This was a long two days, but significant. Or at least they felt that way. Essentially we made our way from what I think of as The East, to The West. For what I assume is the last time.
As has been the case of late, Tacco’s description is both thorough and insightful, so I’ll stick with providing some color commentary.
Our route below, also as usual:
A few things struck me about the drive. The first was the German influence in western Missouri. I know next to nothing about Missouri save for what I learned in the previous few days, but I hadn’t expected to see so many small towns with German names and the obvious provenance. Possibly “Anheuser Busch” should have given me a clue?
The second was that eastern Kansas and western Kansas are very different. Eastern Kansas seems to be where most of the “civilization” is… the college towns, the reasonable sized cities, the trees, etc. It’s a pretty area. We circumnavigated Kansas City, but we stopped in Topeka and drove through Manhattan, home of Kansas State University. Both places had a vibe I appreciated.
Western Kansas, on the other hand, is wide open. WIDE open. As is eastern Colorado.
I want to dwell on Topeka for a moment, though, as we stopped there to visit the Brown vs. Board of Education National Historical Site there, and it affected me more deeply than I would have guessed it would have.
I confess to having had only a bare bones knowledge of Brown v. Board prior to this visit, and I learned quite a bit on our stop. I won’t belabor the points Tacco already made, even though they affected me as well. What really stayed with me (I almost wrote “haunted me”) after viewing the exhibit was this idea that our country was a very different place only a few decades ago, and it’s exceedingly easy to forget that.
There is significant exhibit space devoted to fleshing out the ideas and consequences of racial segregation, and tangentially, the degree to which a large segment of society seemed to be not just ok with this idea, but willing to fight for it. To watch video of not only the common folk, but the authorities and elected officials standing up with what appears to be a clear air of moral superiority in support of segregation is more than a little mind-blowing in 2018.
But I think what stuck with me most were the videos of the people reacting to the protesters. And by protesters I don’t mean aggressive, sloganeering, in your face types, I mean people trying simply to walk quietly into a school. The people around them are screaming, pushing, spitting… it’s shocking, frankly. And when I go deeper and try to get into the heads of these folks, whom I whole-heartedly believe were convinced they were doing “the right thing” at the time… It scrambles your brain a bit. I could go far deeper here, but I’ll leave it at that.
It stuck with me.
After our Topeka stop we headed into Kansas’ great western unknown in search of our Friday-night-of-Memorial-Day-weekend campsite. I had no idea how this would turn out, as this was the first time we started a Davista drive without a definite destination reserved, and on a holiday weekend to boot. My operating assumption was that this being Kansas, the people-to-space ratio couldn’t possibly support fully occupied campgrounds. Hmmmm…
Our plan consisted of stopping successively at four campgrounds, using their occupancy state, the surroundings, and my sciatica to determine where we’d drop anchor. The first was at a city park which I’d repeatedly tried to call to verify vacancy, but got no answer. It became abundantly clear why there was no one at the other end of the phone line once we pulled into the campground. Wow. Tacco’s description was diplomatic. I’ll remain diplomatic, but slightly less so – there was no chance we were staying here with our kids, free of charge or not. There are some seriously depressed towns in central Kansas, and we had found one. I wish we had photos… kinda… but that would be piling on. Better to just move on.
The next stop was at Glen Elder State Park on Waconda Lake in Cawker City. The campground here was enormous. And completely full. And then some. Not only were all the sites occupied, but people seemed to be camping on any open grass spot they could find. It was quite the festive atmosphere. We drove around all four (or more?) campground loops, past hundreds of campsites, for a good half hour if not a full hour, before we talked to the ridiculously friendly camp host, who advised us to just grab an open area of grass and relax. Great idea. We did as she suggested and didn’t even disconnect the car. Here’s where we were. I almost wished we could stay a while.
We fired up the generator, made some dinner, ate, and went to bed. Nothing wrong with that.
Knowing there was yet another long drive ahead of us, we decamped pretty early in the morning. We did stop in Nicodemus, however. Another National Historical Site, and fascinating. Yet again better covered by Tacco, but my overall impression upon leaving was that Kansas is a pretty cool place, with a solid legacy of supporting those who desire to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. The open terrain can be unforgiving, but there seems to be, and has always been, an aggressive tradition of no-nonsense egalitarianism. It’s hard not to respect that.
The drive into Colorado was tough. I mentioned the barrenness of eastern CO / western KS, well combine that with a searing sciatic nerve and brutal crosswinds. I’ve come to discover that gusty crosswinds are by far the toughest weather conditions in which to drive. It’s very similar to landing an airplane in that sense. The last time we had a drive like this was through eastern Texas; these winds were even stronger and required constant, aggressive steering corrections. By the time we rolled into our campsite in Golden, I was done. DONE.
Fortunately, it was a great campsite, with full hookups, good wifi, a pool and hot tub, and clean bathrooms. And we were back to the mountains. Ahhhhh….