Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Day Of All Days

Today is my birthday, the day of all days.

I started the day off by killing a brown recluse spider. I'm almost sure that's what it was. His back looked like a fiddle, and he had spindly legs. I squashed his bad brown self good.

I took the dog for a walk around 7:00 am, and what a great morning it was to be alive. The fall air was fresh and delicious, and the sky had been decorated for me. The moon was hanging right overhead, shining like a jewel. I took the bright white moon and my conquering the spider to be good birthday omens.

As for celebrating, I've already received what I wanted most of all for my birthday, which was to spend some time driving around western Kansas. This past Sunday, we did just that.

We went west on highway 96, and drove 10 or 15 miles to Beeler. I stopped and showed the kids the George Washington Carver historical marker, near where he had built his homestead.

Then we went north on a dirt road that went past Indian Hill. I used to climb up to the top and sit on the "rock of contemplation", and gaze out at the scenery below. Now someone has put a metal statue of an Indian on horseback on top of the hill. I kind of wanted to go up there again, but I was afraid there would be snakes, so I just drove on.

We kept going north, through surprisingly pretty country, full of craggy hills and chalky outcroppings. When we got to Utica, we started looking for the county road that would take us near Castle Rock. But we came upon another unpaved road that intrigued me. On the horizon I could see it rambling over hills that looked even chalkier than the ones we'd just driven through. So I followed that narrow road, as it cut up and down sharp rises and around rocky bluffs. The hardy grasses waved at us from both sides of the road, appearing soft, in colors of rust and purple, but really tougher than nails.

Eventually, the wild road wound around and met up with the county road we had been seeking in the first place, and so we got on it. After a little zig-zagging, we saw a wrought iron sign for Castle Rock, with a yellow arrow pointing straight ahead.

Here the terrain rose to meet the sky. We were driving towards a mound, from which one could look down and see Castle Rock sitting on the prairie floor below. But as we approached the mound, we saw that the road heading down towards Castle Rock was completely washed out. Impassible.

So we decided to try a second road that veered off to the left and circled around the mound and back towards Castle Rock. The road started off in better shape, but it became more and more rutted. I drove slower and slower, until we reached a point where this road too was completely washed out. Missing whole chunks of earth. There was no way to turn around on the narrow road, with high banks on both sides, so I stuck my head out the window and backed the car up, all the way back to the main road. It felt like I was backing up for a mile.

I was disappointed that we couldn't drive up to Castle Rock. Lilah and I got out of the car and climbed up the mound, and took a good look at it. And that was the best we could do.

We got back on the road that had led us unwittingly to the hazardous, washed out road, with absolutely no warning. How ironic when sometime later, as we continued north on the county road, we passed another unpaved road going west that was marked with the sign: "Minimum Maintainence. Travel At Your Own Risk."

Eventually we met up with I-70 and drove another 30 miles west to Oakley, where we had a late lunch at Pizza Hut. I'd found Prairie Home Companion on the radio, located at 90.5 on the dial, and as we drove around Oakley, I was listening to Garrison Keillor tell of the time he was spotted down in a ravine, sticking an old cigarette butt between his lips, and was ratted on by a classmate and then sent to the principal's office. I was amused by some of the local businesses in Oakley--the Annie Oakley motel, sporting a cowgirl as big as a giant on its sign---and a liquor store called "Classy Liquor", and a little burger stand called the Dairy King.

From Oakley we went south on Highway 83 through Gove county, which is a very pretty drive. The country is wonderfully rolling and bumpy, not yet surrendering to the flatness of Scott and Lane counties further south. We were just a few miles west of Monument Rocks, and the earth was riddled with the same chalky substance that formed the Rocks.

We didn't have time to go to Scott Lake, though that is quite scenic too. We were ready to get home by then. Driving through Scott City, I saw an interesting juxtaposition. An ancient looking sign, all faded and weather-beaten, for the Lazy R Motel. But along the bottom of the sign, a new strip of signage had been added that read "Free WiFi Internet Access."

I'm always looking at signs and wishing I could stop and take pictures. I did a double take in Dighton when we passed by a sign that said the Frigid Creme. !! I thought the Frigid Creme in Ness City was the one and only. Well, I'm sure the Ness one was the first, and Dighton copied the name. Goodness knows the Ness City Frigid Creme has been there for decades. Mom told me that the day I was born, my siblings talked Dad into taking them there for ice cream.

We traveled full circle and returned to Ness City on highway 96, driving once again past the George Washington Carver Monument.

It was a heck of a drive. I had gorged myself on earth and sky, and got my fix of wide open spaces. Hopefully that will keep me for awhile. The memory of the drive is still fresh, as I now return to the prissy, boxed-in suburbs of Johnson County.

Happy birthday to me.


  1. happy birthday, simone. i enjoyed your travelogue of western kansas. made me homesick for the plains. i'm glad you were able to "gorge" yourself full of it's beauty.

  2. Happy birthday Simone! I didn't know George Washington Carver lived in KS! I love that.

  3. i hear ya about signage. i picture myself pulling over to get a picture but it always seems so risky. one of the signs in KC that just kills me is "Stinky's - we scoop poop." yes, there are actually people whose profession is going into your back yard and scooping up the dog poop. Amazing.

  4. Happy Birthday Shimmy! I love this post! Castle Rock sounds awesome--you really did live on the moon!