Friday, June 8, 2012

Majestic Vistas Right Here in Kansas

Riding a train through the Rocky Mountains, I met an archeologist.  When I heard about all the interesting places in Mississippi, Wyoming, North Dakota, and the Southwest where he had worked on excavations, I asked if he’d been on digs in Kansas.  His swift response, “I drove straight across Kansas,” echoed the thinking of so many people who travel across our state and never see the landscape’s true beauty.

Anyone driving across Kansas on Interstate 70 or on Highway 50 or 54 gets an abbreviated view of Kansas.  To follow only those routes across the state makes it understandable why some folks call this “flyover country.”

However, anyone who practices William Least Heat Moon’s art of traveling “blue highways” knows there is a good reason why Cheyenne, Sioux, Pawnee, Arapaho, and other tribes fought to hunt and live on this land.   Travelers journeying north of the Interstate will see vistas stretching for hundreds of miles and recognize the majesty before them.

Depending on the time of day and the season, these panoramas appear in pastel or dancing psychedelic color.  To live on one of these high plains plateaus would mean to live in an ever-changing color scheme.  Dawn’s light would create an entirely different view than that of noon or dusk and all variations in between.

People who live here don’t realize that few Americans see views that Kansans see daily.  It is easy to take our vistas, our sunrises, and our sunsets for granted when we see them day in and day out.  It is easy to think we can always drive to a hilltop that overlooks pasture, river bottom, and eroded draws occasionally interrupted by a silo on a farmstead or a rural community’s elevator piercing the horizon line.

Last weekend, I drove to Logan to take a painting class.  Following the map’s up arrow across our region provides amazing views regardless of whether I head north of Ellis, Wakeeney, Grainfield, or Goodland.

From a hill south of St. John’s Church, in morning’s clear light, I saw elevators miles away in Plainville, Zurich, and Palco.  Around another bend in the highway, I ascended a hill overlooking the elevators of Bogue and Nicodemus as well as the spires of the Damar church with miles of fields and pastures in between.

Between each tiny community marked by elevators and church spires, I saw tawny wheat fields, green alfalfa patches, and  chalky erosions to remind me ancient seas once covered this land.  Every now and then, a lonely tree interrupted a wheat field or pasture while snaking lines of green highlighted waterways carving the plains into pieces of a whole.

I never reach one of those vistas that I don’t think of the lyrics from” America the Beautiful,”
 “O beautiful for spacious skies, 
for amber waves of grain, 
For purple mountain majesties 
Above the fruited plain! 

To drive across Kansas without taking time to enjoy one of the million dollar views that inspired lyrics like those in “America the Beautiful” is to cheat oneself of a blessing that comes with traveling Kansas.

1 comment:

  1. Reading this has been a blessing! Thanks reminding me how beautiful our state can be.