In the 1840s, railroads had come to America but of course had not reached the West. Families seeking new homes in Oregon or California and men seeking riches in California travelled by wagon, horse, and usually on foot to cross the Great Plains. It is hard today to imagine what it must have been like to cross all that wide open space, or is it?
There is a place in Kansas where one can capture the immensity and emptiness of the Great Plains before the Americans settled the plains. At the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve (Owned by the Nature Conservancy, managed by the National Park Service) trails can lead you away from the Visitor’s Center where all you can see is the wide open prairie. At such a place it is not so hard to imagine trekking day after day, mile after mile, seeing nothing but rolling endless fields of grass. Beautiful today, but day after day of this emptiness could work on the minds of those hearty pioneers. All this isolation and open space can impact the mind if you are on foot (and not in a car), and there were recorded incidents of “Prairie Sickness” where random acts of violence were set off by minor incidents.
Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve north of Strong City, Kansas. Away from the highway, you can imagine yourself in an 1840s wagon train…isolated and grassland spreading forever….
We take so much for granted. I was rolling across Kansas on Old US Highway 40, quite content with a well paved road, travel services, air conditioning, and XM Satellite Radio. But less than 200 years ago, quite a different story.
The Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve is located on Kansas Highway 177, the Flint Hills Scenic Byway, which is a beautiful highway running north-south from El Dorado to Council Grove, Kansas. The nearest town is Strong City, which is located 16 miles west of Interstate 35 (The Kansas Turnpike) on US Highway 50. Council Grove is a historic old town on the Santa Fe Trail with a historic downtown, lodging, and locally owned restaurants.
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