Sunday, August 7, 2011

In Search Of New Places To Go: Black Wolf

"Lost and alone on some forgotten highway
     Traveled by many, remembered by few . . . ." - John Denver

     August 7, 2011.  Sitting here on a Sunday afternoon at the Made-From-Scratch Cafe in Wilson, Kansas on a whim.  About one o'clock in the afternoon an immense craving arose in me that would not go away, an immense craving for fried chicken.  Here in North-Central Kansas that does not mean a run to the nearest Kentucky Fried Chicken; no, it meant a run to the nearest local eatery known for their Sunday fried chicken buffet.  In this case that meant the Made-From-Scratch Cafe in Wilson.
     The 16 miles from Lucas down to Wilson is never a chore, not when you get to drive the Post Rock Scenic Byway around Wilson Reservoir, arguably the prettiest lake in the state.  Today there was no one in the car to argue with me and my personal estimation of the drive held up once again.    
      I got here at the Made-From-Scratch after the Sunday church-is-out lunch crowd to find plenty of seats available and that a fresh batch of chicken had just hit the buffet counter.  The waitress recognized me this time around - she still doesn't know my name, but apparently I'm now considered "a regular."  She refills my Dr. Pepper without needless chatter as I tackle my second plate of buffet.  Ten kinds of homemade pie is listed for today, the last being peanut butter.  And homemade ice cream is scribbled along the side of the pie menu.
     I pay the check and waddle out, almost all cravings almost satisfied.  I yield up the last of my cash for a cokefloat at the Shake Shack and then contemplate the turn north back to Lucas and home.  Home, where yardwork and housework and then yet more work indexing my latest book are all beckoning.

     No.

     Maybe it was the fact that for once temperature was still in the high 80s and not 107.  Maybe it was the "8 Wonders" Kansas Sampler Foundation t-shirt I was wearing. 

     Turn right.

     Whatever it was, that little voice inside my head suddenly made perfect sense and I did turn right, down the sand road past the city cemetery and on, south where I have never been before.

1:11pm.  I'm down some sandy county road now south and east of Wilson, lost but never truly.  The road signs at every intersection would give me a hint, but I never look; I don't want to.  I'm just following the road and that little voice, which then whispers the immortal words of Tolkien back to me:

"The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say."

     Yep.  Tolkien would have been a Kansas Explorer.  Tolkien would have Dared to Do Dirt.

     I pass an old building.  WHOA!  I screech to a halt - as best one can on a sand road - and get out the camera.

     It's just nice for once to see a great old native stone building, no doubt over a century old, having been restored and being used for modern purposes.  And a Dakota Sandstone building to boot, which is still fascinating to me, having grown up in limestone country.  I drive on.
    
1:21PM.  Guy Noir is taking on bedbugs in Manhattan on the radio.  I'm heading south on a great little-used lane, my fourth one in the last 15 minutes.  The first petered out into a dead end as I approached the Smoky Hill River.  Undaunted, I backtracked and headed east to the next one.  That one also petered out just as I approached the river.  The wise old saw Fool me once, shame on me; fool me twice, shame on you passed through my head as yes, I backtracked and again headed east to the next one.  That wise old saw didn't say a word about the third time.  And this road too petered out as well.
     I'm sure that by now most folks would have thrown in the towel and headed on east down the (shudder) blacktop and found a main road to try.  I look down at my 8 Wonders t-shirt for inspiration and swear that I can see a hidden message running upside down in the "8": WWMD. 

     What Would Marci Do?
    
    Silly question.  I know full well what Marci Penner, the head of the Kansas Sampler Foundation would do.  I backtrack and head east yet again.  A sign emerges.  Holyrood 16 miles it reads, pointing south.  I cross the river on this new sand road, bound for Holyrood. 
     There are those people outside of Kansas that probably think being bound for Hollywood would be much more fun and rewarding.  I've spoken to folk living in Holyrood before and they've assured me that while their small town does not yet have the same glamorous mystique that Hollywood enjoys, they are indeed working on it.  And that it good enough for a Kansas explorer like me.

 Large tree holding up/knocking down a two-story native sandstone farmhouse long abandoned.

Another abandoned farmstead found along the way.  Wonderful old barn/outbuilding.
    
     1:32PM.  Lost in the wilds of Ellsworth County.  The road to Holyrood suddenly ends in a T-insection, with no signage to dictate which way to head now for the town.  I turn east and race up and down hills, crossing creek after creek.  In the distance I can see the grain elevators of Black Wolf and then Ellsworth itself beckoning.  Maybe, the little voice whispers.

A native limestone farmhouse with an ambitious and intriguing frame addition!

     My eastern sand road turns north and then winds on east, hugging the southern edge of the Smoky Hill River Valley.  In just a few minutes I'm passing the Greenwood Cemetery on the outskirts of Ellsworth, where I pause a moment at the side of the road next to the grave of Vincent B. Osborne, namesake for the county of Osborne here in Kansas.  This year marks the 140th year since the county was officially organized, so a moment of respect to Vincent is most appropriate. 

The grave of Vincent B. Osborne, for whom Osborne and Osborne County, Kansas was named.

     Entering Ellsworth I am still amazed at how well they have restored the downtown area, putting in new sidewalks and period streetlights.  It makes for a very inviting atmosphere.  My eyes are drawn to the stark remains of the Ellsworth County Reporter building, which suffered a devasting fire not long ago.  I cannot even imagine the idea of trying to write about your own weekly newspaper being the top news story for the week as it was when the fire occurred, let alone figuring how to get a paper out in the first place.  Yet they did, and they are still doing so in a temporary headquarters just down the street.  Enterprising Kansans worthy of the name.

     1:58PM.  Reluctantly I take the blacktop west out of Ellsworth.  At least Old 40 is officially a county road, though that does little to soothe the Explorer purest in me.  Then the grain elevator that is Black  Wolf once again beckons.   
    
     I've never been to Black Wolf.
    
     Oh, I've thought about it.  Lots of times.  I've lost track of how many times over how many years I've driven on the blacktop past the beckoning elevator and never took the time to stop and visit.  Black Wolf.  Just the name should be enough for anyone to want to stop and visit.  Black Wolf.  What a great name for a small town.  Not for a large city, no; but a small town, sure.  Now, granted that Black Wolf aspires right now just to become even a small town, but still a great name.
     So I drive off onto the sand road and happily slide into town.  Not much left; two houses, one abandoned, one occupied; and the tall white grain elevator with the name BLACKWOLF all run together on its sides.  If you know what to look for you can discern other building and house formations.  Black Wolf was never large, but then most legendary locations rarely are.

 Black Wolf has its own website - www.blackwolfkansas.com.  The site yields many interesting facts on the town, including that in 1910 the population was reported to be 100.  Photographed here (and courtesy of blackwolf.com) is the native sandstone Black Wolf Store, which burned in 1997 and was subsequently removed. 

Also from the website is this 1991 photograph of the Black Wolf Bank, which is also now just a memory. 

On the southern edge of Black Wolf the Smoky Hill River flows lazily to the east.  This summer's intense heat surely has had a play in the river's obvious lack of water in its channel.  However, if you are a sandbar fan, this summer is for you!


"Gold is just a windy Kansas wheat field
        Blue, just a Kansas summer sky." - John Denver

     2:30PM.  My historic pilgrimage to Black Wolf concluded, I head north on real dirt roads and then west, past milo fields and ruins of stone farm houses, purposely knocked down to avoid extra taxes.  My wanderlust is slowly fading and the little voice has not come back.  Still not sure exactly where I am, after a few miles I re-enter Wilson to my surprise and latch onto the byway and then home.  As the square grain elevator iconic to Lucas looms in the distance I contemplate how easy it is around here to just get away for a short time before plunging back into the demanding world.  We of Kansas are indeed blessed.  And know how to make great fried chicken.

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