September 20 Kansas winds and Dodge City

Missouri_to Kansas (14) Kansas is windy.  We knew that, right?! After all, Dorothy was from Kansas and she ended up in Oz, which I think is now called Australia.  🙂  This is the first time we have driven across Kansas in the MoHo.  In 2007, on another trip, we left John’s place and drove along the Kansas eastern border, which was green and lovely.  Our route today was route 400, suggested by John as a much easier way to travel than our original plan to take a more southern route. 

When we left Missouri this morning the skies were still a murky grayish brown from the horizon to about midway up.  The highest part of the sky was blue, or something that looked a bit like blue.  I have experienced Blue on this trip, capital letter kind of blue sky in Minnesota, so the murkiness of Missouri was a bit sad. I thought maybe as we traveled west it would lighten up.  Instead, it got murkier.

Missouri_to Kansas (18)

No theme, no clue what this crazy collection of wind driven art along Highway 400 in Kansas was all about.  It stretched for a quarter mile along the highway, and provided a bit of entertainment on the Kansas landscape

The landscape of the part of Kansas that we crossed wasn’t the dead flat prairies that make Kansas so famous.  There were gentle rises and falls, locust trees and willows along the waterways, sections when the road would rise up enough to see a very long way.  But the skies were definitely tan and pale, and the closer we got to Wichita, the browner the “haze” turned.  Long straight roads near the city allowed a moment of internet access with the phone, and I researched Wichita air quality and found out that it has been on the list of the most badly polluted cities in the country.  I hoped that maybe as we drove west, the skies would clear.

Missouri_to Kansas (29) It was not to be, and whether from blowing dust, or the millions of cattle in feed lots all around Dodge City, the murkiness continued. The winds were high in eastern Kansas, and as the day progressed, the prognosis was dire for high profile vehicles.  Guess that’s us.  The average wind speed was 30 plus miles per hour, with gusts to 47 mph, and the direction was from the south, directly perpendicular to our western line of travel.  It made for a harrowing day, with Mo hanging on the wheel and me hanging on to the grip bar for dear life.  We didn’t see much, and with temperatures in the mid 90’s, I didn’t have a great desire to stop and explore the few little towns that we passed.

I saw a large area of trees all stripped of leaves and broken apart, and remembered vaguely the horrific tornado that blew through Kansas recently.  Sure enough, we were passing Greensburg, Kansas, site of the devastating tornado of 2007 that flattened the city.

Missouri_to Kansas (41) We continued west through the wind to arrive at Dodge City around 4pm and set up camp at the Gunsmoke RV Park, one of only a couple of RV Parks in the vicinity. Full hookups with a nice laundry that wasn’t ridiculously expensive was a nice perk.  As a kid, I was a huge Wyatt Earp fan, and in addition to watching the old TV series, I voraciously read all things Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Doc Holiday, the Santa Fe Trail, and later I loved the series Gunsmoke. I wanted to see Dodge.

By the time we drove back the 2 miles or so to town, the visitor center was ready to close. I learned that the majority of the attractions in Dodge City only run through the summer, and that most of them are Disneyesque gunfights, a fake Front Street, a piece of what was left of Boot Hill inside the closed museum gates, and other sorts of contrived western adventures.  Instead, I picked up the one small walking tour guide and we walked a few streets of Dodge City, including the infamous Front Street.

Missouri_to Kansas (43) Throughout this part of town, there were several very well done plaques describing the history of Dodge, a bronze statue of Wyatt Earp, and the Trail of Fame, which consisted of a few seals in the sidewalks naming some of the famous historic figures of the era.  The train depot was reconstructed, but a small part of the original building still stands.  The buildings of Front Street had burned a few times, and were no longer the same.  What I learned that was new, however, is that Dodge City is on the 100th parallel, a line that John Wesley Powell ( another of my heroes), set at the arbitrary break between the arable east and the arid west. 

Missouri_to Kansas (36) A few of the buildings remained from the late 1800’s but most of the historic buildings still in existence were from the early 20th century, during the heyday of railroading and the wealth that came along with it.  I knew that Dodge City was central to the history of the west, but I didn’t realize until today that it was also central to the devastation of the huge bison herds that roamed our country.  It was to Dodge that the hunters brought their hides, leaving behind literally millions of carcasses rotting on the plains.  It only took from 1872 to 1875 for the herds to be completely decimated., with an estimated 1.5 million hides shipped to the east. Later, poor homesteaders would gather the bones from the fields and sell them at 6 to 8 dollars a ton to be used in the manufacture of fertilizer and china. Half a century later, wheat crazed farmers would strip the thick deep sod from the plains as well, an ecosystem that cannot be replaced in a thousand years.  It’s a sad story of destruction that is only surpassed by the stories of what happened to the First Nations people in our country. As I walked along the old Front Street, I felt the weight of this history in my heart, as well as the romantic dreams of the west that I had as a ten year old.


Day 2 Visiting Bodie

Photos of Bodie are here:

Deciding on an early breakfast of coffee and little powdered sugar baby donuts, we planned an early start for our adventure to Bodie. We gassed up in Bridgeport, at 3.99 per gallon for regular gas, in the midst of motorcycle rallies, a big rodeo, art shows on the courthouse lawn, and general busy-ness. Once we left Bridgeport, however, things quieted down again, even on 395. The road to Bodie from the highway is only 13 miles, 10 of it paved, and was a bit curvy but not a problem at all.

We have often traveled past the HWY 270 sign to Bodie, thinking we should go there, and for one reason or another never made it. Initially we thought we might boondock along this road, after receiving some correspondence from the BLM saying it was ok to do so. But even though there were some possible wide places in the road, it still is much less private and at this time of year we wouldn’t be able to have a fire in the evening, which we can do back at our forest service campground.

Bodie was wonderful, and a bit sad. I first saw this piece of old western history in 1971 when my children were small, and there were no people around then, and no fees. Today it costs 5 bucks per person to enter the park, with an extra 2 bucks for a really nice self guided tour book, well worth the price. We wandered the town with lots of other people, marveling at the history, and the fact that Main Street was once a mile long bordered on both sides by buildings, bars, hotels, and restaurants.

I haven’t included any more photos of the town because they are all so interesting that it is impossible to choose particular photos that really catch the feeling of the place. At one time Bodie boasted 10,000 people and 68 bars. The state of California has managed to preserve things as they were left when the town finally gave up in the 1930’s in a way that doesn’t detract from the originality and mood of what it must have been like to live there. Even so, Bodie is now one of the State Parks of California scheduled to close because of California’s budget woes. It would be a truly sad thing to lose this place to vandals and such because of the state’s management by crisis and focus on so many things of less importance than maintaining some of our history. There is no other ghost town that I know of in the west that is quite like this one.

Rumor was going around that the state also planned to sell off the artifacts on EBay to make money. Reading about the “Bodie Curse” befalling anyone who took even a rock or a plant from the place makes me wonder what would happen to those buying artifacts from Bodie!

We left the busy parking lot and dusty road to return to Bridgeport following the back way through the Bodie hills, with views of the Sierra’s and the desert of Nevada to the west. Found a great little spot near a spring for a picnic lunch, where once more my trusty sleeping bag served us well, providing nice comfort on the hard ground. Abby loved it. We then wound down Aurora Canyon back into Bridgeport.

Tracking another backway, we took the Buckeye road from just west of Bridgeport along the base of the mountains with fabulous views of the Bridgeport Valley. This valley is one of the most extensive wetland valleys I have seen outside of Klamath, and there were literally thousands of cattle grazing on the lush grass.

We got another perspective of the valley by taking the Buckeye road south from 395 into Twin Lakes area. Beautiful! The Buckeye campground is back from this dirt access road another mile or so and can be a bit rough. We probably wouldn’t want to take the MoHo there, but did see some bigger rigs camped, and even some empty spaces available on this Holiday weekend Saturday. In addition, at the crossroads on Buckeye road is the Buckeye spring, which was filled with people the day we passed so we chose not to go there. It is a “clothing optional” spring on the side of the hills above the creek. I plan to check it out someday, but probably not on a weekend!

Backway photos are here:

Day 3 Highway 31 and Thompson Reservoir

After a couple of morning swims for Abby, we left Farewell Bend by 10:30 AM and traveled south on I-84 to HWY 20 heading west and on to HWY 395 South. Found the road near milepost 37 leading to Christmas Valley that I had noted the other day, found gas for 2.75 and then traveled HWY 31 (part of the Oregon Outback National Scenic Byway) south and west to Silver Lake.

USFS road 28 south led to Thompson Reservoir, where I spent a single night of relaxation. There is a loop road that goes to the campground at Thompson Reservoir and the more developed East Lake Campground. The route I took to Thompson was rough, with expansion strips in the pavement that were very rough for the MoHo.

The next morning I left the area using the southern portion of the loop passing East Lake Campground to hook back up to HWY 31. It was a much better road for the motorhome. Along the Outback Scenic Byway HWY 31 I drove through the Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, with lovely views of the Cascades in the west and wildflowers in the marsh.

The last leg home was via HWY 31 and HWY 97. For the time being, this adventure satisfied my need for a road trip.

Day 3 ByWay to Bandon

We love byways and backways. You can find all sorts of information about these amazing beautiful highways on the internet, in fact I even found a national geographic book all about some of the nation’s greatest byways. Today we traveled the Charleston to Bandon byway along the Seven Devils road parallel to the coast, and out to the beach. This loop is part of the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway of Oregon.

The most amazing thing on this trip was the lack of cars and people along the route. The Seven Devils road winds over the hills that are between the South Slough area and the coast, traveling through young forests that were heavily logged about 70 years ago.

We stopped in at the South Slough Estuary interpretive center, hoping for some additional information about the slough. Our original plan was to kayak the slough, but the winds were too strong so we abandoned that plan. The Estuary information center is wonderful, though, with the best large scale aerial photograph I have seen in a long time. It is about 10 feet tall and shows the estuary at low tide. There is a tremendous amount of information about this estuary here, I could have stayed for hours, but we were headed for Bandon, so onward.

When we turned west to the Seven Devils Beach wayside, the winds were blowing hard, but not so much that it explained the completely empty parking lot. The beach is gorgeous, long and sandy, with hard packed sands that you can walk on for miles. Of course, it was windy. I posted a video on YouTube to show just how windy it was. I was still amazed to have that beach all to ourselves during July 4th week. Oregon is still wild and free in so many places, and still uncrowded as well.

We drove on to Bandon, stopping in town for a bit of shopping at Winter Rivers Books, a warm and friendly locally owned bookstore, for an artsy clothing purchase at Siren Song, one of my favorite clothing shops in the west, and some great clam chowder at Tony’s Crab Shack. The wind was still blowing furiously, (didn’t they say something about breezy?) so we decided to drive to the famous beach for photos, but didn’t walk there. Maybe next time. The beach in Bandon is one of the most beautiful on the Oregon coast in my opinion, but most of the times I have been there, the winds have been blowing furiously, often including clouds and rain. The sun was gorgeous today, but the winds still blew.