Brother Knows Best

Or at least my brother may have a better memory for the geographical history of our family vacations than I do. When I went to Idaho over the July 4th holiday, I believed that I had stepped foot into the one state I had never been to. But that might not have been true. While I was in Kansas last week for Thanksgiving, my brother and I were discussing the places we had been to in the Kansas City area as children…which according to him, were none. I distinctly remember being in Missouri and visiting the Jesse James house, but my brother says that never happened. According to him, we visited a bank in Minnesota that James had robbed.

Then I thought about it some more and realized yes, it’s quite possible that I never did make it to the Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas quartet. Well, shoot. But if that’s true, at least Kansas and Missouri are now knocked off the list for real.

And I mean, I’ve really done Kansas. All the way from the border with Colorado 424 miles across I-70 to Kansas City and back. I left the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and took two days for the eastbound trip. My plan was to stop and see all the kitsch sites along the way, because there are many: a giant Van Gogh painting, truckhenge, world’s largest collection of the smallest versions of the largest things…need I go on? A collection of Americana perfect for the ultimate Heartland road trip.

But I completely disregarded the time of year (darkness falling at 5pm is suboptimal for taking in roadside attractions) and the holiday (nothing is open on Thanksgiving!) so I didn’t see as much as I planned to, but I still had an interesting journey. Here are the highlights.

History

I spent the first night in Hays, which is roughly the halfway point between Boulder and Kansas City. Hays has a lot of history and a lot to do, so much so that I’m considering heading there for a long weekend next year. I ended up staying all alone in my AirBnB – there were no other guests and the owners were gone for the holiday. It was a little creepy, but I enjoyed it. Reading through the tourist brochures in my room, I got my first inkling that Kansas was a strange mix of Europeans with strong ties to their roots and hardcore frontiersmen. This heritage would be echoed in many of the towns I visited. In the morning, I went to see the bison herd and got a delightful surprise – there was a white one among them. I’ve never seen a white bison before!

 

Americana

OK, I got a little kitsch fix – the World’s Largest Czech Egg. Verified by whom, I’m not sure. But there it was. There was a lot of “world’s largest” advertised along I-70, which made me wonder how many people posting those signs had ever been out of Kansas, let alone the United States. Other roadside attractions I saw were more picture-perfect heartland, like all the windmills. I love modern windmills and had to take the chance to drive up close through one of the many wind farms I passed.

 

Abandoned Places

I passed a good number of abandoned farms and homesteads that, were I not traveling alone, I would totally have trespassed on and explored. Some small towns I drove through were deserted and I don’t think that’s because it was Thanksgiving. I’m pretty sure on any given day I would be unlikely to find people walking down the Main Street of quite a few places I drove through.

 

Military Bases and Paraphernalia

I wanted to see a monument dedicated to the 1.5 million horses that have died in military service to the United States, but I didn’t realize it was on a military base. My life is so disconnected from anything related to the military that it didn’t register in my mind that “Fort Riley” might be an actual base. I just thought it was the name of a town. So, when I pulled off the highway and encountered a gated barricade instead of a country road into town, I thought I had made a mistake. I pulled a u-turn and then looked on my phone to figure out what was happening. It took a minute, but I figured out that it was a base. I went to the visitor’s center and got a day pass to go poke around. Poke around I did! After that effort, I wasn’t just going to look at the horse statue and leave. On the other side of the highway, off the base, I absolutely trespassed and hopped a barricade to hike up to Atomic Annie, a cannon designed to shoot a nuclear warhead. Kind of cool.

 

My Niece and Nephew

Oh yeah, the whole point of the trip! To see these little munchkins I’m related to but have only met once before, more than two years ago. Who knew they were so cute! We went the children’s museum, I had my ear talked off, and we had some great local barbecue. We also played games – my brother has a lot of the toys that we had as children (Fisher Price parking garage, anyone?), which made for a nice trip down memory lane. He also has our old Atari, so we totally spent some time one night (after the kids were asleep) playing Space Invaders, Haunted House, Missile Command, and Pinball. And Ironman and I went into into Kansas City twice without the goblins in tow to check out Union Station, the Nelson-Atkins museum, the Plaza, and some delicious restaurants, most notably Jack Stack. More barbecue! Better or worse than Dallas barbecue? Eh, I’m not one to judge. It’s all been delicious! And all of those attractions were in Missouri, so I can say without a doubt that I’ve been there now too.

 

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