We are stopped at Prairie Dog State Park just outside Norton Kansas in an area of the High Plains Region. During the drive out here and while “camping” I finally realized a point others talk about related to this traveling lifestyle. There have been moments over the past year where I wondered if this was just going to be about an endless search for points of interest inside and outside cities to tour. Or looking for places to park the rig for a nights sleep especially over the weekend when parks are full. Would this journey be about escaping the weather or spending more time with family and my wife. Yes, all that is true and important about the lifestyle.
However, I believe I have transcended to the next level. It is now apparent this lifestyle is not just about driving around! You can not experience these landscapes in a museum! Envision cresting a hill which opens to a landscape, painted by God, where you can see over what appears 10 miles in the distance. Imagine stepping outside your home to just sit in the lawn chair, surrounded by the same landscape but up close. Sitting on a hillside overlooking prairie grass, singing birds flanked by a gentle inland lake that stands out with a background of rolling hills. Just sit there and hear nothing but nature in a cool breeze under a massive blue sky. There is no time for worries because the mere experience of this takes your mind away with all your senses being occupied just to take in the beauty of the moment.
I should note that near the bottom of this blog post is information regarding RV stuff, not necessarily related to this trip. I always like to include information on general RV topics in each blog post for those not so much interested in trip descriptions. Now back to the story;
We left Platte City Missouri about two weeks ago, arriving in Kansas for a three week stay. Initially, route planning included possible travel over Interstates on the way through Nebraska and the Black Hills of South Dakota. Having traveled US 36 Highway through northern Missouri in the past I was aware the highway extends all the way west to Denver Colorado. US 36 through Missouri is a divided highway while the route through Kansas is over two lane roads with decent shoulders. Glad we skipped the Interstate (I-80 or I-90) routes and started on US 36 Highway at St. Joseph Missouri. The short-lived Pony Express started in St. Joseph and in fact US 36 is called the Pony Express Highway.
Along the route one will pass several towns which display the history of the Pony Express. You will pass over the geographic center of the lower 48 US states near Lebanon Kansas. As well as the home of the “Home of the Range” in Smith County. Home on the Range being the Kansas State Anthem.
As our new puppy, Wyatt, is so young and an inexperienced traveler we decided the first two stops across US 36 would be over shorter distances. We stopped at Seneca Kansas, then on to Lovewell State Park and then on to Prairie Dog State Park. Several US Highways branch off south and north to I-70 or I-80 if one wants to take a fork in the road. We were so inspired with the views on US 36 and finding the two lane roadway well maintained and lightly traveled, we decided to take US 36 for extended miles. Dreading having to stop for stop lights within towns, as these rigs take some time to stop if the light turns yellow, I was delighted to find these smaller towns don’t have many stop lights and are as easy to pass through that one only has to slow down for a short distance with little to no curves in the road. We will be taking US 83 north into Nebraska at some point. US 83 happens to be the most direct route to take from Mexico to Canada as a side note.
Seneca Kansas was the first stop for riders on the Pony Express. The downtown is fantastic. We enjoyed how the town placed well worded plaques on buildings with history lessons. I’m always on the lookout to see how other towns showcase or label their attractions or how a museum might use a unique way to display treasures and tell stories. Unfortunately, the Seneca Pony Express Museum was closed, presumably because of the virus thing. I was impressed to see how their city hall was built in the early 1900’s and is still used as a city hall.
So why do we see so many blogs with photos of quant downtown locations? I’m guessing that many of us don’t care to spend much time in large cities and find these smaller towns very hospitable with all the necessities if you look for them. Frankly, Karen and I have discussed it and don’t have a goal to visit every state. Nor worry much when passing around a big city. I appreciated looking at the architecture of the Seneca Chiropractor’s Office rather than any tall glass monster building in downtown Houston Texas as we flew by it earlier this year.
I learned a new phrase in the past couple days known as “physiographic regions.” Basically the entire United States landmass is broken down into distinct and chartable areas. I’ve already mentioned we have been traveling in the High Plains Region. I suspect if one takes a look at the charts it would be easy to search out landscapes that are unfamiliar. We have spent a lot of time in the US Interior Highlands (Ozark Mountains for example) and therefore might seek out terrain that is less like the Ozarks for new experiences. I’m looking forward to the sandhills of Nebraska on our way to or from Fort Robinson after Kansas. My sister Lisa handed me a book about General Custer before we left on this trip. It has been wonderful studying up on American Indian history as we cross territory they once roamed. I must say, seeing these places in real time and reading where tribes called home is way more impressive than any of the museums I toured as a child regarding plains Indians. Here in Kansas, later in Nebraska and South Dakota we will be near the final days where the American Indian’s way of life came to an end.
After Seneca we stayed at Lovewell State Park where we extended our stay one day as there was no reason to leave on a Sunday and compete with others at the dump station. The park is located on what has to be one of the largest lakes in the state. Not much to do but enjoy water sports although there is a Pawnee Indian museum within driving distance where archaeologists are digging the ruins of a village. The dig is enclosed in a building. Unfortunately we did not make it to the village. A highlight of the trip was meeting Don who frequents the park. Don operated a truck for years, traveling all over the country. We sat down one day with an atlas as he showed me great highways to take to include a route around Dallas/Fort Worth on Highway 281 out of Wichita Falls. And thank you Don for the wonderful evening cruise on your boat! Karen and I agree this is a highlight of our trip. It was great to meet you and we will catch you again should we come through town.
Below are a few additional photos of Prairie Dog State Park, our last stop in Kansas. The state attempted to transplant prairie dogs here but twice failed. A couple wild ones wondered into the place and now they have a fantastic colony with a viewing area. You can walk among the mounds as well. First time for us seeing prairie dogs. Also in the park is the only remaining historic Kansas abode house sitting on it’s original location.
We extended our stay to nine days at Prairie Dog State Park. To preserve grey and black tank space, Karen does dishes outside and we use the public shower/toilet when reasonable. We have gone as long as 11 days this way. We are moving on to Ogallala Nebraska after this where I’ll remember to get my sister Mary some Nebraska vanilla bean beer.
We took a day trip into Norton Kansas (only three miles outside the campground 🙂 At Water Tower Park is a re-creation of stop #15 on the Leavenworth and Pikes Peak Stage Line. Where folks could travel to the gold fields of Colorado for $125 . The short visit included reading a marker inside the cabins clear glass viewing windows. Apparently, Wild Bill Hickock worked for this stage line as did Billy the Kid whose parents operated one of the stops. Pat Garrison, the sheriff who later killed Billy the Kid also worked for the stage line which was later sold to the parent company of the Pony Express.
And finally, a few notes about RV topics in general:
- I like to use Google Earth during route planning. With all the hills we are about to come upon, I noted roads surrounded by obvious farm fields are appealing in that presumably there will be no cliffs to drive off as they are flat fields.
- I think Vanleigh could do a better job insulating their front caps (front of the fifth wheel). When hit by direct sun we can open the bedroom closet door and feel the heat. During my research it seemed common for companies to just hang rolled insulation in the space and maybe include a material over that to reflect the heat outward. Wonder what it will be like when we hit a bird with the front cap up to 13′ tall when driving 65 mph? Just barely missed a couple coming across Kansas.
- We can run both air conditioners on 30 amps (at about 116 volts). We have to place the hot water tank over to propane to do it and sometimes cut the fridge over to propane if we need more power for other items. Just set the temperatures of each AC unit a few degrees apart so the compressors don’t start up at the same time. Also remember to run them on high fan during very hot and humid days or they will ice up. Our surge protector mounted at the campground power post has an optional inside display where I can monitor amperage used. We successfully handled upper 90 temps with partial shade on one side. Glad the fifth wheel was parked facing sunrise where during the course of the day the roof took most of the direct sunlight.
- As a follow up to my last post regarding 50/50 decisions to make while equipping an RV; I was contacted by others after the post and want to add a couple items. Regarding slide toppers. If you are fearful or have physical limitations that prevent you climbing onto the roof to clean debree from the top of slides then get slide toppers for sure. I’d estimate I climb on the roof at 1/2 our stops to check for debree. Slider toppers would obviously cut out one more step in getting ready to move. Seems like all the older rigs have sagging slide toppers. Even some of the newer ones don’t look that tight. I’d not like to listen to them flap in the wind while trying to sleep. Maybe they would help insulate the top of slides from direct sun which would be nice. Wonder if they cut down on rain noise? Regarding RV extended warranties. I never buy extended warranties nor have I in this case. I was considering getting one after owning our new trailer for a year. RV’s lived in fulltime take some abuse. If there was ever a time to change my mind about extended warranties, using a recreational vehicle to live in would be it. We have money set aside to repair stuff. I’m thinking I don’t want to be at the mercy of a warranty company as to where and when something is repaired. Many RV components have warranties beyond one year directly from the manufacturer.