Imagine America without cowboys, without westerns, without Judy Garland and without ever having won hearts and spread its values around the world. When I was very young in Toronto, Canada, my Aunt Clara joked that the country to the south of us was the Excited States of America. That’s where things went on. By age six I sang Home on the Range and had a cowboy coloring book. The Wizard of Oz put me in awe of Dorothy, a big girl who had a world view. She said, “There’s no place like home” and she came from Kansas.
On a road trip across the continent in winter 2010 my husband and I checked out this theory. From Ottawa we went around the north shore of Lake Superior to the tip of its nose, then dripped down via Minneapolis, MN, to Kansas City, MO. When I-35 curved right, we crossed into the eastern part of the state of Kansas. So this was where our favorites High Noon (1950), Splendor in the Grass (1960) and Dances of Wolves (1990) were filmed! Incidentally, we were close to the home of President Obama’s grandparents, where he grew up. President Eisenhower was a boy from Abilene, Kansas.
1.The ‘Welcome to the Flint Hills’ sign showed we were near the largest last, dense, intact stand of natural tall grass in North America. Millions of bison, elk and pronghorn antelope once roamed and played on the range. A thin layer of black soil covers ancient deposits of limestone and the fossils of sea creatures. Indians used the very hard flint (chert) to make arrowheads. The beautiful, green, rolling prairie landscape binds Kansas residents to their home. The Kansas Symphony comes to give a nostalgic open-air performance each June. You can visit and take a tour or take part in a butterfly count.
2.The Ogallala Aquifer, a wonder of nature, was hidden beneath our feet but we didn’t realize it. This huge, shallow water table has provided drinking water to 82% of the people of eight Great Plains states and irrigation to 27% of the cultivated land across the country. Away from the highway near Emporia the landscape was bleak, gray, foggy and desolate. But a house on the horizon looked like Dorothy’s, so we felt at home.
3. Wichita is the largest city in Kansas, with the Cowtown Museum, Steuben glass and the headquarters of two of the country’s largest industries. For 11,000 years nomadic hunters gathered where the Arkansas and Little Arkansas rivers merge. When Europeans settlers came they found the hard flint hills too hard for plowing so they couldn’t plant corn or wheat for crops. Instead, they started cattle ranches. Huge migrations of longhorn cattle were driven up trails from Texas and other southwest states to get to railways going to eastern markets. Hwy 54 took a turn and headed west for our destination of the Pacific Ocean. At the town of Pratt we ate amply of beef pot roast and vegetables for $10 each at the Uptown Cafe. The Regency Suites was a comfortable home for the night; we cavorted in the kidney-shaped, warm, indoor swimming pool.
4. Dodge City cultivates its reputation as ‘the wickedest little town in the world’ with restored shops and saloons on Front Street, the Boot Hill cemetery and museum, street signs and statues. In the 1870’s buffalo hunters, cowboys, train men, soiled doves (prostitutes), traders, settlers, doctors and sheriffs got all mixed up. The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fé railway’s arrival spurred the growth of the hastily built town. The 1939 movie, Dodge City, made it notorious and so did the long-running radio and tv series Gunsmoke. Check out the Dodge Rodeo Days starting July 25th.
5. The roadside pop art of M.T. Liggett in Mullinville is well worth a stop on the detour from Hwy 54 into Dodge City.
6. The town of Liberal claims to be the real hometown of Dorothy. Her look-alikes will greet you at the Wizard of Oz Museum, show you a replica of the house and give you a tour. Soon after leaving Liberal we crossed the border into Oklahoma. To paraphrase Dorothy, “There is no place like Kansas.” She was right and so was my Aunt Clara. The USA is an exciting place to visit and live next to. Anyone who can get to Kansas should go, to relish both the past and present.
Thank you for dropping by. This blog for all lovers of life and language aims to be useful and entertain. Topics vary from how to build a canoe to how my mom moved from “prince to preacher and fog to bog” as a war bride after world war one. Writing advice is squeezed in between. Find out more about A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void, Kathleen’s Cariole Ride and Eating at Church on Amazon, Goodreads or my website.
Happy Reading from Cozy Book Basics!