Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Exploring Along an Old Highway

This past Tuesday meant another monthly meeting of the Northwest Kansas Travel Council, this time being held at the High Plains RV Grounds located five miles north of Oakley, Kansas. The meeting went well, greatly helped by a lunch served only of Kansas-produced products, and so by 1:30PM I was ready to take on the nearly 3-hour drive back to Osborne. I had the entire sunny Kansas afternoon in which to do so, which meant a chance at some real Kansas Exploring!

But first I stopped in the Oakley Cemetery and paid my respects at the grave of my aunt Rae, a longtime schoolteacher who passed on all too soon. At six feet tall and nearly 300 pounds, Aunt Rae was one of the jolliest people you ever would have met.

And then it was off into the Wild Kansas Blue Yonder. A short drive five miles east of Oakley on Interstate 70 led me to the exit for the extinct town of Campus, now the site of a modern ethanol plant. Heading on north I ate up a number miles Exploring where a wide and excellent Thomas County sand road took me.

The vast stretches of Western Kansas plains soon gave way to huge irrigated fields of corn, and then the road took on an interesting twist - it became the line between Thomas County on the left and Sheridan County on the right. That imaginary colored border on the Kansas map had just become a reality in life. How often does something remarkable happen in our lives and we rarely even notice its taking place?

Yes, this sign means that I finally rediscovered civilization, or in this case the tiny community of Menlo, just inside of Thomas County.

Though once larger, today's Menlo holds a population of under 100 townfolk, who do strive to keep the community relatively clean and wellkept. During Menlo's prime the paved street above was the main highway hereabouts; US Highway 24 today runs several miles to the north.

Downtown Menlo, a far cry from earlier times when both sides of the street teamed with businesses.

Looking for a nice home? This excellent log cabin-style Menlo ranch home with a two-door garage is currently for sale!

Getting a rare chance at some new dirt to dare do, I eventually headed east out of Menlo on the old highway, passing into Sheridan County. Though now covered with sand, the old asphalt still can be seen beneath.

A few miles east I came upon Kansas Highway 188. Turning south on it for about a mile I entered the community of Seguin. Even tinier than Menlo, Seguin bore up well the Kansas Explorer mantra that every community, large and small, still there or extinct, has something new and interesting to share with those who bother to look.

In Seguin I unexpectedly encountered the beautiful adobe-style St. Martins Catholic Church. Take time to stop and see this wonder, if your ever out that way; the stain glass windows alone are worth the trouble.

Tucked away in the northeast corner of Sequin lies a cemetery like no other in Northwest Kansas. St. Martin Cemetery is completely unlike any you might expect on the High Plains. Tightly enclosed by elderly cedars, the grounds abound with soaring pines and spruce and dotted here and there with ornate headstones, and even holds a unique handcrafted walk-in gate. This cemetery is a must-see for every Explorer to walk and enjoy, and take a moment to reflect.

Tearing myself away I once more headed north a mile and back east onto the wonderful old highway/sand road, actually passing three or four shocked farmers in the many miles before the road entered the city of Hoxie, Kansas.

There I stopped at Mickey's Museum, one of the great homespun preservers of Kansas history in the state, and renewed acquaintances with the staff. An hour passed and then I returned to the paved US Highway 24 and zoomed east toward Osborne.

Passing through Hill City I came to the intersection where US-24 and Kansas Highway 18 meet a mile north of the town of Bogue. On impulse I turned left onto what was US-24 during the early mid-20th Century and so took this rock road some 20 miles north and then east, meeting up with the current US-24 again a few miles just outside of Stockton. "Dare to Do Dirt" today meant about fifty miles of Exploring Kansas back roads!

In Stockton the news came over my car radio that a Severe Thunderstorm Warning had just been issued for Northeast Osborne County and Southeast Smith County, with a storm dropping walnut-sized hail over the vicinity of the town of Portis. The above photo shows that storm cloud as it looked at the time from Stockton, nearly 50 miles away.

What the radio did not mention was the storms forming south of this one storm, directly east before me and trailing off to the southwest. I drove on to Woodston in eastern Rooks County, where I took the photo at left, showing the stormclouds directly in my path. I continued on and stopped at Alton, where I tarried for a while hoping that the storms would move on east. Instead they not only remained stationary but continued to build. The sky became pitch black the further east I drove.

I had almost made it to Bloomington, five miles east of Osborne, when the heavens opened up and the wind came howling out of the north, driving the rain to the point once could no longer see the highway. At Bloomington I pulled over and sat a while in the lee of the elevator, weighing my chances at continuing. Ten minutes of this waiting was enough; I knew the road ahead like the back of my hand, and decided that if I go slow I would be alright.

Lucky for me there was only a little hail with the storm. Several times the wind-driven rain completely obscured the road, making those five miles seem like hours. Only twenty minutes later I was back in Osborne, threading the flooded streets along with other fellow idiot drivers still out and about. At 6:40PM I pulled up to my home, my car now nicely scoured of all the day's Kansas road dirt. Just another typical day Exploring Kansas!