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When we think of Kansas, our minds tend to run towards miles upon miles of golden wheat fields rolling in all directions, and of wide expanses of clear blue sky – and well they should. Kansas has some of the most beautiful terrain in the Midwest, including those fabled “amber waves of grain.” There’s also a vibrant history steeped in the romance and gun slinging of the Old West, featuring such characters as Bat Masterson, Doc Holliday and of course, Wyatt Earp.
Dodge City has to be in the top three on the list of cities most readily identified with the Old West. Immortalized in literature, song and film, this city epitomizes the rough-and-tumble pistol-and-whiskey days of the American frontier. On arrival in Dodge City, head down to Front Street and visit the Boot Hill Museum, which is built on the site of the old Boot Hill Cemetery. We’re able to walk down the boardwalk and experience life as it was in the late 1800s, as well as take stagecoach rides and observe re-enactments of gunfights in the middle of the street. A one-hour trolley tour is also available to take us around town for easy access to all the historic sites. At the end of the day, let’s enjoy an authentic chuck-wagon dinner with all the trimmings. Good grub!
When it’s time to “get out of Dodge,” we head east on the US-56 for 35 miles and take it to our next stop, Kinsley. En route, we’re more than likely to see large, sand dune-like piles of hay, which is one of the major crops to be found in Edwards County. Once we get to Kinsley, we’ll be treated to more pioneer history by touring the Carnival Heritage Center and the Edwards County Historical Society Museum. At the intersection of the US-56 and the 50, there’s an old steam locomotive along with an old church. The county museum can be found here.
From Kinsley, we take the northbound US-183 for just under 60 miles until we reach the town of Hays. If we want to get some exercise, this is the place. Hays is filled with outdoor parks for tennis, jogging, biking, and swimming. The Chestnut Street District is a great place to take a walking tour to see the city as it once was, when “Wild Bill” Hickok served as sheriff. The Ellis County Museum showcases artifacts from the area’s colorful history, featuring items belonging to Hickok, as well as “Buffalo Bill” Cody and Gen. George Armstrong Custer. We shouldn’t pass up the chance to tour Fort Hays, which was established in 1875 and commanded by Custer himself. If we plan our trip to coincide with the second weekend of September, we can experience Historic Hays Days, which includes demonstrations of blacksmithing, wheat weaving, and other frontier occupations, as well as re-enactments and weapons demonstrations.
Taking the I-70 west for a little over eighty miles takes us to the city limits of Oakley. A short distance away we can see Monument Rocks, which are sediment remains of marine life that’s nearly 200 million years old. The rocks shoot splendidly out of an otherwise flat plain, making them the only such natural monument for miles around. The Flick Fossil Museum is an excellent place to go to see an array of fossils dug up from the area, and learn more about the paleontological history of this part of our nation.
Bearing south on the US-83, we cruise for just under eighty miles which brings us to our final destination of Garden City. Garden City offers a wide range of entertainment, from touring the town’s historic district, to taking a walk on the wild side with a visit to the city zoo. The Sandsage Bison and Wildlife area is nearly 4,000 acres of preserve, home to the oldest publicly owned bison herd in Kansas. The sanctuary is also the domain of plenty of quail, ground squirrels and deer, so come here to see some wildlife roaming free.
A quick 50-mile jaunt east on the US-400 brings us back to our origin point of Dodge. Maybe we should grab another one of those chuck wagon dinners and take in a gunfight before heading back to modern times.
All in all, a trip through Kansas gives us a lot more to see and do than enjoy the wheat fields. While there’s a great respect for her rough and tumble past, Kansas is filled with all manner of 21st century activities that’ll keep us coming back for more.