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Published: September 21st 2021
Great Bend KS is named after the curve in a river which now runs dry. Route 50, and the Santa Fe trail, follow the course of the Arkansas River back to the Rockies, in search of the water now made scarce by the drought, and by the many impoundments along the way. The town grew up as a stop on the Santa Fe trail because of the water, the vista, and the buffalo. It was half way from Independence to Santa Fe, and it was comparatively safe from attack. I spent the early morning visiting Pawnee Rock and thinking about buffalo, Indians, wagon trains and water. I had been aware of the mythology, but this real place, with its view across the plains in all directions, seemed to bring it all together.
The fracking of the oil and gas deposits seemed like the last great effort to extract wealth from these vast spaces, but no -- on approaching Dodge City, the plains were dotted with huge wind vanes, generating power for our use. They stood in fields of sorghum planted, I assume, to support the livestock feedlots, which I also saw, and smelt.
By the time I reached Pueblo
and Cañon City there was water in the river, and green along its banks.
One of the more revealing moments of my trip occurred in Cimarron, KS, between Dodge City and the mountains. It was Sunday, very hot and dusty, as I pulled into the Santa Fe Grill. The after-church crowd still occupied most of the restaurant, but the waitress found me a booth and took the order. The food was long in coming, and the owner of the establishment, who managed the till, came over to talk. I think it was the motorcycle jacket that sparked interest. After some conversation about bicyclists and the heat, she leans over and said: "You know what Iowa means ?" Since this had nothing to do with the topic under discussion I leaned back -- "No, what does it mean?" I asked. " Idiots Out Wandering Anywhere " she said, looking at me significantly. "Don't get upset" she said "we get a lot of them here... " I guess she does. " Thank you" I said, " Now I know."
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