 1937 and since closed-off. Much like the rest of the building, the design of this room didn’t disappoint!

Nebraska State Capitol Legislative Chamber
The other legislative chamber, which hasn’t been used since 1937.

Nebraska State Capitol Legislative Chamber

In total, I spent about two hours here, in which I explored the majority of the building.  Although many states have some gorgeous designs when it comes to their capitols, the combination of tile ceilings, marble floors, and murals make this one of the most beautiful ones I’ve seen to date!

My next stop fit right in with the state’s reputation for agriculture: The Larsen Tractor Test and Power Museum.

Larsen Tractor Test Museum
One of the many tractors on display here.

Part of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s East Campus, this museum showcases various tractors from history. Several different rooms and displays talk about the various brands and models of these enormous machines. Admission is free, although donations are accepted.

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Larsen Tractor Test Museum

Here’s a fun fact: all tractors sold in Nebraska must be tested to ensure that rated performance claimed by the manufacturer checks out, and the testing is done right here! Up until 1980, testing was done in this building. Right next door was the current facility, which museum volunteer Don was gracious enough to show me around.

Nebraska Tractor test facility
The modern-day testing facility.

Don explained that testing is the ultimate example of consumer protection. Testing serves to ensure that if you buy a tractor with the Nebraska numbers on it, you can rest easy knowing that performance will be what the manufacturer claims it is. Various machines are used to complete the testing process, such as this big truck, which simulates a load.

Nebraska Tractor test facility

Right outside the shop was the testing track. Here, various benchmarks are performed in an area with ample space.

Nebraska Tractor test facility
The tractor test track.

Prior to me stopping in, I had no idea of this important measure that serves to protect our farmers and agricultural industry. Both the tour and the museum were nice!

The next stop was to the Nebraska History Museum, which exhibited different items related to the state’s history.

Nebraska History Museum
The Nebraska History Museum.

When I went, there was construction going on inside, and therefore only one floor was open. That floor had photos on display from the early days of the state, to different historical documents and artifacts.

Nebraska History Museum Exhibit
Different photos and items depict the history of this state.
Nebraska History Museum Exhibit
A windmill wheel used for many years.

Did you know Kool-Aid got its start in Nebraska? I didn’t!

Nebraska History Museum Exhibit
This famous drink got its start here in the Cornhusker State.

What I saw here was great in terms of being detailed and informative, and the best part is that there was no admission fee! I didn’t spot any free parking, and had to spend around a dollar at a covered garage about two blocks away.

After dinner was the last stop here in town, the University of Nebraska- Lincoln. The main campus of the University of Nebraska system, this huge 613-acre school was chartered as a land-grant university in 1869. Over 25,000 students call this place home. A major athletics program exists here as well.

University of Nebraska at Lincoln
One of the first buildings I came across entering UNL.

Checking out many of the buildings that make up their campus, I found that they all looked to be maintained very well. I’m sure quite a few of these halls have dated back many decades, but the exterior and interior upkeep seemed superb.

UNL buildings

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Although the architecture wasn’t nearly as nice as that of Ole’ Miss, the campus as a whole very much still had that traditional university feel to it. I only saw a few new buildings, one of which was the Howard L. Hawks Hall, home to the College of Business.

UNL Business Building
The College of Business building.

The classrooms in here looked like a great environment to learn in, and had all the modern technology one would expect for a university of this caliber. Inspirational quotes from famous people were on the wall of each room I went into.

UNL Classroom
A classroom inside the business building.

If you think their classrooms are nice, wait until you take a look at their football stadium! Memorial Stadium, on the edge of campus, is one of the largest collegiate stadiums I’ve seen to date.

Memorial Stadium
UNL’s Memorial Stadium.

Almost indistinguishable from an NFL stadium in my opinion, there were various seating levels, ranging from your standard bleachers all the way up to suites on the top floor. In total, this place is capable of seating over 85,000 people.

UNL Memorial Stadium

UNL Memorial Stadium

I had heard about UNL only once or twice before, and it was nice seeing the school in person. I knew their football program was pretty big, but it seems like academically speaking, the school has many programs and offerings the Cornhuskers can be a part of.

UNL Buildings
The Computer Science building.

Lincoln as a whole was pretty good, and I felt like my first day in Nebraska was well-spent. Out of all the places I saw here, I spent the most time at the Capitol – and I could have easily stayed another half-hour checking out the building in true detail. One could argue that there just isn’t much to do here, but if you are looking for a well-rounded introduction to the Cornhusker State, visiting this city will do the trick.

Nebraska Highway Sign
My first day in one of the least-visited states in the country went well!