Truth in Advertising
September 24, 2001
There aren’t many roadside attractions left in America these days. The
ones that remain – “See the Largest, most Terrifying, Caverns in the
Country!!” – charge you twelve bucks to see what usually turns out to be a
huge disappointment. Call me crazy, but I thought there was a mutual
agreement between the owners of these so-called “Eighth Wonders of the
World” and automobile drivers. We’ll stop driving and pretend to marvel at
your roadside attractions if you promise not to charge more than fifty
cents, which is approximately what a look at a miniature village is really
worth. So, unless you’re willing to break the bank, there isn’t much to look
at on the road but the scenery, which is usually a good thing.
View of Kansas from Route 50
Brian and I were heading west, in a race to see the National Parks
before the winter weather forced the rangers to close roads to the public.
For our route we chose “The Loneliest Road in America”, Route 50, which runs
clear across the country. We chose a section of this historic highway and
drove west, across the entire state of Kansas. When I say the entire state
of Kansas, I want you all to understand that we started in Missouri, ended
in Colorado and drove all 500 miles of Kansas that lie in between. Simply
put, it was a very long drive and everything that anyone has ever told you
about Kansas being flat is true.
The first couple of hundred miles were enjoyable. We had hit the open
road on a sunny day and with a speed limit of 70 (but not a cop in sight to
enforce it and even if there was we could spot another car at least thirty
five miles in the distance, which is ample time to slow down). For the
first time we felt like we were on a road trip; our only task for the day
was just to drive west. The yellow Kansas farms and plains went whizzing by
our windows and for hours the contrast between the bright blue sky and the
never-ending earth struck us as beautiful. We were amazed by just how much
land there was – houses were set twenty miles apart and driveways were so
long we couldn’t see the houses they led up to. Could this be the same
country that spawned Northern New Jersey, an area as densely populated as
Japan? The cows and horses (and even a few llamas and buffalo) spotting the
countryside gave us something to look for along the way. I can recommend
the first few hundred miles of Kansas with confidence.
Since we had started in Missouri that morning we didn’t make it across
Kansas in a single day but instead decided to find lodging in Dodge City,
the town famous for Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson, show-downs and
shoot-em-ups. We knew it was a gigantic tourist trap but we thought it
would be a kick to stay in Dodge anyway. Let me now say that the phrase
“Get yourself out of Dodge” still hold true today. The closest thing to a
cowboy in that town are the fleets of tour bus geriatrics that will split
your head trying to get in front of you at Econo-Lodge’s registration desk.
Sure, there’s the recreated Front Street, where actors pretend to shoot at
each other twice daily and the new “Boot Hill” cemetery conveniently relocated
so that the original site could be used for an office building, but if
you’re looking for anything other than a lot of cheap souvenirs you’ve got
the wrong town.
We fled Dodge early the next day to finish out our drive across
Kansas. A few miles west of town there are wagon ruts from pioneers who
traveled the Santa Fe Trail. This was by far the highlight of Kansas and it
was the only thing that made the next hundred miles bearable. We had
entered the smelliest place on Earth (and may I remind you I’m from New
Jersey). The rest of Kansas was just as flat and the sky just as blue but
instead of encountering happy cows romping to and fro across open fields we
hit slaughter country. The stench of manure and blood resembled the scent
of a tremendous diaper and the the muddy hills were blanketed by pens of
miserable cows lumped on top of each other. I rarely eat meat as it is, but
I swear I’ll never touch beef again after this drive, which I hear is a
common response to seeing this sort of thing.
It smelled, it was depressing, and it was still flat but it was all
worth it because then we crossed into Colorado (which is still flat the
first hundred miles or so) and began to see the outline of the Rockies.
After 500 miles of flat, empty land, the sight of this incredible mountain
range will suck the air right out of your lungs. And in the end Kansas held
up its end of the bargain. Unlike the false advertising strung out on
billboards along the highway, the hype was finally true: Kansas and Route 50
really do make up the “Loneliest Road in America”.
There are no hostels in this state so if you’re looking for a deal I’d suggest camping. You can also use “Traveler’s Discounts” (see Memphis) for reduced hotel rates. As far seeing the sights: skip Dodge but stop for the Santa Fe Trail and as for the rest, it’s your call.