I drove the Kansas Turnpike south from Topeka. For those of you who don’t know it, the Kansas Turnpike does not take Ezpass, but will let you get thru the automatic gate letting you think they take Ezpass. It is only when you get off the turnpike and the automatic gate does NOT go up and you are that car stopping traffic in the automatic lane, that you realize the Kansas Turnpike does not take Ezpass. That, and when a turnpike employee comes out of the administration building and tells you, “I’m sorry ma’am, we don’t take Ezpass, I wish we did”. After profusely apologizing and paying your $1.75, you promise to God, Scarlett O’Hara style(I know, Georgia-but indulge me) that you will look closer at all the signs on the rest of the trip. It is only after you go thru the gate do you realize, that you are at a remote exit on the Kansas turnpike and there was only one truck behind you and he went thru another gate. Alas, tragedy averted and the drama is over.
I had gotten off at the remote Kansas turnpike exit to stop at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. I had to turn off Huckleberry Finn as he and Jim were on the raft and it was raining on the Mississippi and I was on the hot, windy Kansas prairie; it was not meshing well. Everything around seemed to be shades of brown. The preserve is set up thru the Nature Conservancy and was initially not welcomed by the local people, who don’t like outside interference and now they are ambivalent towards it. It is a beautiful place, with an big old house, barn and out-buildings set in 33 acres that are owned by us, We The People. The thousands of other acres that make up the Tallgrass Prairie is privately owned. I went through the barn, which from my first breath took me back to the summer days I spent at a friend’s farm in Southern Ohio; jumping from the hayloft, exploring creeks, and riding ponies. I did a little exploring in the barn and then set out on the circular walk the ranger had mentioned. I enjoyed the views, thought about what a lousy pioneer I would have made, considered the courage of those men and women, compared this wind-swept open land to the moors in Yorkshire, England and wondered aloud what were those dark dots on that distant hill. My route was taking me closer to them and it was when I got to the electrical fence and saw the Bison sign/cattle gate that I knew I hadn’t taken quite the right route. Being prudent, I turned around and headed back to the car. The forty minute walk had left me energized.
I stayed east of the storms as I drove south along the Flint Hill Scenic Byway(Route 177). Open prairie, hills, ranches, and dry river beds; it was to drive along such a road that I had conceived of this trip. It was such a beautiful part of our country, my heart was glad.
I entered Oklahoma and within seconds saw my first oil rig of the trip and several ranches. It was like they knew I was coming and they wanted to fulfill all my stereotypes immediately. Before long the traffic increased, the landscape got a bit greener with an occasional red bud tree in bloom and I was at my hotel in Oklahoma City, having outflanked the storms for another day.