The process of driving across Kansas has a deserved bad reputation; a series of flat and monotonous vistas interrupted by sad-looking little towns never fails to cause my spirits to falter. I try to like Kansas, as some of my ancestors were farmers in the east end of the state, but I can’t help but think that the existence of states such as Kansas and Nebraska might have been an incentive for the airline industry in its early days.
The west half is the most harrowing. Desolate feedlots oppress the spirits as the land imperceptibly tilts down from the high point near the Colorado border. In the east half of Kansas the terrain varies more. The entire Flint Hills section is a balm to the eyes, with vistas of rolling prairies never broken by the plow. The possibility of seeing prairie chickens adds interest to the drive.
As we drove on I-70 I scanned maps and brochures, looking for a reasonably pleasant place to camp for the night. We had stopped at a determinedly-cheery Visitors Center and picked up printed promotional material, and they even had a good wi-fi connection.
One brochure amused me; it was about a tiny state park called Mushroom Rock. Peculiar mushroom-shaped sandstone formations looked rather quaint in the photos compared to the grand hoodoos of Utah’s red-rock country, but according to the brochure Kit Carson had called the spot his “favorite little place”. I was charmed by this evidently old photo in the brochure — two people encountering one of the “mushrooms”:
As we drove on endlessly my imagination was inflamed by the periodic recurrence of sequential signs advertising an animal oddity attraction:
The largest prairie dog in the world! What could it be like? I imagined a bloated hormone-fed rodent, so fat it could barely stand up, blearily eyeing tourists through the bars of its cage. A sign warns: “Don’t feed the prairie dog! He bites!”
A wicked little child, bored by hours of driving, tosses pebbles at the prairie dog’s nose. The sleepy beast darts a fierce glance at the boy, snarls, bursts through the bars, and goes on a rampage. Tourists flee as cars are overturned. The shambling beast heads for the nearest town, gobbling up a stray steer or two and leaving steaming dung-piles on the freeway.
Another series of signs appears and I snap out of my Kansas horror-flick reverie. Hmm, look at this one:
A five-legged steer, and it’s alive! What fun watching the animal attempt to walk. Petting baby pigs would be a pleasant diversion after watching an unfortunate deformed cow, I imagine!
The next sign offers a plethora of animals — what a menagerie the place must be!
I imagine the fox has designs on the peacock, as the buffalo wearily looks on from his pen and dreams of ancestral glory on the high plains.
There was one sign in the series I wish I had captured. I was so amused by the invitation to meet Roscoe the Miniature Donkey! I could picture that donkey with a straw hat on with holes cut in the brim to accommodate the ears.
Such sights and thoughts make the miles just roll on by!