Archive for Wednesday, April 23, 2008

It’s true: There’s no place like Kansas

April 23, 2008

After a 2,800-mile trip driving through rural Texas and New Mexico, I have to agree with Dorothy of "Wizard of Oz" fame, "there is no place like Kansas."

Actually, we made every attempt to stay off the interstate roads and to weave our way down two-lane highways through tiny hamlets I have never heard of. Unfortunately, many of these tiny towns will probably disappear within the next couple of decades.

Our trip started with a visit to our daughter in Allen, Texas, and then taking rural highways through west Texas and into New Mexico. In the "Land of Enchantment" we visited Carlsbad Caverns, the White Sands in Alamogordo through Lincoln County, Santa Fe and Taos. We also hit some off-the-beaten track locations such as White Rock, Bandalier, a suspended bridge and other, impressive natural sites. We came back to Kansas on U.S. 56 again making our way through small towns.

I have to say that small, rural towns in western Kansas, for the most part, look much better than their counterparts in west Texas and New Mexico. The rural areas are cleaner in Kansas without the ever-present rusted hulks of used cars that you see in other areas. In short, the Kansas towns appeared to be cleaner and appeared to be more prosperous.

What was interesting driving through west Texas was the number of small communities with high schools and, yes, they all had football stadiums. On the subject of high school stadiums, the most impressive was at Hobbs, N. M., and I'd have to give Hobbs the nod for having the nicest "welcome" sign.

I wonder how many more years people will be able to afford driving trips. The highest price that I saw for gasoline was at Carlsbad Caverns where it was $3.83 per gallon. What seemed a bit unusual was that gasoline prices varied greatly. You would see prices ranging from $3.25 to $3.45 at convenience stores, which were just a few blocks apart.

If you drive the rural areas in New Mexico, have a sufficient supply of gasoline since it is sometimes many, many miles between gas pumps. In addition, it would appear that full-service stations are a dying breed. We saw very few places where you could buy gasoline and have work done on your car. In our case, we had absolutely no trouble making the drive that ranged from curvy mountain roads through seemingly endless miles of desert.

Yes, the scenery was diverse. It included breathtaking mountains where you could see for miles, that is, if you weren't driving and trying to negotiate "S" curves. Then there were miles of flat desert land, which became less attractive the longer you viewed it. Toss in some babbling streams, cave dwellings and historic sites, which have been preserved, and you have a really great vacation.

New Mexico speed limits are baffling. We found some nice two-lane roads with 65 miles speed limits and others, which seemed similar, with 45 miles per hour speed limits. On the interstate highways, the speed limit was 75 miles per hour. After laboring along some nice roads at the "double nickel" I never want to see a national 55 miles per hour speed limit ever again. It is, quite simply, just too slow and takes the fun out of driving.

On the other hand, Kansas speed limits are more consistent. I like the way that both states inform you of changing speed limits, too.

I don't believe that we stopped at a restaurant that allowed smoking and I predict it won't be long before smoking is banned in all public buildings. One the other hand, the number of casinos is growing. I would hate to hazard a guess at the number we passed during the trip.

I have changed my mind about the plastic bags that are commonly used to take your purchases from stores. I really think that they should be abolished. Along almost every fence in rural areas, you find the plastic bags pinned against the wire and hanging from trees and shrubs. I wouldn't want to a guess how many we saw on the trip, but it would be in the many thousands. Maybe the real problem isn't the plastic bags, but the thoughtless slobs who toss things out of car windows.

It was very dry in New Mexico and southern Kansas. While we've had sufficient rain, other areas are still very, very dry. Agriculture remains huge in much of the region. I enjoyed seeing cotton fields and I will admit that I was surprised to find that they grew peanuts in west Texas.

We returned home with great appreciation of the vast beauty and complexity of our nation. And, yes, like Dorothy, we were glad to be back in Kansas. I returned with great appreciation of living in the eastern part of the state, close to Kansas City and all of its attractions.

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