Music: Nebraska by moe.
For most, Kansas and Nebraska are not destinations. Unless one has family here (and we don’t) these states are passed through – quickly if possible, before the boredom and monotony of flat green fields causes temporary insanity; insanity that can be played out through visits to places like barbed wire fence museums and farms promising five and six-legged live animals. We came, we saw, we passed through these places. Unfortunately, some things cannot be unseen.
We stopped in Oakley, Kansas for what we thought was a “passing-through” amount of time, but our lengthy two night stay was greeted with raised eyebrows. “Most people don’t stay two nights,” said our camp host before loading us down with area brochures and pamphlets to keep us busy.
We arrived on a bad weather day. Clear skies, but 92 degrees and 40 MPH sustained winds that popped three screws and tore a piece of plastic off of our trailer siding – just a typical day on the Kansas high plains. We decided to tough it out and left the safety of our trailer to explore the outdoor museum across the street. We had seen it advertised on homemade billboards ever since entering Kansas, and it had looked better and better as the green field insanity set in.
The Prairie Dog Museum, in operation for 40 years, has been home to a number of animals; many of them orphans, abandoned or unwanted. Baby pigs, several types of pheasants and quail, sheep, rabbits, Russian boars, a plethora of Rattlesnakes (in a cage), prairie dogs (roaming freely everywhere), Roscoe the donkey, and (as advertised) there is always a one-to-five legged cow somewhere on the premises. This year, we are told, we are in luck. The museum is in possession of both a five-legged cow and a six-legged steer. We’re not sure how they find these animals, but we do know that when they pass on to that big pasture in the sky they’ll be sold to a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not to be stuffed and placed in one of many museums throughout the country. For now, they are live cows, and they do have five and six legs. To be honest, we found them disturbing. Rather than take pictures we patted them on the heads and said, “Good cows, you’re good cows. Don’t ever let anybody make you feel inferior.” Someday they’ll get out of that little museum in Kansas, and Ripley will make them famous. Until then, they’ll be freaking out wary, insane visitors for years to come.
After a good night sleep, we had clearer heads. The weather had cleared up too, and huge blue skies drew us out to explore more of Kansas. We looked through our stack of pamphlets and found they all covered the same three things – a big statue, big rocks and an old fossil. We plotted our course for adventure and hit the road.
The big statue was first. Buffalo Bill in bronze. Neat. The big rocks were better. Large limestone monoliths, formed millions of years ago when this area was covered by a large inland sea, sit alone in the middle of vast, flat fields. They are only about 50-60 feet high, but because they are the largest and highest forms that you can see for miles, they somehow feel impressive. During the 45 minutes or so we spent there (climbing and taking pictures) no one else came, and it hit us what a quiet and lonely place Kansas really is.
The last museum we visited in Kansas shares a building with the Oakley public library. The Fick Museum holds a number of fossils found in the area – at least one of them is considered to be the oldest found fossil in the world. The original owners of the museum (The Ficks) found many of these objects. Mrs. Fick, apparently bored out of her mind, took it upon herself to “beautify” these prehistoric objects by turning them into pieces of art which are displayed on the walls of the museum. Ancient artifacts, hundreds of thousands of years old, are arranged into Mrs. Fick’s works of self-taught art and painted in vibrant colors to resemble flowers and forest scenes. Archeology buffs visit at your own risk, and prepare to be mortified.
Kansas left us with just a few tiny mental scars that will wear away with time, and a busted side panel that we can fix once we find a state that has things like a hardware store. But first, we must visit Nebraska.
We weren’t expecting much from Nebraska, but we found some very interesting sites here. The area that we’re staying in (the southwest corner, near Bridgeport) is where several of the overland roads to the west converged. Here, pioneers traveling the Oregon, California and Mormon Trails stopped to take a deep breath before heading further west into the Rockies. They, too, were just passing through.
Chimney Rock and Scotts Bluff are two landmarks that were seen and written about by thousands who traveled by wagon train through this area in the 1800’s. After weeks of walking the flat plains of Missouri and Nebraska, these landmarks must have been a welcome sight. Something, anything to break up the monotony. After only four days of driving around these parts we saw them and said, “Wow, these are really great!” And remember, we were at Zion and Arches just a few days ago, so… green field insanity, it’s real.
Aside from Chimney Rock and Scotts Bluff there isn’t much to do in this area. We went to the gas station. There’s been a bunny sighting or two and an interesting bird. Coal trains pass by both sides of our campground about every fifteen minutes or so. You wouldn’t think that would be something to watch, but trust us, after a couple of days here it has become entertainment.
All in all, we would have to say that Kansas and Nebraska were definitely more interesting than we thought they might be. Of course, the bar was set pretty low before we got here. Maybe a slogan for one of these states should be, “Better than you’d expect.” If we had any thoughts of staying, we’d build a museum. It doesn’t matter what we’d put in it. With all these flat green fields around, it would be the best museum you’ve ever seen.