Tag Archive: Kansas


#Merica Tour, Stories from the Road, Segment 9
(For links to previous segments, scroll to the bottom)

We’re closing in on Colorado, but still have some unfinished business here in Kansas. Kansas, The Coolest State Since...Since we spent so much time at Truckhenge (and it was awesomely worth it!!) we need to cut some of the fat from our roadside stops. It’s tough—Kansas is so incredibly cool. I realize you don’t believe me, so let’s take a look: Eating among dinosaurs at the T-Rex Café, attempting to break in to a roadside teepee, the life-altering experience that is Truckhenge, and coming up on the docket, a fake town-within-a-town, smurfing out with naturally formed rocks that look like giant mushrooms, and the world’s largest Czech egg—which Brent insists we can’t cut from the trip—all before we hit Colorado, and it’s late afternoon as it is.

In the end, the weather makes our decision for us. We’re heading west. Twelve miles straight north of where we are is a Wizard of Oz museum, which we think is closed at this hour, but we’re not sure. That’s when it starts raining. And I mean: build-an-ark raining. In the flat and wide Kansas terrain, we feel as though we can see the entire globe around us. We see the storm system coming and it looks like it’ll bypass us. My Weather App says it’s no big deal at our location; that really it’s heading north. But the Weather App lies.

Undaunted, I relay the lies to Brent as he concentrates on finding the road and keeping the Jetta on it. “So!” he calls out, “It’ll just be a quick sprinkle?” The windshield wipers are on their highest setting, we can’t see, and it’s hard to hear each other.

“Right!” I yell back from the passenger seat as I look for funnel clouds. “Just a sprinkle!”

“Okay then!” he shouts back.

If we go north toward Oz, we’ll drive through this the entire way. If we continue west, the thin band of this system should be behind us soon. So here we are in Kansas, and we decide to skip Dorothy. True story.

Kansas, the Coolest State Since...Kansas, The Coolest State Since...We trudge on, and make it out of the deluge with our lives, barely. It’s suddenly sunny and ridiculously hot outside as we arrive in Abilene–which is my idea to visit because of the Waylon Jennings song. I try singing the “Abilene” song for Brent but that doesn’t work well because I don’t know most of the words. Also, I can’t sing.

“Abilene, Abilene, prettiest town I’ve ever seen…”

Brent makes a face and says he doesn’t know that song. So I hit up The Googs as we navigate toward an entire street the town has built Old West style. Kansas, The Coolest State Since...I play the Jennings version of the song for Brent, and as I Google some more, I learn that it was written by folksinger Bob Gibson (did you know that Gibson wrote songs with Shel Silverstein?), and also this little tidbit: Gibson claimed he wrote “Abilene” for Abilene, Texas.

“Oh, wrong Abilene,” I tell Brent.

Kansas, The Coolest State Since...Kansas, the Coolest State Since...Well, we’re here anyway, so we explore the fun Old West town-with-a-town, checking out the saloon, the jail, the schoolhouse, and the train–which is named Enterprise, probably no relation, but we Trekkies take is as a sign. We’re the only ones in the little town—well, us, and a bunny that Brent keeps trying to capture in a selfie.

Kansas, The Coolest State Since...Mushroom Rocks is next—a state park with not a soul around. The air is thick with heat and the grass is scorched and looks like hay, and it’s knee-deep and hip-high in some places as we make our way on foot to these crazy rocks. Kansas, The Coolest State Since...Google introduces me to a Kansas University website that tells us the rocks “are made of sandstone from the Dakota Formation, deposited along the edge of a Cretaceous sea about 100 million years ago. Over time, circulating water deposited a limy cement between the sand grains, creating harder bodies of sandstone called concretions… The softer sandstone of the stem has eroded more rapidly, creating the mushroom-shaped rock.”

Kansas, The Coolest State Since...We look around in awe of these wide hillsides that shrink our horizon to a stone’s throw in all directions against the blue sky and imagine the hills are waves on the sea. And then, well, what do you do with 100-million-year-old cretaceous deposits? Brent and I climb on them. And climb, and climb, and climb.

Kansas, The Coolest State Since...We hit the dirt road again, and take some amazing mid-Kansas photos from the middle of the road when Sally the Map App gets us horribly lost, and we feel as though we’re the only humans in this great, golden sun-filled territory. Kansas, The Coolest State Since...Eventually, and with Brent’s innate (and bizarre) sense of direction, we manage to reach a town called Wilson just as the sun is setting. We drive along the edge of town until we find a 25-foot egg structure.

Wilson is a town of about 800 residents, and calls itself the Czech capital of Kansas. (“These are my people,” I proudly claim to Brent of my heritage and look around as if entering a long-lost family home.) The story goes that the town reached out to Hess Services, Inc. in Hays, Kansas, to build this fiberglass egg as a tourism boost for Wilson. (Hess Services, Inc. built it for cost. Imagine!) Kansas, The Coolest State Since...And just this summer the egg received its final coat of paint, giving it its Czechoslovakian design. Perhaps for those painting purposes, the egg is on a giant horizontal spindle. A nearby sign says not to turn the egg. Technically, we only managed to wiggle it a little before I found the sign. Instead, we take pictures of ourselves with the egg, and venture out to look at the old and ornate buildings of Wilson, which are lighted with a rose hue from the lowering sun. We’re hungry, and find a place called Grandma’s Soda Shop where we join the local teenagers for some pizza before hitting the road again. Next stop: Colorado!

With full bellies and a full drive ahead, we force ourselves back in the car. As we pass the last of the Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk billboards in Kansas, we settle in for our more than 5-hour night drive (seriously, how much time did we spend at Truckhenge??), and we do what any nighttime road travelers would: We listen to World War Z on CD. Nothin’ like zombie survival stories to keep the mind sharp.

Kansas, The Coolest State Since...The thing about the road to Colorado (I-70 W) is that it’s straight as a pin, for hours and hours. And hours. The other thing about it is that there are no lights along the road, and thus, no need for lighted billboards. It’s just a solid dark, all around you, which is interesting in its peculiarity. Imagine such a place untouched by the need for constant visual stimulation. We drive, fast, and I’m building up terror in my mind that random wildlife will step in front of us on the road and we’ll never see them until too late. I try, but I can’t see if there’s a fence between the road and the open country because it’s just so dark. I’m also building up intense curiosity at what else is out there in that warm blanket of the darkness when a random thought occurs to me and I suddenly giggle.

“What?” Brent asks.

“Nothing. You won’t like it,” I say. He waits, patiently and quietly, which is his way. “Okay,” I say. “I just thought: Kansas is the best state since sliced bread.” No reaction from Brent, and that’s also his way. “Come on, it’s funny!” I say. “Try it: This is the best gas station popcorn since sliced bread. This is the best bottle of flat ginger ale since sliced bread.” Brent stays silent. “That’s funny, and you know it,” I tell him.

Miles and miles later, as the zombie war gets more intense and we cross the border into Colorado, Brent says, “I like your sliced bread line. I may borrow that.”

I knew it.~

(For more awesome America Stories from the Road, click: Segment 8,  Segment 7Segment 6Segment 5Segment 4Segment 3Segment 2Segment 1)

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a blogger, poet, and traveler.

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Truckhenge

#Merica Tour, Stories from the Road, Segment 8
(For links to previous segments, scroll to the bottom)

Brent and I are in Kansas, heading west, as I scroll through our itinerary of roadside attractions. We’ve been adding stops as we go and occasionally ruling out other stops, but when Brent suddenly asks, “What’s next?” I tell him it’s a place called Truckhenge. “We’re definitely going there,” he says, with a weird smile on his face.

I plug the coordinates into my map app, which I’ve named Sally—don’t ask why—but she’s busy yelling at me, as usual, that we’re doing something wrong, or that there is no such location. “Oh, yes there is,” Brent says. I ask him what Truckhenge is, and he says, “I don’t know. But it’s there.”

TruckhengeIt’s about a half hour drive from Lawrence to just outside Topeka, under a blue sky and rising August temperature. We navigate our way to a dirt road that turns sharply to the right and leads us to a Quonset building tucked behind the treeline. The place is silent. Brent stops the car and we look at each other. We suddenly realize we have no idea what we’re doing.

So, Brent gets out, and I stay put, hanging out the car window and lazily saying things like, “Is there a doorbell? Knock again. Try the handle. Do you see anyone inside?” After each quip, Brent shoots me a knock-it-off look. He gets back in the car. We sit and stare at the building. There’s a fading phone number painted on the garage door. I call it and a man answers. “Hi,” I say. “We’re at Truckhenge…”

“I’ll be right down,” the man says.

Moments later, the owner, Ron Lessman, walks out with a dog or two in tow. He introduces himself and begins talking, and man, he talks fast. In the first two minutes, we learn his name, that he built this Quonset house, and that he put gargoyles on it to keep the County away. We share a laugh and he explains his philosophy on life, which is all about common sense and is not so keen on bureaucratic rules. But just when I think he’s anti-establishment, he tells a quick story about the local police force and mentions the officers with respect and by name–because he knows them all by name–and his story is about appreciation for their quick thinking on a matter at his property and the work they do. Somewhere in the fast and funny story, he begins to mention the wood carvings around the property that he’s made himself, the art of the Quonset house, he casually points out an old boxcar to our left that he says is full of bones, and he makes mention of a pond beyond the trees.

To myself, I think: Bones? Human?

Ron is a wiry, tan man with long, graying beard, a bandana on his head, and he’s wearing a red t-shirt that bears the words Truck You. “We’re just trying to have fun here,” he says. “Would you like to come in the house?”

“Sure,” we say happily and immediately. We follow Ron and I make eye contact with Brent. I widen my eyes to ask him silently, “Think we’re gonna die?” He mirrors my look and I read him saying, “Not sure. Let’s find out.”

I take a final look around the front of the building, the trees, the blue sky, and the boxcar, thinking we’ve dropped in to a strange new land. “Kansas,” I think to myself and I think about life, death, and journeys, all in the blink of an eye. As we follow Ron, he tells us that William Shatner was at Truckhenge just a few weeks ago. It’s apt because right at this moment, I can’t help but picture the characters from Star Trek beaming in with their recorders (by the way, Brent owns one of those recorders) to learn about a new place with a sense of adventure and a sense of “anything can happen.” This sentiment is precisely why, wordlessly, we knew we’d go inside, because anything can happen, anywhere, anytime, so we can get back in the car and drive away or we can boldly go forward. We choose forward, knowing we rejected outright any other choice. (Don’t try this at home, kids. Don’t risk everything unless you’re willing to lose it all.)

TruckhengeInside the Quonset house, Ron shows us more of his art—it’s on the walls, hanging from the ceiling, painted on the floor, and I’m drawn to the reverse side of the smiley face window he’s made from wine bottles. The house is spacious, and everything in it, and of it, has been repurposed. Pieces from cars and boats have been rebuilt into a staircase with a chest of drawers and signage made into railings. As sunlight streams in from windows on the second floor, fencing creates hallways, fruit hangs from a coat hanger, a series of boarded up windows serves as shelving. Everywhere you look is art in progress, and objects reimagined to new purposes. It’s nothing short of astounding. Brent and I realize we’re safe as kittens, and just as curious.

Ron shows us his art, lets us take pictures, and takes us through the back of the house to the expansive farmland that is dotted with his wood carvings—each with its own character story—areas for bands to play, boats, bottles and cement, the pond beyond the trees, and the word Truckhenge spelled out on the ground with bricks to be visible from planes above. TruckhengeAlong the way, Ron tells us about his struggles with bureaucracy, he tells us about the many bones they found in the large pond that experts from the university have deemed to be camel bones (they mystery deepens), and he tells us of the great concerts that go on at this property.

TruckhengeWe stop at the trucks at the corner of the farm. The County said because of the flood plain, Ron had to “pick up” the trucks. So Ron had them raised off the ground onto girders of concrete and the County conceded that the trucks were no longer a mobile threat. Thus, Truckhenge was born.

TruckhengeWe round the corner, listening to Ron’s stories and sharing some of our own—where we’re going and how far we’ve come. At this point, we know we’ll never make it to Colorado before dark, but we can’t help ourselves from exploring more with Ron. The temperature continues to climb as we make our way back around to the boxcar of bones. Ron invites us in, and we happily follow. The boxcar is in bad shape, but you can still move around in it, carefully, and we find that Ron has separated and sorted the various animal bones he’s found in the pond.

We suddenly hear the ring of a telephone and the sound is so foreign to us. Outside the boxcar, we see a small group of people walking the property as if they live there. We have no idea where they’ve come from or how long they’ve been there, out of sight, but Ron and his dogs are completely at ease with their presence, so we are, too.

Back inside the house, Ron invites us to sign the guestbook, and we do. Brent turns a page in the book and shows me what he finds: William Shatner’s signature. Brent gets a Truck You t-shirt, and Ron gives me a peacock feather. He hugs us goodbye.Truckhenge

The heat of the day has caused my Missouri bug bites to flare up in fiery itch, so once back inside the car I scratch and scratch as we drive down the road. For an hour, all we say to each other is, “I… I…” and shake our heads. We are forever different and there are no words anymore. Truckhenge is an experience that you have to have for yourself, because you’ll enter as one thing and emerge as something completely changed.

Eventually this day we will reach the Mushroom Rocks State Park, where we’ll wander around saying things like, “We’re just trying to have fun here,” and, “Well, Ron says…”

Until then, we drive in quiet awe of what just happened toward a town that’s not real.

Our deepest thanks go to Ron Lessman for inviting us in.

(For previous Stories from the Road, click here: Segment 7, Segment 6, Segment 5, Segment 4, Segment 3, Segment 2, Segment 1)

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a blogger, poet, and traveler.

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