Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Two Weeks in Oz

I've been gone for a couple of weeks, back in Kansas because of a family medical emergency, successfully resolved, thanks. During that time, I spent most days driving back and forth between Holyrood and Hutchinson. It's about sixty-five miles, house to hospital, and takes about 70 minutes. In contrast, my daily commute in the DC area is 28 miles and takes about 45 minutes. Oddly, I hit more stoplights & stop signs on my Kansas commute than I do on my regular DC commute. Anyway, here's my observations of the trip:

  • If you have to get someplace, fast, consider Southwest Airlines. I got full-fare round-trip tickets from BWI to KC for under $500, leaving about six hours after I ordered the tickets. Other airlines wanted about $1,000, and one offered to fly me on the ever popular BWI-Salt Lake City-Atlanta-Wichita route.
  • Of course, this meant I still had to get from KC to Holyrood. On the way in I was picked up by another family member. On the return, I flew from Salina to KC on Air Midwest, operating as US Airways Express. This cost about $65, as opposed to $45 for a trip on the bus. Since the bus would have dropped me off in downtown KC and the plane took me to the airport, this works out to be a cheaper way to travel.
  • Because I had full-fare tickets, Southwest and Air Midwest let me change my reservations numerous times, as the situation changed. I was fearful this would put me on the no-fly list ;-) but fortunately it didn't.
  • The flight from Salina to KCI was interesting: there was one Air Midwest employee at the ticket counter, three TSA people for security, two pilots, and an unknown number of people in the control tower. There were two passengers. I don't know how long they can keep that route open.
  • As you may have heard, Kansas has been extraordinarily wet this summer. In addition to the Greensburg tornado, there has been lots and lots of rain. In an average year, for example, Hutchinson gets 32.7 inches of rain. In May, Salina got 15.94 inches, and in many places it was much higher. (Very unofficially, Holyrood got 25 inches of rain in May.)
  • This leads to never-before seen phenomena. Cheyenne Bottoms, a marshy area which usually covers about 50 square miles, is rather full. As in not-for-at-least-the-last-eighty-years full. Note the sentence in the above article that reads “The only safe entrance to the Wildlife Area was from the west of U.S. 281, but now that approach has about 19 inches of water on it and is not passable.” Highway K-156, which skirts the southeast edge of the bottoms, is surrounded by water on both sides. The roadbed is only about 4 feet above water level, and the mile roads which run through the bottoms are all under water.
  • The usually placid Plum Creek, which runs to the east of Holyrood, flooded one night, covering the K-156 bridge, fortunately closed because of construction. The bridge is about 20 feet above the normal level of the creek. Given the topography of the area, the flooded creek was at least a quarter-mile wide. A distant cousin, somewhat more daring than I, took pictures, if he sends them to me and gives permission I'll put them online. Four bulls were surprised by the rushing water and were killed, fortunately no humans were injured during the storm.
  • Well after the storm, Plum Creek has enough water to support a family of ducklings, something I'd never seen before.
  • In addition to ducklings, the entire area is suffering a small-scale plague of frogs — only small scale because they're about 1 inch long. Thousands of them die each day trying to cross the roads, done in because they are thick enough that drivers can't avoid them.
  • The aforementioned Salina Airport's terminal building was flooded twice, and has a resident frog population.
  • What with planting season drought and early spring freezing, this rain has pretty much done in the wheat harvest. Yields are low: a friend who hauls wheat says it's taking about three times as long as last year for a combine to fill up a truck to take to the grain elevator. And the wheat is poor quality: nominally a bushel of wheat weighs 60 pounds, but this years crop weighs in at anywhere between 42 and 55 pounds. Even though wheat now sells for over $6.00 per bushel, a lot of farmers are going to be hurting this year.
  • I need to get a second digital camera, so I can have one on these expeditions and the family can have one as well.