Close Encounters of the Cousin Kind

Saturday, October 27, 2012 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Topeka, KS to Dodge City, KS
We continued trekking westward today, following I-70 across the Kansas prairie.  Along the roadside, we saw dozens of hawks perched on fence posts, telephone poles, and tree limbs, waiting and watching for some unsuspecting mouse or rabbit to scamper through the thickets or ground cover below.  Whether connection or coincidence, we saw almost no roadkill on this stretch of highway.  Memo to Honey Boo Boo:  don't come to Kansas.

At the Fort Riley military reservation, we located a couple of letterboxes on some of the base's hiking trails before we arrived in the town of Abilene (pop. 6,844), where we visited the Eisenhower Center
This complex embraces the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum, Ike's childhood home (pictured above), and the burial place of the President and his wife.  While competent, our guide for the home tour lacked the warmth we encountered at the Truman home in Missouri earlier this week.  Her presentation was meticulous, but questions distracted her from her script and were not encouraged.

The museum exhibits were a bit tired but well organized.  My particular favorite was the room dedicated to First Lady Mamie and her unique sense of style.  Rotating mannequins modeled outfits Mrs. Eisenhower wore at momentous events so you could check out every angle.  A letter on display from cosmetics queen Elizabeth Arden thanked Mrs. Eisenhower for patronizing her Washington salon and included copies of sketches Ms. Arden had ordered to assist her stylists in executing the First Lady's unique Parisian coiffure.  Operated by the National Archives, the Eisenhower Center collected $9.00 admissions from each of us (reflecting a AAA discount of $1).

A temporary exhibit "War and Peace:  the Art of Shin-hee Chin" did provide a bright spot in the museum displays.  In the series the Korean American artist sought to honor both the famous and the unsung heroes of war and peace. An art professor at a Kansas college, Chin uses a mixture of traditional and innovative fiber art techniques to create impressionistic images that evoke an emotional response and invite closer inspection.  Her portrait of Anne Frank using fabric yoyos was especially compelling.
Anne Frank portrait by Shin-hee Chin
Leaving Abilene, we continued west to Salina, where we turned southwest on KS-156 through Ellsworth toward Dodge City.  Before reaching the legendary home of the old Gunsmoke television series, we made brief stops in Larned (pop. 4,080), at the Santa Fe Trail Museum and the Fort Larned National Historic Site.  By the time we arrived, closing time was approaching at both places, so we didn't have time to do justice to either site.  As she was about to lock up the visitor center, Ranger Ellen at the fort did tip us off about a nearby location, managed by the fort, but not within the gates.
Santa Fe Trail Ruts (prairie dog hole in foreground center)

For nearly sixty years, countless wagon trains endured the rugged journey between Missouri and New Mexico on the Santa Fe Trail.  As the wagons and animals crisscrossed the Kansas prairie, their wheels and hooves cut deep ruts into the ground.  Unlike most parts of the old trail, which have been reclaimed by nature or obscured by development, traces of those ruts can still be seen in this protected area, which is also home to a very active prairie dog town.

Finishing up the final 60 miles, we arrived in Dodge City (pop. 27,921) around 6:30 and checked in to the new Hampton Inn next door to Boot Hill Casino.  The desk clerk seemed a bit surprised upon learning that we didn't intend to spend the evening at the casino.  Judging by the number of cars in Boot Hill's parking lot, we were one of the few people in town keeping our money in our pockets.

The Cousin Encounter:  When we went downstairs to explore the Hampton Inn's breakfast buffet this morning, we found something more than the usual cereal and fruit offerings.  To our great surprise, we found our cousins Ann and Eddie having breakfast right there at the same hotel.

We had planned to visit Ann and Eddie at their home near Oklahoma City on our return trip and had no idea they would be in Kansas this weekend, let alone staying at the same hotel.  Unable to book a room in nearby Lawrence, they had settled for Topeka as a layover before attending Kansas University's homecoming game with their KU freshman son Evan today.  We spent a delightful half hour catching up on their family's activities before they had to depart.  Incredibly, when we rode the elevator together to return to our respective rooms and pack up, we discovered that our rooms were next door to each other.

Tomorrow will be our last day in Kansas, as we head north toward our encounter with Nebraska.

Exclusive Club Meeting in a Time Machine: A couple of jigsaw puzzles in the gift shop at the Eisenhower Center caught our attention. Created from original paintings by Andy Thomas, the puzzles feature group pictures of U.S. presidents from different eras. The subjects are usually from the same political party and appear to be enjoying each other's company in a casual setting. 
Pedal to the Metal:  As in west Texas, the powers that be in Kansas recognize that driving across long straight, relatively flat stretches doesn't present many surprises for drivers, at least not during daylight hours.  The 75 mph speed limit on certain parts of I-70 reflects this. 

A Nod to Sod:  At the Santa Fe Trail Museum, we saw an example of a sod house.  These mainstays of early Kansas settlers were the perfect solution in the flat treeless prairies where more typical building materials for houses such as trees and stones were in short supply.  Though subject to dampness, the sod house provided good insulation from extreme heat and cold and protection from raging prairie fires.
  • Miles driven: 290
  • Letterboxes: F 2, P 0
  • Weather: Sunny, 25° to 48° 
  • States: 1 (KS) 
  • Viewing distance on KS highways:  10 miles
  • Cousins encountered:  2
  • Miles driven: 1,925
  • Letterboxes: F 12, P 3
  • States: 8 (GA, SC, NC, TN, KY, IL, MO, KS)
  • Temperature range: 25° to 80° 
  • Gas prices (premium): $3.30 to $3.95 
  • National battlefields: 3 
  • National historic sites:  3
  • State capitols:  1
  • State parks: 2
  • State historic sites:  1
Fancy meeting you here!
Graves of Eisenhower and Mamie inside the chapel
A typical sod house