Tag Archives: Kansas

June 15-17: Ouch.

So. There’s a reason I haven’t been online in four days, and it’s not a good one. I slipped and fell out of the back of my van the day before yesterday onto an asphalt parking lot, and managed to dislocate my rib again in the process (as you can tell from the “again”, this isn’t the first time I’ve done this – the first time was about ten years ago, when I was recovering from shoulder surgery and overdid the physical therapy – my rib has been predisposed to further dislocations ever since). On the bright side, I was in a good-sized college town (Warrensburg, Missouri) at the time, and a good chiropractor was easy to find. He popped it back in, and I spent yesterday resting in a motel room (sans wifi, alas), but my muscles are still screaming sore if I move the wrong way (or sneeze, or blow my nose, or… — driving is fine, though, thank goodness). I also managed to bruise my tailbone, I have a small case of road rash on my left arm (I had a lump on my elbow for a few hours afterwards, but it’s gone now, and the arm works fine), and I bumped my head slightly (so slightly that it wasn’t even bruised). I’m going to be okay, but criminy.

Oh, well. Maybe this is this trip’s Official Disaster (for those who haven’t read Cross-Country, or heard me talk about it, that trip ended with me rolling my car out in the middle of the Mojave Desert in California – I was fine, the car was totaled).

Anyway, with that one exception, Mrs. Lincoln, the last three days have been fine, if way too hot for human beings (100 on the fifteenth, 10-bleeding-6 yesterday – both dF). It was too hot, even at eight in the morning, to go out and walk any distance at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. Fortunately, the little road out to my campsite the night before (which was lovely once the sun went down and the temps dropped into the 70s dF) was lined with orange milkweed and purple coneflowers (another one which I now understand why it doesn’t like cool, damp western Washington), among other flowers.

Milkweed in bloom.  First time I'd ever seen this one in the wild.
Milkweed in bloom. First time I’d ever seen this one in the wild.
Purple coneflowers, which ditto.
Purple coneflowers, which ditto.

I also saw a confection of a county courthouse in the small town on the way from the campground.

The county courthouse in Cottonwood Falls, Kansas.
The county courthouse in Cottonwood Falls, Kansas.

Then I cut my losses and headed to Topeka.

Kansas’s state history museum is every bit as good as Washington’s, and that’s saying a fair amount. And their history is longer than ours, too (well, their documented history is, anyway). It started with the usual paleo-Indians, but where it really got interesting was during the years leading up to the Civil War. You’ve heard the term, “bleeding Kansas,” I’m sure, where people really got riled up (to the point of killing each other) over whether Kansas should come into the Union as a free or a slave state. This is where John Brown (of Harper’s Ferry fame) got his start, too.

Bison and horse statue outside of the Kansas History Museum.
Bison and horse statue outside of the Kansas History Museum.
The school building that houses Brown vs. Board of Education, NHS.  It was a functioning school until 1976, the year before I graduated high school.
The school building that houses Brown vs. Board of Education NHS. It was a functioning school until 1976, the year before I graduated high school.

It was also really air-conditioned in there, as was the old schoolhouse that houses the Brown vs. Board of Education National Historic Site, although the NPS did that one with geothermal, which was pretty impressive. That’s in Topeka, too, and while calling some of the stuff that I actually remember historic just makes me feel old, the whole thing was really well done. It seems odd to me that the landmark civil rights Supreme Court case originated in the Midwest rather than the South, but that’s where it was.

After I left Topeka, I ended up on the Kansas Turnpike, which is a) really the only way to get to and through Kansas City, and b) the first more than five miles stretch of Interstate I’ve driven on the entire trip. There wasn’t even a Welcome to Missouri sign – my eighth state, and another one I’ve never been to before.

I got lost in Kansas City looking for the Arabia Steamboat Museum – I never did find it, much to my disappointment, because I think it would have been really interesting, but it was getting to be late in the day (aka rush hour), so I went on east into Missouri, found myself a motel in Warrensburg, and fell out of the back of my van.

This morning, after a second visit to the chiropractor to make sure the rib was still where it’s supposed to be (and to have a Tens unit attached to a spasming muscle in my back for a little while), I headed north by east to Hannibal, which means that yes, I’ve completely crossed the state of Missouri. I ate lunch in a café in a wide spot in the road, which was delicious, and also stopped in the hamlet of Florida, where Mark Twain was born. The actual cabin is inside of a museum <g>.

One of many reasons Mark Twain is one of my literary heroes.
One of many reasons Mark Twain is one of my literary heroes.

The cabin where Twain was born.  Presumably before they moved it into the museum .
The cabin where Twain was born. Presumably before they moved it into the museum [g].
Then I came on to Hannibal and found a motel (I’m not going to be camping again until I’m feeling better), and tomorrow I will explore where Samuel Clemens grew up. I’m really looking forward to that, even if it does look like they’ve made something of a cottage industry out of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer here.

June 14: To Barrayar, perhaps, someday?

Oh, the irony, it bleeds.  The sign, in case you can't read it, says, Experience the Flint Hills.  That said, the countryside did become a bit more rolling from that point eastward.
Oh, the irony, it bleeds. The sign, in case you can’t read it, says, Experience the Flint Hills. That said, the countryside did become a bit more rolling from that point eastward.

So. I went to the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, Kansas, today, and I take back every skeptical comment I made yesterday. I spent three hours going through it, with my jaw hanging open for most of it.

It wasn’t just the artifacts, although there were hundreds of them on display, from German V1 and V2 rockets from WWII to Gemini and Apollo capsules. It wasn’t just that, from a curatorial standpoint, they did a magnificent job (it didn’t even occur to me till hours afterwards that the entire museum is underground, for the obvious reason that well, this is Kansas and they do have tornadoes – just one detail among many). It was the storytelling, starting with the Nazis and their rockets during WWII and ending with the last Apollo mission. And telling the Russian side of the story in more detail than I had a clue about, too. I learned more history today than I ever expected to. I was riveted.

A V-1 rocket.  They had a V-2 just across from it, apparently one of only two or three matched sets still around.
A V-1 rocket. They had a V-2 just across from it, apparently one of only two or three matched sets still around.
A Sputnik prototype.
A Sputnik prototype.
A Gemini capsule.
A Gemini capsule.

If you’re ever within a hundred miles of Hutchinson, Kansas, go see this museum. Even if you could care less about space exploration. It’s absolutely amazing. And, yeah, it was Smithsonian caliber. Without a doubt.

After I finally dragged myself away from the Cosmosphere, I went and got lunch, then made the last of the phone calls to the utilities for my old condo, to pay the final bills, and to convince Comcast that, yes, I did actually return my converter box and remote back on the day I left town two and a half weeks ago, so they darned well better not send me to a collection agency as they’d been threatening. Fortunately, I kept the receipt with the returned equipment code, and it was in the glove compartment. I hate Comcast with the passion of a thousand burning suns.

Then I headed north by northeast for about a hundred miles to the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, where it was way too hot to go hiking, so I asked the guy in the visitor center about campgrounds (after three nights in motels, which was two nights too many, I wanted a campground in the worst way). He told me about a state fishing lake, and so here I am.

It’s hot, yes, but the site’s shaded, and now that the sun’s going down things are starting to cool off. The sunset was gorgeous, and the bullfrogs and birds are lovely background music.

Sunset at Chase Lake campground.
Sunset at Chase Lake campground.
Wow, it's almost below 85dF at the campsite now!
Wow, it’s almost below 85dF at the campsite now!

Tomorrow morning I am going to get up early and take a walk through Tallgrass Prairie before the temperature hits the 100 it’s supposed to get to tomorrow. Then I’m driving on to Topeka and spending the afternoon in the hopefully air-conditioned Kansas History Museum.

Onward.

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.

June 12: Back in time and 100 degrees again

Sigh. Today I drove from Caňon City almost immediately into the flatlands before I ever reached Pueblo, which is the big city of southeast Colorado. Gas was cheap there, and I topped off the tank before heading out onto the plains.

I have learned to appreciate plains and prairies after 23 years in forested, mountainous western Washington. I wouldn’t want to live here, mind, but it’s wonderful to see wide open spaces where it looks like the horizon has to be more than 180 degrees and you swear you can see the curvature of the earth.

Except when I look up at all that sky and all of sudden want to beg something not to step on me like a bug, because that’s how small I feel.

Nothing but sky.  Although this is still Colorado, not Kansas yet.
Nothing but sky. Although this is still Colorado, not Kansas yet.  BTW, that thing on the left? is a bug on the windshield, not a baby tornado.  Sorry.

There’s only two towns of any size between Pueblo and the Kansas border, and one historic site. U.S. 50 follows part of the old Santa Fe trail at this point, and Bent’s Fort National Historic Site is not far off the highway just east of the town of La Junta (Spanish for the junction).

The exterior of Bent's Fort from the path.
The exterior of Bent’s Fort from the path.

Bent’s Fort is sort of the Santa Fe Trail’s version of Fort Union, North Dakota, which I visited four years ago. It’s not a military fort, but a trading post, privately owned, where people traveling from St. Louis to Santa Fe could stop and buy goods and rest. It’s made of thick adobe, and the interior rooms are much cooler than the outdoors, which was a terrific thing on a 100dF afternoon. The park service did its usual excellent job interpreting the site, and there were some small living history demonstrations as well.

A view from the second floor of bent's Fort, down into the courtyard.
A view from the second floor of Bent’s Fort, down into the courtyard.
The store room, full of trade goods.
The store room, full of trade goods.
The owner's room, which was much more elegant inside than the rest of the place.
The owner’s room, which was much more elegant inside than the rest of the place.
The carpentry shop.  It looks like my dad's garage used to, only he had power tools, and no chandelier.
The carpentry shop. It looks like my dad’s garage used to, only he had power tools, and no chandelier.

I do have to say that a couple of things were rather disconcerting. First was the extremely sturdily built, partly underground, bunker-style restroom next to the parking area, with a tornado shelter sign above the doors. The second was the two donkeys, who I first saw ambling along the quarter mile path from the parking area to the fort itself (a reconstruction – the original was destroyed in 1849), and then, when I returned, wisely taking advantage of the shade of the pergola by the parking area. I wonder if they found the exhibit panels as interesting as I did <g>.

Calling Dorothy...
Calling Dorothy…
Donkeys at Bent's Fort.
Donkeys at Bent’s Fort.
Donkey's enjoying the exhibits, er, the shade of the pergola.
Donkeys enjoying the exhibits, er, the shade of the pergola.

Once I left Bent’s Fort, I started thinking about where I would stop for the night. I really had intended to camp somewhere, and I actually did find a place in a hamlet just before the Kansas state line – but it was still 100dF outside according to Merlin’s thermometer, and getting more humid by the mile. So reluctantly I decided to look for an air-conditioned motel.

A pretty classic Kansas view -- big round hay bales and a grain elevator, somewhere between the border and Garden City.
A pretty classic Kansas view — big round hay bales and a grain elevator, somewhere between the border and Garden City.

I didn’t intend to drive 60 miles into Kansas – my first “I’ve never been to this state before!” state for this trip! – before I found one, but that’s what happened. I’m in Garden City, Kansas, which is nice, and I’m sure some people here have nice gardens, but I think the name is a bit hyperbolic.

It’s probably just as well that I’m indoors. There’s an 80% chance of thunderstorms tonight, and that’s not my favorite camping weather at all. Maybe (she says hopefully) it’ll cool off a bit after this front pushes through.

I wish that saying that my thoughts are with those poor people in Orlando actually did some good.