Wednesday, February 19, 2014

US50 Phase 1: Dodge City

Oct 15 Dodge City was - well - less than I had hoped for!

As a kid in the 60's this would have been one of the premier destinations of a trip through the area. As an adult I suppose I had some of the same sort of expectations, but they were to be shattered and left in shards on the streets (OK, maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration but even when you're not still a kid disappointment can hurt!) of this town that does not at all live up to the promise left by the legacy of Gunsmoke, Marshal Matt Dillon and Miss Kitty. Maybe I was spoiled by Cow Town in Wichita, but Dodge City didn't have near as much in the way of historical/educational sites as I was expecting. Of course they may be there, and I just didn't find them. . .

Fort Dodge, a few miles to the southeast, has a ‘self-guided’ tour, only problem is the place, once a real fort as the name implies, is now a retirement home for Kansas Vets and the buildings may or may not still have some of their original fa├žades and none of them are open to the public!

The restored Santa Fe railroad depot and Harvey House right in the heart of Dodge City are also not open to the public (Except maybe around midnight when Amtrak makes a stop here.) so you can look from the outside but that’s all. Though there was a couple of placards over in one corner of the parking lot that explained the history of Mexican Town, the slums that used to be over on the wrong side of the tracks; and that was interesting.

The walking tour of ‘historic old Dodge City’ has you wandering around a few blocks of low rent storefronts, half of them vacant, looking at plaques in the sidewalk  (They look just like man-hole covers, probably because they are cast at the same place.) commemorating the cast members of Gunsmoke. The best part of this tour was running into a young man that had climbed on his bicycle back in Boston and was on his way to find a new life in California. He was kicked back on a bench watching people go by as he charged his cell phone with a small folding solar panel.  It was interesting to listen to him talk about working his way across the country by picking up short term jobs or volunteering at soup kitchens or church fairs.

The big ‘thing’ in town, the Boot Hill Museum, is a block long stretch of replica old-west buildings with TV inspired interiors and furnishings rather than the real thing. Fortunately I could see that through the fence and didn’t spend my shekels on the entrance fee.

 The best spot in town wasn’t in town at all but rather about 9 miles west where you can see wagon ruts left over from the Santa Fe Trail days as well as a remnant of an irrigation canal snaking wildly around the contours of the hills. All the more remarkable when you realize that it was still visible even though it was dug well over 100 years ago and abandoned after its first year of use.
If you stand quietly you just might be able to catch glimpses of the shadows of hard working men hand digging this canal as surveyors busily flit around with their gear, carefully keeping things on track so the water flows. Or maybe you will hear the creak and squeal of wooden wheels on wooden axles as oxen strain and men curse while slowly moving trade goods out into the wilderness of the west.

While I was out there seeing ghosts and looking at old wagon tracks I ran into a couple that asked me if they had been on the wrong road through town. They remember visiting Dodge City years ago and enjoying themselves, but this time they drove through and didn’t see anything they remembered so were heading on to Garden City in the hopes of finding a room for the night. I guess I’m not the only disappointed traveler.

In fairness I should mention another thing that was kind of interesting in town and that was the number of well-maintained brick paved roads in the residential areas. The bricks in the intersections are laid at a 45 degree angle so heavy vehicles won’t roll them when making turns.

Oh, and one more good thing came out of the day too. I managed to find a place to wash the van that took credit cards. Boy did it need a washing after over 4000 miles of road! (Don’t tell anyone but I even broke the rules by towel-washing it between soaping up and rinsing.)


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