A Sweet Little Puff of Buffalo Fluff – Part 2

With Konza Prairie Biological Station to its north and the rich variety of the Tallgrass Prairie to its south,  the Kansas town of Council Grove is perfectly situated to accomodate vacationing families, prairie enthusiasts, nature photographers, and history buffs.

In the 1800s, the trappers, traders, and settlers who passed through town had different concerns. For them, Council Grove was a pivot point, a final opportunity to reconsider their chosen path before moving on.  East of Council Grove, water and wood had been plentiful, and other small communities growing up along the Santa Fe Trail could offer assistance in case of difficulty. Beyond Council Grove, there were more, and arguably less-friendly, Indians. There was less water, less wood for fuel and repairs, and a changing topography that guaranteed new and more difficult struggles.

If a mind-change were to occur, if a new course were to be plotted or a decision made to return to more familiar worlds, it most likely would happen in Council Grove. (more…)

Published in: on March 4, 2014 at 7:43 pm  Comments (78)  
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A Sweet Little Puff of Buffalo Fluff – Part I

Above all else, autumn on the prairie reveals the beauty of her grasses, and I’d come to Kansas as much for those tall, variously-colored grasses as for the spare, clean horizon, the solitude, or the vast rivers of stars cascading through the nights.

Still, as I paged through the book of photographs lying next to the cash register at the Tallgrass Prairie Visitors’ Center, I paused at a striking portrait of a single buffalo. Seeing my interest, the enthusiasm of the young woman standing next to me became palpable and infectious. “Isn’t he handsome?” she said. “I don’t have anything against the bald eagle. It’s a good symbol for America, and I suppose I’m glad it was chosen over the wild turkey. But the buffalo have permeated our culture in a way the eagle just can’t match.”  (more…)

Circles of Commerce, Circles of Life

Like all great migrations it began slowly, in fits and starts, ebbing back toward the known, the comfortable and familiar before once again surging forward into uncertainty.

Driven by curiosity as well as by commerce, enticed by rumor or persuaded by reason, traders and caravaners, mountain men, shopkeepers and scouts followed in the footsteps of men like Zebulon Pike, overcoming first one obstacle and then another as they created the collection of loosely-bundled routes we know today as the Santa Fe Trail. (more…)

Published in: on January 13, 2014 at 7:55 am  Comments (78)  
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The Heart of the Flint Hills

To travel through the Flint Hills of Kansas is one thing.
To stop, to spend time, to await the rising sun and bless the setting moon, to breathe in the remarkable sweetness of bottomland, pasture and prairie or sense the ageless solidity of  undisturbed earth and rock is quite another.
“The lover can see, and the knowledgeable,” says Annie Dillard. My knowledge of the Flint Hills remains limited, but the place and its people have insinuated themselves into my heart.
How deeply, I wouldn’t have known, had I not stopped by the Emma Chase Café in Cottonwood Falls on the morning of my departure. (more…)

Tumbleweed Traveling

Out in western Kansas, tumbleweeds seem to outnumber gas stations by a million to one.

I was in tumbleweed country, with a quarter-tank of gas and who-knew-how-many-miles to go before I could sleep in something other than my car.  When I saw the metal building with its gravel parking lot and a pair of pickups out front, it might as well have had a sign nailed up saying, “Tourist Information”.  

I pulled in, walked over to the open doors and saw two fellows welding pipe. The one facing the door saw me, pushed up his helmet and walked over, smiling as though he’d been expecting me all day.

“What can I help you with?” he said. I explained my concern about seeing no gas stations, and asked where the closest one might be. “Well,” he said. “You’re about a tenth of a mile from it. You see those Co-op grain elevators across the way?” I did. “They’ve got gas pumps over there, too. Drive over and stick your head in the office and they’ll give you the go-ahead. Around here, we get our gas at the Co-ops. If you see an elevator, you probably can get gas.”

When I pulled up to the pumps, I still couldn’t find the credit card reader, so a trucker getting diesel across from me explained what no one else had thought to mention. Just one card reader served all six pumps, and it was hidden away at the end of the island.  As I keyed in my pump number, I noticed him grinning.  “Well,” he said, “I guess we’re gonna have to revise that old song.”

I must have seemed confused, so he added, “Looks to me like it ought to be ‘T for Texas, T for tumbleweeds“. Following his gaze, I turned to look at my car and started laughing myself.  “You saw that, huh?”  “Couldn’t help it,” he said. “Don’t often see someone driving around with a tumbleweed in their back seat. Where’d you pick it up?” (more…)

Published in: on November 2, 2013 at 9:41 pm  Comments (126)  
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