Despite predictions of rain, I wanted to get my car hosed down. All the dirt and gravel roads are taking their toll. I left the motel at 6:50 a.m. and headed into Russell to find a car wash. Russell in the morning was silent and snoozing, except down by the train tracks, where a café was gathering pickup trucks like a magnet. I felt like too much of a "stranger in town" to dare to enter that hometown spot, so I toured the town by car instead. Russell is the hometown of two senators, Bob Dole and Arlen Specter. I don't know why, but Sen. Dole gets all the buzz. I only saw one sign mentioning Sen. Specter, but Bob Dole was everywhere -- on billboards, "Welcome" signs, and even the water tower.
Russell has a lot of interesting limestone buildings, a well-occupied main street, and virtually no stop signs. Although there were very few other cars around, I wondered how accidents were avoided at intersections during busier times of day. Perhaps everyone in Russell is just very polite.
I left Russell in a drizzle and drove through lots of small towns. I was heading for Victoria to see the "Cathedral of the Plains", also known as St. Fidelis Catholic Church.
The church is another example of the use of native limestone,
and it is interesting because it is so large and Victoria
is so tiny. It's not particularly beautiful, but it is impressive as it sits like an anchor in the center of town.
Even more interesting is the cemetery next to the church, which is filled with fine and fancy iron crosses.
Next came a bonus stop for me. As I have mentioned, I drive a Chrysler PT Cruiser. So, when I saw a sign for Ellis, "Boyhood Home of Walter Chrysler", I knew there had to be a photo op there for me. Sure enough, the founder of the Chrysler Corporation had the good sense to grow up in a photo-friendly little white clapboard house right on the street in the center of town, and I was able to pull my car up and snap a picture of the Cruiser on a pilgrimage to its birthplace.
was closed because it was still early, but all I really wanted was the snapshot anyway.
From Ellis to Oakley, it was necessary for me to get on I-70 a few times when I ran out of byways and farm roads. It didn't matter much anyway, since most of the time it was raining hard enough for my visibility to be reduced to almost nothing.
The town of Park yielded one more unexpected surprise, in the form of another astounding church in the middle of a tiny farm town. In fact, for my money, this one was even more impressive than St. Fidelis in Victoria, mostly because the town was smaller and the church sat rather eerily at the end of a long street, looking unreal, almost like a movie set.
Built in 1921, Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church is also known as the "Cathedral of the West". I learned that I was in the middle of an area settled by Germans and Pennsylvania Dutch, despite the prominence of the Catholic church in town.When I got to Oakley the weather had deteriorated. Rain became steady rather than intermittent, and the atmosphere was dark and gloomy. My destination was Prairie Dog Town. I had seen signs for it continually during my short stretches on I-70. "See the World's Largest Prairie Dog". "See the 6-Legged Cow". "See Rare and Exotic Animals". (Listed among the "exotic" were raccoons and squirrels… hmm…). But when I got to the gate of this questionable tourist trap, I decided that my desire to see malformed and possibly abused animals was less pressing than my desire to stay dry, so I chose to pass. I took some pictures of the gate, however, just to prove I tried.
There was also a neat Twistee Treat frozen custard stand in the parking lot that deserved a photo. (Twistee Treat is part of a Canadian franchise operation.)
In lieu of my own critique of Prairie Dog Town, read the following not-so-flattering review.
Just a quarter mile from Prairie Dog Town was one of the most unusual motels I've ever encountered. Here are pictures.
Someone went wild with Corinthian columns and steel I-bars. The outbuilding was a bit "askew" as well. Who knew? I have no information about this lodging, except that it didn't really look like it was likely to be recommended by the AAA.
I drove on to Goodland, again on I-70 because I could find no alternative, and because it was really raining buckets by that time. My destination was a giant Van Gogh painting on a giant easel there. I found it easily, even in the rain. It's hard to miss, actually. The huge reproduction of Van Gogh's "Sunflowers" is the city's tribute to Kansas's status as The Sunflower State.
I backtracked to Oakley, then proceeded south on Rt. 83, which is considered one of Kansas's most scenic byways. Unfortunately, I saw almost nothing. The rain was coming down hard, and it was all I could do to keep from being blinded and run off the road by the splash from oncoming trucks. It wasn't a pleasant part of the trip, but beyond the raindrops and wind surges, I caught glimpses of rolling hills, lakes, and long vistas. I stopped in Scott City for a sandwich and gas before moving on to Garden City. Some roads were actually flooded, but passable.
Garden City was the largest town I'd been in since way back in Salina. My goals there were twofold. First, my very good friend from North Carolina happens to be named Lee Richardson, and she told me that there's a zoo in Garden City that shares her name. I was determined to visit and snap some pictures for her. It was still raining, so I was overjoyed to learn that the Lee Richardson Zoo is both a walk-through and drive-through zoo, a wonderful innovation that I'd never seen before. For $3, I was able to drive quite close to most of the animals, and there were also ample parking spots for exiting the car and walking up even closer, if desired. The rain prevented me from leaving the car much, but I decided that getting a little wet was worth it to watch a pair of lions cavort for a while. My zoo visit was short, but I managed to see at least two dozen different animals in about a half hour. It's a great mid-sized zoo! So Lee, here are your pictures!
Just outside of Garden City is Holcolm, site of the Clutter family farm, where Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood" massacre took place. Unfortunately, the road to Holcolm was closed due to flooding. Holcolm is a river town, so although I didn't actually see the town or the historic spot, I presume it was Arkansas River flooding that prevented me from doing so.
The weather started to clear up a bit on my way from Garden City to Liberal, where I arrived at 4:45. I had hoped to get to Dorothy's House (Wizard of Oz museum) before it closed, but I didn't quite make it. Fortunately, the grounds (which aren't much, frankly) remain open, and the only structure that closes is Dorothy's house itself. It's so tiny that I can't really imagine there's much inside to see. However, I have a friend who collects Oz items, so I was able to get her a souvenir and some postcards.
Liberal seems to have a strong devotion to the legend of the Wizard. It's everywhere! Note the sign and the mailbox!
Liberal also has a library worthy of note. Although I'd been led to believe that the entire library resembled a book, in reality it's only the front portal that's book-shaped. Nevertheless, it's an interesting and innovative piece of architecture, and I liked it.
In Liberal, I decided to pack it in for the night, and found a motel where I could dry out and stretch out after three long days in the car. Today I had driven 418 miles.