Oct 23, 2013

Curiosities of Kansas

Even if you've never been to Kansas, you’re probably familiar with its reputation.  To the outsider, Kansas is generally regarded as dull at worst and quirky at best.

Maybe it has to do with the state’s largely rural reputation (actually, 75% of the population lives in urban areas).  Maybe it goes back to the state’s role in the whole temperance movement (the state didn't re-legalize alcohol after Prohibition until 1948, and there are still 29 dry counties).  Or maybe people outside of Kansas struggle with relating to a group of people who regard Bob Dole as exciting.      

If you are here, you are probably bored and tired of driving, already.

Whatever it is, there is a common perception that the people of Kansas are as boring as its landscape.  While I do not believe that to be true at all (the people are way less boring than the landscape!), I will agree that Kansas has more than its fair share of quirks, and we discovered many of them as we drove through the state and back from Colorado last summer.  For instance: 
  • Not far west of Kansas City is a stretch of I-70 marked as the first section of the Interstate Highway System to be completed in the United States.  Even 60 years ago, people didn't want to waste any time to get across this state. 
  • What do truck stops in Kansas have that most other states don’t?  A room in the center that resembles a concrete bunker marked “storm shelter.” 
  • For a state nicknamed “the Sunflower State” you sure see a lot more sorghum growing in it than sunflowers.
  • Nothing beats the taste of local beef jerky from a Kansas convenience store (I picked up mine in Wichita and sadly forgot the brand name!).

Creepy Wheat Jesus billboard
  • Seriously, what’s the deal with the Creepy Wheat Jesus on the billboard outside of Colby, Kan.?  Am I somehow unaware of how much Jesus really loved wheat stalks?  When I saw this, I almost drove off the road out of fright (or laughter).  Fortunately, I was able to catch my breath (and a picnic with my travelling companions) at the nearby rest area.
  • It’s highly unlikely that there are any gardens near Garden City, Kan.  There are, however, miles and miles of stockyards producing fertilizer.  The smell is unforgettable, and very unlike a garden. 
  • Speaking of Garden City, it’s not the place you want to pull over for gas when you’re in the middle of a dust storm. 
  • Speaking of storms in Kansas, the state has earned its reputation.  They look much more ominous in this state than anywhere else I've ever driven through. 
  • I've probably missed my only opportunity in my lifetime to stop near Greensburg, Kan., to tour the world’s largest hand-dug well.  I think I can still sleep comfortably at night anyway.
  • I sincerely hope I did not miss my only opportunity to see Buck “the Big Man” and his combination of “honest to God cowboy music,” storytelling and yodeling.  My friend Ken kept a poster he found in a Casey’s General Store advertising Buck’s scheduled performance in Sun City, Kan., as a souvenir.  One thing is for certain … you can’t tell Buck he ain't going to play Sun City (random 1980s reference).  He did, in fact, entertain at Buster’s Saloon in Sun City on Aug. 3. 

So, I had a little fun at Kansas’ expense.  For my next couple of posts, however, I do plan to focus on one of unexpected highlights of our summer road trip – Dodge City, including the Dodge House Hotel and historic Front Street and Boot Hill.   

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