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Amber Waves of Grain

Ruth's picture

Okay, that 'amber' aspect does bring to mind a good, rich brew, which is also something to celebrate on the Fourth of July.

To come back to the subject, I just drove from North Texas to Kansas to Granby, Colorado, throwing in the Rocky Mountain National Park, to Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, to Albuquerque, NM, and back to N. Texas. I saw a lot of this country, most of it considered flyover land. What I didn't see that I expected to, was lots of crops!

I saw some, but overwhelmingly the land I was driving through was not full of growing stuff that will be coming to your table or into your gas tank. Much of what I saw was cleared land, nothing planted on it, sometimes with a few cows or horses, some goats, once some llama, and the occasional thrill of antelope, mule deer, a coyote and my favorites, the birds.

Why aren't more fields of grain, corn, even cotton, being cultivated? I honestly don't know. Some was for sale, once a sign advertized 'Scenic Ranch, 64,000 Acres", and I suspect this rancher, like my nearby friend who farms over 100 acres with a cropper, (I don't like to say sharecropper, because people don't like to be called that), can't pay the taxes when it's a bad year.

I saw a few signs saying "Free Land", too. If you're in the market I recommend you drive Route 70 through Colorado, and keep your eyes open near the border with Kansas, where the sign says there's land and water, looking for people to live there. Something tells me you probably want to speak English. But what gives? No one's farming. It makes my plough hand itch. No, actually I don't think I have a plow hand, but it makes something itch to grow those amber waves of grain.

If anyone thinks that there's not enough growing stuff to make the biofuels, I suggest you take a ride. About 2,000 miles of riding, and you're going to change your mind.

What I didn'tsee would keep a lot of cars going for a lot of miles. I didn't see switch grass, I didn't see much corn, and I didn't see windfarms either. I did see signs in several places that warned about high winds. No one was cropping them at all. Fields of grass do wave, wheat makes a swelling abundant and rolling sea in beige, milo a chocolate brown, and the whispering sound of amazing beauty. I expected to see more of it.

We're not doing what it takes to make ourselves energy independent, I can tell you plainly. (Pun intended.)

I also saw a field that went on forever, as they do in the flat, huge, West, full of purple blooming chollo cactus, and in among the blooms a herd of antelope. If I could have stopped safely in time to take a picture, I would share it with you, but that wasn't possible. I'll be developing pictures to show you, but that one I'll just have to tell you about.

I also took Woody Guthrie's Guitar to see "Sicko" in return for his hospitality, and he tells you about it at .

(This post also at which is blocked at Drury Hotels because of Drug/Narcotics content. yep, I'm still giggling. Diane thinks it's because we've been mean to Big Pharma.)

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Submitted by lambert on

That's an interesting trip report... (We should have more trip reports, it's an interesting genre.)

1. Re biofuel from corn: I remain unconvinced the whole ethanol thing isn't a massive fraud to keep Big Farming on the government tit, with a few little guys riding along in the slipstream. The way we farm now, it takes oil to make oil, and that just makes no sense at all. I've never seen anything that convinces me it all nets out. Plus, now we're tying the food market to the oil market, in a very direct way.

2. Re the censorship at Drury Hotel, that's what's in store for the entire Internet if we lose net neutrality.

No authoritarians were tortured in the writing of this post.

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

A great drive you took there, wide open spaces, fabulous changes in topography. That first view of the Rockies on I-70 headed west out of Denver is one of the most spectacular, inspiring vistas imaginable. I lived for seven years along the Front Range and poked around a fair bit. All that empty land in eastern Colorado and western Kansas was once prairie, built up over millennia of deposited wind-drift Saharan and Gobi sand, Chinese loess, volcanic ash and meteor dust, all bound together by the short-grass roots. Rich, fertile soil with few rocks and easy to till, but a shortage of ground water limits what crops can be grown.

Time was a family could eke out a living by dry farming, growing mostly wheat and depending on rainfall to raise the crop. With a half-decent well the family could get through even dry years by keeping a garden and some livestock along with hunting and trapping. But putting a plow to the prairie sod freed the soil and off it went, lost to runoff and the wind. Over half of the pre-Anglo topsoil is gone, and in some areas more than 80% has eroded away. What remains is the heavier fraction, poor in available nutrients and less able to hold water. Diminished yields coincided with the emergence of large commercial agriculture, and the family farm could no longer compete. Big outfits still dry farm wheat and milo and now some rape, but the soil won’t support corn at profitable yields even with artificial price support from the ethanol scam.

The land you saw for free is a giveaway because no one can make a living off it; can’t even make enough to pay the taxes. Free land all right, priced at what it’s worth. Don’t mean to step on anybody’s dream, just a friendly caution.

Granby and the Middle Park is, as we say out West, real purty.

Ruth's picture
Submitted by Ruth on

It was in Granby that my nephew and new niece have lived for a few years, tho they're moving to Denver this month. Can't imagine leaving, myself. But then I've been here in the plains when I used to love getting up before sunrise and going down to walk on the beach at Chincoteague VA. I miss that.

Sadly, the spruce beetle has really destroyed a lot of the forests on the Rocky Mountains, lots of dead brown trees in the landscape, I'll get back pics soon and post some. A real horror. But the land will recover from the things we do to it, I really believe.


Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

The Rockies are glorious but not easy. I lived for years out in Evergreen, before the upscale boom, in an A-Frame a mile and a quarter up a dirt road. Endless vista, wildlife including a neighborhood bear, peace and quiet, with a wonderful restaurant and bar (Brook Forest Inn) with live music, great food and more liquor than I could drink all within staggering distance of my front door. What I don't miss is shoveling off the driveway, backbreaking even in my youth. Not uncommon to get three feet at a time, very pretty but just too damn hard to deal with; I will never again live where it snows.

Out on the plains I love summer thunderstorms, being able to watch them build, see the lightening walking closer, feel the gathering electrical charge. Next door neighbor as crazy as I used to sit out with me when a coming storm clearly made it necessary to quit yardwork. We’d grab lawn chairs and beers and just sit and watch until the hairs on our arms and neck stood up, then run for the front door. Wives would stand at the window clucking and tsking, a satisfying addition to our boy fun. Kept that up for three summers until the time he ran back out to grab a shovel from next to a tree, rain just starting and he didn’t want it to rust. Lightening hit the tree and the nearest downspout at the same time, split the downspout and set the tree to smoking. He survived unharmed, tossed him a good one, said it felt like floating, no pain at all. Life’s little lessons.