Night 27: Plainly the Plains

Trip Start Jun 20, 2012
Trip End Jul 18, 2012

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Where I stayed
Super 8 Lenexa Overland Park Area
Read my review - 3/5 stars

Flag of United States  , Kansas
Monday, July 16, 2012

Night 27: Across Kansas

Today we drove all day long down the plainest if the Great Plains and totalled 569 miles. The weather was steaming hot topping off around 101 degrees. It was partly cloudy.

There us not much to write about. We are urging homeward now with no mountain passes or distractions to slow us down. Not only that, the weather inside the car is much better than the sauna outside. So today we drove and drove and drove and just watched America through the windshield.

I knew it would be boring so it was tough to get going. We stopped at Walmart for some road trip supplies which included notebooks, chips, a movie, and pop. We considered dry ice but opted for the cheap wet ice we are familiar with. At the edge of Colo Springs, where the blue mountain peaks begin to merge with the sky, we also filled up with gas. And then off we shot like a rocket into the Colorado Plains.

I was in a way sick of Colorado Springs people who drive like maniacs, are short tempered as a bunch, and not too
keen of my slower unsure Midwestern ways. People here come off from my point of view as somewhat self centered. They are true libertarians. I am sure the locals see it as a virtue, a sort of rugged individualism. Everyone does their own thing. Community, as I know it, seems a weakness to people here. It is no wonder now that the residents of Colo Springs opted recently to forgo taxes and pay for services like street lights and trash removal a la carte. Everyone on their own. As a Midwesterner, I have a different approach. For Midwesterners avoiding confrontation is key. We don't look at each other when we talk. We are over-gracious (to a fault)!with strangers.

I think people forget that 1/3 of Colorado is flat and dry and treeless. These are the high plains that are thankfully interrupted to the north by Badlands NP and the Black Hills. Here there is no interruption and barely any towns. The map shows many more towns than actually function and exist as such in 2012 reality. There are plenty of ghost towns and stinking grazing cattle. And the heat and wind are loosened by the lack of trees. This is a harsh land.

We unceremoniously passed the random line of longitude that is the Kansas border. After about an hour, as we approached Oakley and the Kansas badlands and Castle Rock, a familiar town shape emerged. I call it the Kansas Town. They are all basically the same and much unlike the other Midwestern town model of the Great Lakes area.

The Kansas Town is arranged along a main drag that runs perpendicular to a railroad track. Since rails tend to go east-west here, towns go north-south along a narrow strip only a couple blocks wide. At the tracks are grain trucks and a grain elevator. Sometimes an old wooden ghost elevator stands beside the multi-cylindar one. Next to these often stand a roadhouse, a gas station, and a modest free church. The main drag runs alongside houses, a school, and a couple fledgling businesses. At one end is a watertower. This is all surrounded by yellow-green fields of corn or wheat uninterrupted by pesky houses that cause a farmhand to turn the GPS operated combine too often.

As soon as you leave one town, the next is visible, ten miles away. Its elevator beckoning. This is strangely encouraging, but after hours it feels like that part of the Zelda Nintendo game where you get stuck on the same screen no matter where you turn. Andrew sat in the backseat drawing and imagining he was somewhere more fun like a zoo or even a KOA. Jessica read Angela's Ashes. I was left to admire the sunflowers and monotony, and I love it. I love it because I have attention surplus disorder. 569 miles. All good!

We stopped for gas, air, and food for a bit in the towns of WaKeeney, a Volgadeutsch settlement, and Ellis, known as the boyhood home of the guy who created Chrysler Motors. Then off we raced across the plains. The drought had us passing dry riverbed after dry riverbed. It was a tough year for the farmers we passed.

The sun set as we passed the denser areas around Abilene and Salina, and then the empty, grassy rocks of the Flint Hills. The Flint Hills are more like Colorado than Kansas, since the ground is not fertile. Ranchers use the area which was once covered with tallgrass prairie. Maybe thus is why the government thoght it would be the perfect place for the Chicago area native Pottawatomie nation to settle on reservations in the 1830's. The roads and towns had Chicago place names like "Waubansee."

As night fell, we passed more history. Lecompton and Topeka reminded me of the days of Bleeding Kabsas and the marauding Ruffians and Jayhawkers. Soon we were in familiar territory near Lawrence, where I exited the cheap Kansas Turnpike and headed into the Kansas City metropolis.

We ended our long drive in a remodeled motel in suburban Lenexa, Kansas. The remodel job was so recent that you could smell the paint drying. The rooms down the hall had plastic taped under the doors. Obviously, this is why we got a cheap rate. It was 102 and the AC in the room was not functioning. I went down and got another room, which was much cooler. After a failed attempt to grab some Winstead's burgers, which I remembered eating as a kid during a KC Kalb family reunion (in similar oven-like heat).

Tomorrow we will probably be home. I heard Chicago on my AM radio tonight. They're talking about the looming teachers' strike and the contract "negotiations." Maybe I should just turn around and go back west. Maybe they need teachers in Mexico.
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