Western Kansas Odyssey, Part VI: Oakley Loop
Oakley Travel Blog› entry 188 of 309 › view all entries
What do dinosaurs and
sunflowers have in common? That may be a stretch, but the answer rests at Fort Hays State University’s Sternberg Museum of Natural History,
one of the most impressive museums I’ve seen. Its most famous residents, Xiphactinus audax and Gillicus arcuatus, form
the unique “fish-within-a-fish”
fossil. Carefully plastered together by a meticulous team of paleontologists
led by George F.
Sternberg of the fossil-collecting Sternberg family,
this specimen has drawn media attention worldwide for its uniqueness. But the
Sternberg museum was more than just a noteworthy fossil; it contained a variety
of exhibits ranging from dinosaur replications, fossils representing several geochronologic spectra,
and special exhibitions on giant
squid, taxidermy and an African expedition.
Stocked with educational
toys, scientific games and t-shirts plastered with a T. Rex or the
fish-within-a-fish image, the gift shop depleted only $30 of my funds before I
was back on the road west to Park.
Formerly known as Buffalo
Park, this tiny community of about 140 has a liquor store, two bars, Knights of Columbus hall, post office, gas
station and Catholic church known as the “Cathedral of the West”
here. Aptly named Grainfield
is home to ornately gray opera house as well as a bank, grocery store,
restaurant and several other businesses. Grinnell mimics
with much of the same, replacing the opera house with a hotel and a large tank
in its city park.
While lunching in Oakley at Don’s Drive-In, I
realized I had better secure a hotel room for the night. I called several
places in northwestern
After spending a good hour there, I traipsed around Studley itself before continuing to Morland. Cars littered the streets—including the middle—for some type of local function at a downtown restaurant. As I left town, I saw a herd of bison calmly grazing in a field. Morland had been the site of a short-lived “bison husbandry” institute, so perhaps these mighty creatures stood as a symbol to its memory.
In Penokee, the sun was dipping low in the sky and I was nearing a point where I would turn south to begin my return to Oakley. At Hill City, I noticed a limestone courthouse and an old hotel building before heading south out of town. In an attempt to find the former town of Happy, I turned off on a side road and found an elderly couple attending the grave of a loved one, so without a way of avoiding contact, I dove right in.
“Is this Happy?” I asked,
realizing the potential oddity of my question, especially if the man was not
familiar with obscure ghost towns of
His face screwed up in the approaching twilight, “what’s ‘at?” he mustered.
I thought I’d try another
approach. “Do you know where the town of Togo was?”
I enquired. “I have a map that shows a place called
“This is the Prairie
Home church,” he muttered, “but my grandmother used to talk about stopping
I thanked him for the information and I turned around on the dirt road, him scratching his temple before returning to his wife at the grave marker. In the distance a farmhouse nestled along the banks of a creek, while a white barn across the road reflected the low sunlight. As with many places I’d seen, this could just as well have been a town. As for Happy, it is only a township name now.
Soon enough I was in WaKeeney and it was nearing dusk. I pulled over to take a picture of the entrance sign and a good looking young man getting ready to turn onto the highway saw me. He smiled and asked, “aren’t ya gonna take my picture?”
“Seriously?” I questioned.
He just smiled wide and held up a can of Bud
Light. I zoomed in and snapped a photo, but couldn’t help wondering why he
wasn’t concerned that I could have reported him for drinking and driving. “Only
“Supper” time came and I
was back in WaKeeney, where Jeff and I had nearly starved a few days ago.
Luckily this time the steakhouse
was open and ready for my growling stomach. Fitting to its name, the Western
Kansas Saloon & Grill, with its stories-tall ceilings and worn wooden
floorboards, resembled an 1880s saloon that one may expect to see in a
spaghetti western (as long as the paneling could be ignored). I treated myself
to a steak dinner and a