There’s not really much to say about Wakeeney, and we’re here for 4 days. When we were still 100 miles east of there and rolling down I-70 we saw a billboard with a script “Wakeeney” and the words, “We’re Affordable.” The only thing on the Internet about Wakeeney I could find is that it has a motor speedway (not operating during our stay according to their web page) and the police chief was arrested when he tried to blackmail someone to get his son off after junior did a few naughty things. Okay, I thought, if you haven’t got a lot, you make the best of what you’ve got and put it on a billboard. Wakeeney (a mashup of Warren and Keeney, two of the town’s founders in the late 19th century) is a small farm town with a main street and several blocks of WW2-era bungalows, with farm-related businesses on the edge of town located near the railroad line that runs through the middle. I-70 runs along the southern edge of town and was the only evidence of activity, due to a couple of truck stops, fast-food vendors and the KOA we’re spending a few days in. Might be a long, long four days if we’re beset by 90’s temps and very few attractions. I dissolve in the heat.
After setting up in the KOA, which is nice by the way – good hookups, grassy sites, pool and nice people – we had some ice cream in the office, jumped into our air-conditioned toad, Li’l Bessie, and drove the streets of Wakeeney looking for signs of life – congregations of cars, platoons of people, etc. – and the only evidence was a group of six pickup trucks (I guess that represents a quorum in these parts) parked in front of a storefront restaurant on Main Street called the Western Kansas Saloon & Grill. We joined them and had a pretty respectable dinner and glass of beer, then retreated back to the RV before someone could spot our Dakota plates and ticket us for vagrancy.
Okay, Charlie (Kuralt, my imaginary fulltime RVing role model), what would you do? Well if the tourist traps won’t come to us, we’ll go to the tourist traps. So on Saturday we took the toad southward 90 miles along route 283 (good-quality secondary road) to Dodge City. The stark landscape of Kansas was very apparent during the drive down there, as the only things that popped up along the way were nodding oil donkeys, cell towers, farm fields and many, many wind turbines. We got hungry about 1:30PM and scanned the main street of one of the two tiny towns along the way – Ness City – for some kind of restaurant. The only thing open was a corner cafe run by a couple of cheerful hispanic ladies, and even though they were about to close for the afternoon siesta they let us in and cooked up taco salads. I glanced across the deserted street and noticed a storefront labeled “Ness County Museum.” I noted it to the two ladies and they laughed, said it was a “very creepy place” and they hadn’t ever seen it open. Okay, that’s a pass.
Dodge City is a bustling town along a major rail line, and for 150 years it has been one of the main transit points for cattle, agro, and in recent years oil products. During Wyatt Earp’s time as town marshal, this became the backdrop for the drama of his interaction with local cowboys. They would deliver their cattle to the rail yards and, flush with cash from being paid off for the job, they would cut a swath through Dodge City. The town was happy to oblige them with liquor, working women and whatever else they were willing to pay for. The town eventually ended up with their pay, which the cowboys weren’t too happy about, and Earp’s efforts to keep them on the side of the law didn’t go down too well either, leading to an increase in the reputations of the Earp brothers, Bat Masterson, Doc Holliday and bunch of other marshals, who put quite a few of the miscreants in the ground. The main tourist trap in town is the Boot Hill Museum, built on the site of the former boot hill cemetery, and consisting of several storefronts arranged to copy the original Dodge City Front Street, faithfully reconstructed from photographs. We bought “upgraded” tickets, which in addition to access to the museum, also included a mighty fine roast beef dinner with all the trimmings, a spectator seat at a reenactment of a gunfight between the law and some alleged cattle rustlers – the law won, predictably – and a seat at a floor show put on in Miss Kitty’s Saloon (the Gunsmoke theme was also strong here). The show consisted of comedians, a couple of female singers, four young can-can dancers, corny jokes and typical saloon song themes accompanied by a piano player (complete with a “Don’t shoot the piano player” sign) and one of the resurrected outlaws on drums. The kids who did the heavy lifting looked like summer stock players waiting to go back to school in the Fall.
It was totally corny but clean fun and worth it. The show let out about 9PM, to great applause, and we hit the road back to Wakeeney. My previous preconceptions of Kansas were that it was really flat, and populated by angry old ladies riding bicycles and chasing Toto. I got the flat part right. The drive back was in complete darkness, down an arrow-straight road with zero traffic and no ambient light. That was the thing that most unnerved this former east coaster – lack of light pollution. Darkness here is, like, really, really dark. The darkness was so complete, and the oncoming traffic so non-existent, that one could see the streetlights of small towns 15 miles away, long enough to take 15 minutes to dim the high beams, dial down the cruise control and crawl down the deserted main streets until reaching the far side of town, when things got dialed up again to 65. The cafe where we ate lunch was dark at 11PM, but their neon “Open” sign was the only thing still shining brightly in this town other than the streetlamps. I guess the ladies were in a hurry to get to their siesta after we left. We got back to Wakeeney about 11:30, and immediately called it a day.
We hit church on Sunday morning (big handwritten note inside the hymnal cover, “Pray for Rain!”), ate lunch at Wakeeney’s Pizza Hut and found a car wash to clean off the copious carpet of bug slime from last night’s ride across the Kansas prairie. It’s going to get pretty hot here in the next few days, over 100 – a major topic of comment at church – so Monday might just be a good day to dig the air conditioning in the RV, read a bit and maybe finish this blog post. We had a nice Sunday afternoon nap, then went down to the pool to meet the other guests at the park, most of whom were either going to or coming from Denver. RVers always seem to find something common to all of us to talk about, even when soaking up the waterin the park’s swimming pool. The KOA folks seem to realize that there’s nothing much to keep people here long-term, and so they tailor their efforts to serve transients who stop for a night and then jump back on I-70 in the morning. We noticed that the park clears out about 10AM (except for us), and then refills in the afternoon and early evening as people stop, looking for an overnight, completing the next day’s Circle of RV Life.
We’re planning on leaving here Tuesday morning, and arriving in Limon, (apparently pronounced “Ly Mun” as it is not known for its lemons) Colorado, for the next leg of our trip vector towards Denver. It’s about a 3-hour drive – a veritable chip shot now that I’ve found my RV-driving boogie.