Kansas is an amazing place! Everything in American history washed through the state at some point and there is probably a small town museum that mentions it. And it is beautiful. Just beautiful.
“Kansas was once part of the great inland sea, “a woman with a Mennonite cap informed us in the Oakley Museum. There was a local ranch where thousands of fossils were discovered in excellent shape, so many that the woman of the place, who was an artist, incorporated the bits and pieces into her paintings. “You can see them, with vertebra for the tree trunks and small shells for petals on the flowers.” She pointed the way. “And the big fossils are around the corner.“ We examined the paintings, then headed around the corner. And there was an eight foot long complete amphibian fossil, bigger than any we had ever seen-- and we just came from Dinosaur National Monument. Amazing!
At the next museum, we found the iconic photographs of the Dust Bowl rolling into Scott City, the ones that are in the Timothy Egan’s book that I assigned a few years ago. We saw the buildings that the dust covered-- ate lunch in one. We examined photographs of the Jack Rabbit Round-ups, when they caught 10,000 rabbits in one day, because they were eating any green plant that survived the drought. Ten thousand in one day and they held regular ups. Another display described the life of Zora Hurst, one of the plaintiffs in Brown vs. the Board of Education. She went to school in Oakley, which was integrated because the population was so small. As we headed down the road, I began to remember all of the history that happened in this state: the westward movement that started out in Kansas City, the debates over free and slave states that circled around the borders, the beginnings of the grange and populist movements of the nineteenth century. All of it happened right here, in the middle of the country.
The next day, we wandered over the Tall Grass prairies. The Nature Conservancy, working with the National Parks, purchased an old ranch and began to preserve some of the land as prairie. It had not been plowed, but grazed by cattle. First we explored the buildings, the fancy, modern for the time barns and the house, then we headed out to the grasslands. Bison grazed on the far hilltops. Flowers bloomed-- some that we knew, some that we did not. We examined the bloom patterns, commenting on how the tiny flowers began at the bottom of the stalk and opened upward. “There’s a name for that,” Mark muttered. Birds flew around our heads. Clouds covered the sky and a breeze dried the sweat on our backs. Some lovely. So quiet.
And then, both nights, we had HUGE thunderstorms. They began with heat lightning at dusk and slowly built to full on, hour long storms, constantly flashing and rumbling. We laid snug in the Ark, listening to the rains pound on the roof. It was impossible to sleep. I understood, perhaps,why Kansas has always been so strong minded and contrary-- they may just be short on sleep from the summer storms. They were incredible.
We left the state reluctantly, wishing we had planned several more days to explore the border towns, like Fort Scott, where we found a preserved downtown and the old fort when we stopped to hunt for a bathroom one evening. But we had miles to go, literally, before we slept and we pushed on. We may need to go back.