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10 - 30 August 2016 Kansas & Oklahoma

Wednesday 10th August.

The Raccoons are back in the dumpster!

Departed Lake Jacomo this morning

and headed west into Kansas and the Great Plains. We quickly came to the state line into Kansas

and picked up the I-35 south down to Wichita. About 100 miles down the road we came to the Flint Hills. Here the terrain became grassland prairie with herds of grazing cattle. This is the largest unplowed area of prairie that remains on the Great Plains and originally bison inhabited the land. Early settlers were unable to plow the flint rock soil, therefore, cattle ranches predominated and the tallgrass prairie survived.

We pulled in at the Wellington KOA campground just off the 1-35. Jodie, the owner of the park, booked us in and we settled down into a nice shady pitch. This is a very nice park, large grassy camp sites, excellent restrooms and laundry, swimming pool and fishing lake surrounded by reeds and bulrushes, all really well looked after.

We took a ride into Wellington, a pleasant small mid-west town and found The Dore bar. Had a chat with a couple of locales at the bar. The big industry around here is aircraft building, although there is still a lot of agriculture. The town is on the historic Chisholm Trail, an overland cattle drive from Texas ranches to the railheads in Kansas.

Thursday 11th – 18th August

The first few days were searingly hot with temperatures in the high 30’s but apparently it is not bad for Kansas in August as it can be in the 40’s.

We have spent a relaxing week, dipping in and out of the swimming pool trying to keep cool.

The mail was forwarded from our Escapees mail box and we plowed through that and generally got a few things done around the RV. Before going to Mexico we also took the opportunity to send for a few things from Amazon. Walmart is just a corn field away,

therefore shopping has been easy. Paid a visit to the Regis hair salon in Walmart for highlights and a haircut. Jami was the stylist, she has lived in Wellington since she was two and her parents moved here to work in the local aircraft building industry.

Every night just before dusk we have a loud chorus from the local cicadas.

Friday 19th August

The RV Park was full this morning with a group of Kansas Winnebago owners. Everyone seems very friendly and a few have come over to talk to us.

We were due to move on today but then the RV entrance steps stuck and would not fold in properly. Tony took the gears and motor off and went to a RV dealership in Wichita. The outcome was new steps, motor and gears. They are on order and we will be staying here until Tuesday.

As I write we are experiencing the most horrendous storm. At about 8.20pm we could see a weather front coming towards us from the north. It was like a wall of dark blue cloud and lightening. One of our neighbours came over to say take everything in and pull in the awing this is a ‘Kansas storm wall’ coming our way. No sooner had we battened down the hatches and the lightening, thunder and heavy rain pounded us, buffeting and swaying the RV. It went on for over an hour and has now settled down to continual rain.

Saturday 20th – Monday 22nd August

We have had a good weekend, the weather went back to its normal sunny self on Saturday. The Winnebago owners left on Sunday afternoon and we had the campsite to ourselves.

Tuesday 23rd August

Up early this morning to take the RV into Wichita for the steps to be replaced at Flint Hills RV dealers. Tony drove the RV and I followed on in the car. While the work was being done we went down the road to Dillions shopping market where there was a Starbucks for coffee and muffins.

We are now the owners of a new pair of bright shinny steps and a thousand+ dollars lighter.

Next we made our way across town to Ferrell Gas to have a new valve put on the LPG tank so that we can close it off securely when required. The new valve also allows us to attach a hose from the barbeque and run it from the main tank. It proved to be a difficult job but the guys persevered and eventually got the valve fixed and we filled up with propane.

On the way back through Wichita I noticed what I guessed were large grain silos. They were massive and looked like concrete ocean liners.

Wednesday 24th August

Said goodbye to Jodie this morning. We have had a good two weeks here and feel as if we have been on holiday with the hot weather and the swimming pool.

We left town and headed west along the long straight back roads of Kansas.

Came across a large grain silo built at the side of the rail tracks. No doubt waiting for one of the long freight trains to arrive to transport Kansas grain across the country.

At the small town of Anthony we turned due south towards Oklahoma.

The countryside was fields of corn and crops, eventually giving way to cattle farms. Dotted about the fields we saw pump jacks extracting oil. We also noticed many places had tornado shelters.

Approaching the state line we had a good view of the Oklahoma red soil plains.

Just after the border we passed a herd of cows cooling off in a pond surrounded by what looked like cattle egrets. We read that they are native to Africa and colonized southeastern North America in the 1940’s.

We are staying at Great Salt Plains State Park. The Park is situated along the Salt Fork of the Arkansas River and we have a nice site right next to the river.

The landscape of the Great Salt Plains is made up of salt that was left over from when an ocean covered Oklahoma in prehistoric times. The wide stretch of white salt plain looks like a snowy landscape from afar and is famous for the selenite crystals that form within the salt and sand bed. There is also a large salt water lake that was formed when the river was damned in the forties. The salt plain and lake are home to many species of migratory birds.

We went out for a cycle ride around the park before dusk and spotted some small white tail deer.

Thursday 25th August

Woke up this morning just as the sun came up to a beautiful view over the river through the bedroom window.

There is a lot of bird and reptile life along the river including the Great Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, Great Egret, Double Crested Cormorant and plenty of turtles - not forgetting a long black snake.

We took a drive to the south of the salt plains area into the small town of Jet. The economy here is mainly agriculture and we saw many grain trucks whizzing through the down. Like many towns on the plains, Jet has large grain storage elevators towering over Main Street.

Took the bikes out and cycled to a small sandy beach at the side of the lake. We had the place to ourselves, just the bids for company, it was very tranquil.

Friday 26th August

Paid a visit to the town of Cherokee this morning which is situated on the east side of the salt plains.

Settlement and the establishment of towns and farms in this area, known as the Cherokee Outlet or Strip, began after the 1893 Land Run. On the 16th September of that year at noon, thousands of settlers had gathered along a starting line on horses or driving wagons. At noon a gun sounded and the race was on to stake a land claim.

Most of the Great Salt Plain is a wildlife refuge and we took a walk through the woods in the refuge area. The path we followed was teaming with insect and reptile life skittering about across the track.

The problem was they were too fast and we had difficulty getting any pictures.

Jiminy Cricket.

We had taken our scope along with us and stopped off at a viewing platform that overlooked the lake.

There was a flock of white pelicans.

Red winged blackbirds

Old abandoned ranch house that the birds and cattle were making good use of.

Saturday 27th August

We left Oklahoma this morning and headed back into Kansas to make our way to Dodge City.

The countryside alternated between flat plains and rugged moorland rolling hills. As we turned off the US-64 and headed north towards the state line, the long straight roads became very quiet, we felt like the only ones left in Oklahoma. We passed isolated ranch houses and fields of cattle and the gigantic grain elevators that are dotted about the landscape.

We rode into Dodge this afternoon and tied up at the Gunsmoke RV Park – where else!

Went to the Central Station Bar and Grill for dinner. We sat in an old railway carriage dining car

Sunday 28th August

Boarded the Dodge City trolley bus this morning for a tour of town.

Dodge City was built in 1872 five miles west of the fort on the mountain branch of the old Santa Fe Trail and at the side of the new Santa Fe Railroad track.

The town quickly became a trading centre for travellers and buffalo hunters. By 1875 the buffalo were gone but by then Texas Longhorn cattle were being driven up the Western Trail to the shipping point at Dodge City. The cattle trade provided the main revenue for the town and Dodge became a cow town.

When the cowboys reached town they collected their pay and headed to the saloons and shops to spend it but most of all to get a bath. The town gained a reputation as the wildest town on the western frontier. Eventually, skilled lawmen like Wyatt Earp were hired to bring law an order to the town.

In 1880 intoxicating liquor was banned in Kansas, unless for medicinal, scientific or mechanical purposes. Dodge City saloons ignored the ban until 1885 when the Attorney General arrived to start law suits against the saloon owners. Many saloons made magical transformations into drug stores where liquor could be purchased for ‘medicinal purposes’.

By the 1900’s the cattle drives had gone and agriculture was established in the area and most of the buildings in the town date from that era. Respectability had arrived and on Gospel Hill many churches were built.

Today Dodge is still a cattle town and to the east of the City is a large feedlot that can hold 45,000 cattle. The cattle are brought here from all over the US, Canada and Mexico. They enter the feedlots when they weigh 600/700 pounds and stay until they reach 1000/1200 pounds before they are ‘processed’. They are fed mainly corn with chopped alfalfa, hay, molasses and vitamins and minerals.

Just down the road was a field with some long horn cattle grazing, the original breed brought up on the cattle drives from Texas. It was a nice sight to see them grazing peacefully, better than the feedlot cattle wandering around their muddy pens.

In 1865 Fort Dodge was built to protect travelers on the Santa Fe Trail from Missouri to New Mexico from attacks by Plains Indian tribes. It also acted as a supply depot for soldiers fighting in the Indian Wars out on the plains. At this time there were vast herds of buffalo on the plains that attracted hunters who sold the hides for good money.

Fort Dodge is currently a Kansas Soldiers Home which opened in 1890. Some of the old 19th century structures still remain.

Heading back into town from Fort Dodge we passed one of the largest meat processing plants in the country employing over 3,000 people. Dodge City is one of windiest cities in the country and wind turbine farms are being constructed around the area. We saw some of the giant blades being transported.

This was a very well put together tour, full of facts about the town and it’s history right up to the present day.

This evening we moseyed on down to the Boot Hill Museum where a reconstruction of the now long gone Front Street of the 1860’s has been erected. The first exhibits we looked at were in the Boot Hill Building, called People of the Plains. It has an extensive Native American collections and tells the story of the people that made Dodge City.

The original jail house from Fort Dodge.

Next to Front Street and a look at the General Store, the Long Branch Saloon and all the other shops and businesses of the 19th century street.

Our admission ticket included, a country style dinner at the Occident Saloon where we sat by Stephanie and Bob who were from California and happened to be staying at the same RV Park.

After dinner we made our way outside for a good old Dodge City gunfight.

The evening finished with a variety show at the Long Branch Saloon with Miss Kitty, the can can girls and others. A sarsaparilla, plenty of fun and a very entertaining evening.

Monday 29th August

Dull, cloudy and rainy today, stayed around camp.

Tuesday 30th August

Well, we got the heck out of Dodge this morning.

Our route west towards Colorado was the US-50 which runs along the course of the old Santa Fe Trail. We passed through small farming communities and crossed the state line into Colorado.

The Eastern Plains of Colorado are dry and rely on irrigation to produce crops.

We came to the town of Lamar which is near to the Sand Creek Massacre site. In 1864 members of the Colorado Volunteer Cavalry attacked a Cheyenne and Arapaho village killing 200, two-thirds of this number were women and children. The massacre inspired the film Soldier Blue.

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