Kansas is windy. We knew that, right?! After all, Dorothy was from Kansas and she ended up in Oz, which I think is now called Australia. :) This is the first time we have driven across Kansas in the MoHo. In 2007, on another trip, we left John’s place and drove along the Kansas eastern border, which was green and lovely. Our route today was route 400, suggested by John as a much easier way to travel than our original plan to take a more southern route.
When we left Missouri this morning the skies were still a murky grayish brown from the horizon to about midway up. The highest part of the sky was blue, or something that looked a bit like blue. I have experienced Blue on this trip, capital letter kind of blue sky in Minnesota, so the murkiness of Missouri was a bit sad. I thought maybe as we traveled west it would lighten up. Instead, it got murkier.
No theme, no clue what this crazy collection of wind driven art along Highway 400 in Kansas was all about. It stretched for a quarter mile along the highway, and provided a bit of entertainment on the Kansas landscape
The landscape of the part of Kansas that we crossed wasn’t the dead flat prairies that make Kansas so famous. There were gentle rises and falls, locust trees and willows along the waterways, sections when the road would rise up enough to see a very long way. But the skies were definitely tan and pale, and the closer we got to Wichita, the browner the “haze” turned. Long straight roads near the city allowed a moment of internet access with the phone, and I researched Wichita air quality and found out that it has been on the list of the most badly polluted cities in the country. I hoped that maybe as we drove west, the skies would clear.
It was not to be, and whether from blowing dust, or the millions of cattle in feed lots all around Dodge City, the murkiness continued. The winds were high in eastern Kansas, and as the day progressed, the prognosis was dire for high profile vehicles. Guess that’s us. The average wind speed was 30 plus miles per hour, with gusts to 47 mph, and the direction was from the south, directly perpendicular to our western line of travel. It made for a harrowing day, with Mo hanging on the wheel and me hanging on to the grip bar for dear life. We didn’t see much, and with temperatures in the mid 90’s, I didn’t have a great desire to stop and explore the few little towns that we passed.
I saw a large area of trees all stripped of leaves and broken apart, and remembered vaguely the horrific tornado that blew through Kansas recently. Sure enough, we were passing Greensburg, Kansas, site of the devastating tornado of 2007 that flattened the city.
We continued west through the wind to arrive at Dodge City around 4pm and set up camp at the Gunsmoke RV Park, one of only a couple of RV Parks in the vicinity. Full hookups with a nice laundry that wasn’t ridiculously expensive was a nice perk. As a kid, I was a huge Wyatt Earp fan, and in addition to watching the old TV series, I voraciously read all things Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Doc Holiday, the Santa Fe Trail, and later I loved the series Gunsmoke. I wanted to see Dodge.
By the time we drove back the 2 miles or so to town, the visitor center was ready to close. I learned that the majority of the attractions in Dodge City only run through the summer, and that most of them are Disneyesque gunfights, a fake Front Street, a piece of what was left of Boot Hill inside the closed museum gates, and other sorts of contrived western adventures. Instead, I picked up the one small walking tour guide and we walked a few streets of Dodge City, including the infamous Front Street.
Throughout this part of town, there were several very well done plaques describing the history of Dodge, a bronze statue of Wyatt Earp, and the Trail of Fame, which consisted of a few seals in the sidewalks naming some of the famous historic figures of the era. The train depot was reconstructed, but a small part of the original building still stands. The buildings of Front Street had burned a few times, and were no longer the same. What I learned that was new, however, is that Dodge City is on the 100th parallel, a line that John Wesley Powell ( another of my heroes), set at the arbitrary break between the arable east and the arid west.
A few of the buildings remained from the late 1800’s but most of the historic buildings still in existence were from the early 20th century, during the heyday of railroading and the wealth that came along with it. I knew that Dodge City was central to the history of the west, but I didn’t realize until today that it was also central to the devastation of the huge bison herds that roamed our country. It was to Dodge that the hunters brought their hides, leaving behind literally millions of carcasses rotting on the plains. It only took from 1872 to 1875 for the herds to be completely decimated., with an estimated 1.5 million hides shipped to the east. Later, poor homesteaders would gather the bones from the fields and sell them at 6 to 8 dollars a ton to be used in the manufacture of fertilizer and china. Half a century later, wheat crazed farmers would strip the thick deep sod from the plains as well, an ecosystem that cannot be replaced in a thousand years. It’s a sad story of destruction that is only surpassed by the stories of what happened to the First Nations people in our country. As I walked along the old Front Street, I felt the weight of this history in my heart, as well as the romantic dreams of the west that I had as a ten year old.