June 13: In which our intrepid explorer gets the hell out of Dodge. Literally.

Turns out it was a good thing I got a motel room last night. I woke up about two in the morning to something that sounded like someone was flinging bucketsful of gravel at my window. I got up and peeked out just in time to see an enormous streak of lightning, hear the crack of thunder only a few seconds later, and see the rain coming down in sheets. Sideways. Not good camping weather even if it hadn’t still been 80dF in the middle of the night.

It was clear by morning, if seriously hot and muggy, but I got a late start, anyway, because I needed to do laundry.

I arrived in Dodge City just before noon. Dodge City is a Tourist Trap with two capital Ts. I have to say the most amusing things I saw were the street signs. Gunsmoke St., Wyatt Earp Blvd., etc. Other than that, it was a good place to get lunch and get on the phone with the people storing my stuff (I don’t know why it took so long for them to figure out how much I owed them, but now, two and a half weeks later, at least it’s straightened out and paid). Then, my friends, I got the hell out of Dodge. Literally. I grinned about that for miles down the highway.

Street sign in Dodge City, Kansas.
Street sign in Dodge City, Kansas.
Sign in a small town northeast of Dodge City.  Which shares a name with one of my great-nieces.
Sign in a small town northeast of Dodge City. Which shares a name with one of my great-nieces.

Headed east by northeast, I gradually made my way to another historical site. This one was called Fort Larned (LAR-ned, not LARND – it was named after someone, not the mispronunciation of “learned” that I half-suspected it was – oh, and in this part of the world, the Arkansas River – the same river as the one I drove along in Colorado – is pronounced ar-KAN-sas, not AR-can-saw).

The entrance to Fort Larned.
The entrance to Fort Larned.
The bridge from the parking lot to Fort Larned, and just way more sky than is necessary .
The bridge from the parking lot to Fort Larned, and just way more sky than is strictly necessary .
The officers' quarters at Fort Larned.  The fort was so spread out it was impossible to take a photo of the whole thing.
The officers’ quarters at Fort Larned. The fort was so spread out it was impossible to take a photo of the whole thing.
The enlisted men's barracks at Fort Larned.  Two men were expected to sleep in those beds (four per bunk bed), and they were expected to sleep head to toe (one with his head at one end, and one with his head at the other end).  I bet that didn't smell very good.
The enlisted men’s barracks at Fort Larned. Two men were expected to sleep in those beds (four per bunk bed), and they were expected to sleep head to toe (one with his head at one end, and one with his head at the other end). I bet that didn’t smell very good.
Looking down the covered walkway in front of the barracks.
Looking down the covered walkway in front of the barracks.

Fort Larned was the main military fort that protected travelers on the Santa Fe Trail, and was also part of the Indian Wars. It also hosted one of the first regiments of buffalo soldiers (the black soldiers who fought for the Union in the Civil War – so called because the Indians thought their hair looked like buffalo fur). An interesting place, not least because the original buildings are still standing, built from sandstone.

People have been carving their names and the date in the sandstone for a long time. The earliest date I spotted was 1904 (I should have taken a photo of it, but it didn’t occur to me to do so). I suppose technically it’s vandalism, but it was actually kind of nifty.

After I left Fort Larned, I thought about staying in the small town of Larned for the night, but the options were limited, and either too expensive or too icky or both. So I got onto Kansas Route 19 (I really need to take a photo of the state highway signs here – they’re the cutest little sunflowers), which turned out to be the bluest of blue highways, out through absolutely the middle of nowhere. With wildflowers of course.

After perusing a Kansas wildflower website, I'm inclined to think these are some kind of penstemon, but I can't be sure.
After perusing a Kansas wildflower website, I’m inclined to think these are some kind of penstemon, but I can’t be sure.

It did take me where the map showed me it would, though, intersecting with the highway to the much bigger town of Hutchinson, where I found a considerably better choice of places to stay.

Tomorrow I’m going to what Lonely Planet is calling the best museum on the space race in the country, right here in the middle of Kansas. I have to say I’m a bit skeptical. Better than the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum? Really? But I guess I’ll find out…

BTW, I really like Kansas. Everything except its politics, which are kind of scary, from what I can tell.  Alas.