Sand Creek/Tallgrass Part 1 of 3: Travel Date November 2012

I never heard of anyone taking a vacation to Kansas, so I decided to do it.  Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, located in the eastern half of the state, is the closest thing Kansas has to a National Park.  It preserves one of the few remaining tall grasslands in the United States.  Seas of tallgrass stretched across the Midwest for hundreds of miles, according to Preserve literature, until it was destroyed by agriculture and general civilization.

My route from Denver is carefully planned to avoid the interstate in favor of rural highways.  I feel this is the only way to truly experience the plains.  I begin by heading southeast on US 40/287.  The late fall fields are brown with the grasses barely reaching a foot in height.  Passing through the towns of Hugo and Wild Horse, I see hardly a soul among the few small buildings and decaying homes.  As I slow into Kit Carson at lunch time, 4 tumbleweeds blow across Main Street.  There are five cars parked at a restaurant/bar.  That is the only sign of humans I see.

I turn south to my first destination, the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site near the Kansas border.  A brown single-wide trailer serves as the visitor center.  It is at the end of a round dirt parking lot bordered by leafless cottonwoods.  A tall, burly, elderly ranger ambles over and gives me the rundown.  I hike ¼ mile up a moderate slope to reach the overlook.  Fifty feet below sits the dry bed of Sand Creek.  On the far side thirty- to forty-foot tall cottonwoods with trunks the diameter of wine barrels line the bank among rolling hills.  On the near side, the creek is bordered by sheer dirt cliffs peppered with indentations measuring several feet across.

It was here in November 1864 that a US Cavalry regiment killed hundreds of peaceful Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians.  Accounts by the only two officers to hold back their men portray a scene of shocked and defenseless Indians being shot to the last person.  Many took cover around the creek in an attempt to survive.  Looking at the small rolling hills, the cottonwoods, and the cliffs, this is too easy to imagine.  Visitors are prohibited from entering this area of the creek due to its sacred status.  I don’t want to get any closer.  This place emits a strong spiritual feeling that encourages deep reflection and puts a chill into my spine.  I normally don’t have much imagination.  But it is eerily easy here to imagine the events in vivid detail:  the uniforms; the smug looks on the officers’ faces; the gunfire; the Indians shooting their arrows and then digging in with their wives and children.  Upon return to the deserted parking lot, all I could say to the ranger was, “That’s really something.”  He earnestly thanks me for my interest, and I’m soon heading east on Route 96 into Kansas.


About Jerry
Working in Corporate America for many years, I wanted to break free of the office walls for a bit and explore the world. Having put the pieces in place, I am first exploring the USA by road. Colleagues and friends expressed interest in my travels, giving rise to Office Escape. It is my honor to share my adventures.

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