Halfway to the Pacific

Continuing west on US-56, we drove through Scranton (population: 724). Not much was going on…


One building of note: a former Methodist church converted to a garage (you can just make out the big roll-gates on the right):


Across the street was this abandoned gas station, and I was really intrigued by the sign on the left: ENTER IF YOU DARE. I was all set to tempt fate when I noticed the Halloween decorations on the right, and realized it all must have been left over from last year’s haunted house:


Equally deserted but far more charming was the frozen-in-time main street of Osage City. Once an important stop on the Santa Fe trail, Osage City’s Santa Fe Avenue was built large enough for a team of oxen to make a full u-turn:


A row of stores:


Despite all three stores being closed, the buildings are all in really excellent shape:


I believe a lawyer actually works in the storefront on the far corner…


And yes, he has this simple wooden sign hanging just above the door:


The old garage – again, out of business, but you’d never know it from the outside:


We stopped in the Crossroads Canteen for lunch (located in a former bank building), and found we had finally escaped the stranglehold of Boar’s Head meat products. Hooray! Our sandwiches were great, and I recommend stopping in if you ever pass through.


An ancient wall ad for 5-cent cigars:


This very odd tree stump was planted just in front:


Our appetites sated, we hit the road again…


When we weren’t seeing this out the window…


We were seeing this:


Every other farm seemed to have these silhouette figures set up on their hilltops.


Next up was Council Grove, a bustling little town compared to pretty much every one we’d been through since leaving Kansas City. One of the last stops on the Santa Fe trail heading south-west, Council Grove has a number of roadside history stops, like this reconstructed cowboy jail:


My favorite bit from the below jail history sign: “Jack the Peeper was shot while trying to escape after terrifying the town for months.”


So many questions arise from this odd fact: Who was Jack the Peeper? Why was his peeping so terrifying? Can you really peep for two months straight without getting caught? And as bad as peeping is, did he really deserve to be shot? The heavy gate that once held Jack the Peeper and others:


The last known privately-owned rail station in the US:


Council Grove has two very famous tree stumps, which has to be a record of some sort. The first is Council Oak, an oddly-designed monument (the stump of a tree and a hanging cross-section covered in a 1970’s-orange metal tent):


In 1825, when Council Oak was a towering tree, an important treaty was signed with the local Osage tribe beneath it allowing passage through their land, thereby establishing the Santa Fe trail.

A little ways down the road, we found the Post Office Oak, which has to be the first tree I’ve ever seen with its own umbrella. According to legend, Santa Fe Trail travelers heading west would leave letters in a hole on the oak, to be carried to the nearest post office by travelers heading east.


US-56 then brought us through downtown Council Grove. Though it has its share of tourist shops, Council Grove appears to have a relatively thriving life of its own, which was nice to see.


We got a great milkshake from The Apothecary (blue)…


…which still has a little soda fountain counter…


…as well as its old apothecary shelves and drawers:


Across the street, Hays House claims to be the oldest continuously operating restaurant west of the Mississippi:


A beautiful corner bank building:


The Cottage House – a cute little hotel just off Main Street (though, er, read the reviews before staying here):


Council Grove also has a branch of the awesomely-named Duckwall’s, a chain of discount stores operating in Midwestern areas lacking a Walmart:


Council Grove is home to another great (sadly, out of business) Midwestern movie theater: The Stella. Opened in 1918, it hosted live musicals and theater productions, as well as silent films. Its last film was shown in 1999. A man purchased the property in 2003, saying he would give it away for FREE (!) to anyone willing to spend the $400,000 in repairs needed to save it. Any takers?


Back on the road, the sky suddenly turned ominous, and within minutes, we were in the middle of a deluge:


Luckily, the storm passed within about twenty minutes, a common occurrence, we would learn, for storms in the midwest. This is the first time I’ve ever looked out and seen an isolated rainstorm (raining on the right, clear on the left):


Finally, the skies cleared and it was sunny again! All that remained from the storm was this one grumpy-looking cloud hanging significantly lower than the ones above:


We then pulled into Kinsley, Kansas, notable for one important fact: we were exactly halfway between New York and San Francisco! We rejoined with US-50, and gunned toward Dodge City, where we were planning to spend the night.


Finally, as we were leaving Kinsley, we passed by an enormous field of wind turbines. Noticing a friendly information plaque in a parking lot adjacent to the field, we pulled over and got out to have a look…


Suddenly, swarms of quarter-sized mosquitoes rose up out of the field and began attacking us! We ran back to the car and rolled up the windows, then spent a good ten minutes killing the ones that had managed to get in the car. I didn’t get a chance to take a picture of the friendly wind turbine information booth, but to whoever put it there…



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  1. Ha, hope you aren’t too badly bitten up. Enjoy the non-mugginess of the Western states. Bring back some Pacific water for us!

  2. The mosquitoes put the sign there to lure in unsuspecting tourists.

  3. That Farmers and Drovers Bank building is absolutely stunning!

  4. I stumbled on this blog. it’s great. Thanks for sharing, I didn’t know places like this still existed. I was also absent the day they taught the Kansas City Kansas/Missouri lesson.

  5. ” This is the first time I’ve ever looked out and seen an isolated rainstorm (raining on the right, clear on the left):”

    Thats funny; thats a sight we see all of the time here, esp during our thunderstorm season. Really, is that just a western phenomena, or is it because you can’t see much sky in NYC? 🙂

  6. I am loving reading about your roadtrip. It is as great as your NYC photo shoots. Thanks for sharing. Ciao, Ardee-ann

  7. I think it has to do with the amount of sky you can see. Over here in Germany I have observed that phenomenon of isolated rainstorms as well, so it is not strictly limited to the West. 😉
    But you’d need a rather large slice of sky you can observe to have the chance to see something like it, because, let’s face it, those rainstorms tend to be a bit larger than a hundred feet (width of 5th Avenue at 32nd Street intersection) in diameter.

  8. Hey Guys,

    I just realized you’re taking the same route me and a buddy took when we drove from Chicago to Las Vegas in 03. When you get to Dodge city, be sure to go to Fort Dodge, a few miles up the road from Dodge city, as that’s where the old town is.

    Love the blog

  9. It looks as if the Cottage House’s reviews on Trip Advisor are of the classic love-it-or-hate-it variety. Not much in the middle.

  10. This is the coolest blog ever. Well done and keep it up!

  11. What, Ye Olde Sod House and Museum tweren’t good enough for a post? In Halfway, Kansas?

  12. I am very sure that you trip did not take you through Osage City. The pictures of “Osage City” are actually Burlingame in Osage County which is just north of Osage City.

  13. I enjoyed this very much. Did a cross country drive before I got married across with my fiancee, back alone. She flew back to NY before I got back. On the way out I drove through Nebraska, on the way back Oklahoma. Totally missed Kansas. But your blog is very cool and in some ways brings back memories.

    Thank you. I plan on exploring your archives.