Sunday, June 7, 2009

Kansas and the Prairie

The vastness and sameness of the prairie are as breathtaking as the mountain vistas we have seen. The grassland generally appears to extend to the horizon in perfect flatness and uniformity of color. However, the prairie is not, in fact, flat, but rather a series of gently rolling hills. The yellow green fields and the roadside are dotted with clusters of wildflowers. Cattle graze contentedly, and pastures alternate with corn and wheat fields, occasionally punctuated with an oil well. This pattern repeats itself for hundred and hundreds of miles.

It is easy to see how early settlers, arriving on virgin uncultivated grassland, saw flatness. Kristi was listening to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie on audio book while driving. To hear Laura’s description while seeing the scenery brought new meaning to the text. Kristi was also reminded of The Children’s Blizzard, the story of a tragic blizzard which struck the prairie around the same time Laura was growing up there.

Along the way we saw a sign advertising the world’s largest prairie dog. Noise-a-saurus whispered to Andy that he wanted to meet this prairie dog. As it turned out, it was right on the way and at the right time for one of our gas/rest stops. So we pulled in. The actual exhibit was closed, so we peeked between the boards and over the fence. Noise-a-saurus has this picture to prove he met the world’s largest prairie dog.

We also passed through Scott City.

Each prairie town we passed through is laid out with one central street, unlike the block layout we are more familiar with. Instead of a courthouse square, we inevitably passed a grain processing plant. Dodge City, the largest town we passed through Friday, also boasts of its meat, with many steakhouses as well as old west/cowboy museums and historical sites.
Most of the prairie cattle graze and roam freely in fields whose boundaries are beyond the horizon.

On our way out of Dodge, we noticed a meat processing plant. This in itself was not shocking. As we passed it, we then saw black fields littered with lighter colored shapes. It looked, frankly, like a huge junkyard. As we drew closer to the fields, we realized they were feed lots. The lighter shapes were cows, standing in their own poo. The stench was almost overwhelming. Michael Pollock described these type of feedlots in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, a book Kristi recommends. We were so taken aback, we did not manage to get a photo. We are not actually disappointed that we didn’t see another such meat factory.

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