Western Kansas Odyssey, Part VII: Back to St. Marys

Saint Marys Travel Blog

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Clouds on the horizon perpendicular to the painted yellow lines on the open road form some kind of magnetic field, which beckons to the traveler in a silent bedroom voice. Pulled by this force, the wanderer and his vehicle traverse the blue highways in search of a catharsis that will rejuvenate, inspire, or cause to question. Much of the process is subliminal in action, but cognizant in deed and wholeheartedly empirical. This complex phenomenon is known to produce a byproduct known as the “road trip.”


Ending the week-long odyssey by starting off along the same strip of highway through Halford, I then began a northeasterly arc near the Blue Star Memorial Highway marker at Breton, but still on State Highway 383. New-to-me towns were checked off the list as I explored their lonely main streets: Rexford, Selden, Dresden, Jennings, Clayton. Copper-tipped spires of the Immaculate Conception Church greeted me in tiny Leoville, a few miles from Dresden. Near Keith Sebelius Reservoir, I visited the ghostly remnants of Dellvale and Oronoque, with a rest stop sandwiched in between. After a quick Subway lunch in Norton, I visited “Station 15,” a stagecoach stop converted into an unstaffed museum, and was back on my way northeast to Calvert.


From Almena, I zigzagged around the map in order to take in Prairie View, Stuttgart, Luctor and Long Island before reaching the northernmost point in the day’s journey at the Nebraska state line near Woodruff. Driving south along lusciously rural Highway 183, I stopped to admire Parker’s Service Station, with its single blotchy red pump admirably intact. In Phillipsburg�"home of the state’s largest rodeo�"I thudded down the cobblestone streets in search of the court house. I marveled that such an isolated small town could support such businesses as a bakery, bookstore and movie theater. Eastward I continued, passing the Chubby Pickle restaurant on my way out of town towards Gretna. Memorial Day flags gallantly lined the entrance road to the cemetery in Agra. Billing itself as the “Biggest Town of Its Size,” Kensington was the first town in Smith County. Although I didn’t see the cabin that inspired the song, Athol was home to the original “Home on the Range” that later became the state song.


As clouds blossomed in the sky, I took a country road south to Cedar, where I lingered longer than I’d planned due to being spotted taking pictures of the post office. Edna gave me a private tour of the city’s train depot museum in the park, which was oval-shaped. With only 25 residents, this was one of the smallest incorporated towns I’d visited. Too bad I would miss the Cedar Depot Festival the following weekend. Gaylord, although larger, was by contrast a little more desolate. In Harlan, a creative memorial park had been constructed to honor area veterans. Porky Pig animator Tubby Millar’s hometown of Portis quietly welcomed me back to Osborne County. After Downs, I made a stop in Cawker City to pay homage to the quirky World’s Largest Ball of Twine that has made this town famous. Right on the main highway, this orb of rope was the project of farmer Frank Stoeber, but now visitors can tie their own piece of twine�"actually sisal, to be precise�"on the ball and contribute to its length. A museum/antique shop across the street featured t-shirts, keychains, mugs and other twine-related paraphernalia.


The remainder of the journey included stopping at microscopic towns like Solomon Rapids, Asherville and Simpson, which actually had a bank. Only slightly bustling were the villages of Glasco and Miltonvale. Just before Clay Center, I took a four-mile detour to tiny Idana to see if there was anything left (answer: not much, but families were enjoying the holiday weekend by grilling outdoors). My last stop as the sun lumbered low on the horizon was Riley, its quiet buildings reflecting a purplish pre-twilight tint. When I pulled into the driveway back in Saint Marys, I checked the tripometer and calculated over 3,000 miles. It was certainly a long trip, but truly just the tip of the iceberg of Kansas roadways and places to see. I guess I have to save something for next time.

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Saint Marys
photo by: sayohat