Western Kansas Odyssey, Part V: The Nicodemus Loop
Hays Travel Blog› entry 181 of 309 › view all entries
Saturdayâ€™s day trip was solo, beginning in the small Volga German community of Catharine, about 10 miles northeast of Hays. The centerpiece of the town is Saint Catherineâ€™s, its trumpet-brandishing angel statues conveying this fact even in silence. The church was locked, but I was fortunate to find the local post office open, and chatted with a fourth generation postmaster who took me to the back of the building and showed me the original postboxes that had been removed to comply with new US Postal Service regulations. The townâ€™s welcome sign proudly announced its Volga German heritage with a spelling of Katharinenstadt. Considering that the church and town name spellings are differentâ€”a fact that confuses even the most popular online mapping applications as well as most other reference sourcesâ€”it would have been simpler just to stick with the German name.
Detouring slightly northwestward through the former
settlement of Severin
provided some close-up views of the ubiquitous â€ś
At the county line just past Turkville, I looked back for a wide view of the entire range and the light gray line of road that I had just traversed. Finally I was in Codell, a community known best for its inclusion in Ripleyâ€™s Believe It or Not! for having a tornado on the same day for three consecutive years. Whether tornadoes or economic changes were to blame, it was clear that Codellâ€™s days were numbered. However, there were still several houses, a church, park and a few local businesses.
Having completed the most out-of-the-way detour of the trip, I ventured west en route to Nicodemus. After a brief stop in Plainville, where Iâ€™d dodged tornadoes myself about 15 years ago, I entered the â€śurban boundaryâ€ť of sleepy of Zurich. Next was Palco, where a brilliantly resorted 1930s gas station had been turned into a 1950s malt shop and antique store. Pastel colors and posters of poodle-skirted girls and white t-shirt-clad greasers decorated the walls. According to the proprietor, who had been across the street at the cafĂ©, they attract a decent crowd in the evenings for a town of only 300.
A little bit of French Canada awaited me in the tidy little town of Damar. Along the avenue into town, community pride flared on the newly renovated facades of buildings, which had been elegantly painted to resemble boutiques, cafes, or city officesâ€”all complemented with French names like â€śLe Salonâ€ť or â€śLa Confiserie de Bella.â€ť In keeping with the Francophilia, I had French toast for an early lunch at the local cafĂ©. Prominently towering above the rest of the town at the end of the wide boulevard running through town, the twin spires of St. Josephâ€™s Catholic church announced the townâ€™s dominant religious affiliation.
A town formerly known for its cheese production facility, Bogue is now
better known as the hometown of Americaâ€™s
Best Steaks, which dry-ages
their beef. It is also the postal address for one of
The town of Webster
had been mostly inundated with the construction of Webster
Reservoir, but a handful of houses and an abandoned school nestled among
back roads east of the lake did remain. Stockton
presented itself neatly and, as the Rooks
County seat, displayed its relative prosperity. Locally born talent Lorenzo Fuller, Jr.
showed few signs of life but on select weekend mornings, the community hosts a
â€ścoffee shopâ€ť in the former grain company office. Tiny Alton can at least claim its
own famous citizen, legendary chocolatier Russell Stover. Originally named
Having had such an early and light lunch, I was famished by the time I pulled into Luray. The sandwich I ordered at the deli counter of the Luray Grocery had slabs of ham almost too big to fit in my mouth, and certainly too cumbersome to attempt eating while behind the wheel. Six miles west in Waldo, I parked my carâ€”the only one in sightâ€”between the post office and fire department, and stuffed myself while lazy birds chirped in the late afternoon sun.
Finally I reached Paradise. No pearly
gates here, but there was an historic water tower constructed of limestone. South
of town I discovered the hidden
Most Kansans are familiar with the legendary Saint Fidelis church in Victoria, better known by
the moniker William
Jennings Bryan had given it, the â€śCathedral of the
Plains.â€ť When it was built in 1911, it had seating for over 1,000 people,
making it the largest church west of the