High Plains Shifting

I had a good look round Dodge City; it was interesting enough that a portrait of star cop Wyatt Earp replaces the now-traditional ‘another road in Kansas’ picture at the top of the page.


Big Wyatt and the various Wild West shenanigans are only a small part of the history of Dodge. It started as a fort on the Santa Fe trail (yet another old settlers’ trail to the West, which I’ve been following for a while), became the lynchpin of the US’s buffalo-annihilation business, went through its ‘wild’ stage, and was a cattle-trading centre once all the buffaloes were out of the way. And the museum notes, with what sounds like relief, that once the railway arrived, it all gradually calmed down and became the ‘respectable’ farming town it is today. Personally, I think it sounded a lot more fun before the farmers took over, but still…

Dodge is also on the 100th meridian. Locals will tell you that some magical property of the land around the meridian means that the weather changes there pretty much constantly. One thing that certainly happened was that in the 48 hours since I got to Dodge, the daytime temperature has dropped from nearly 100F (mid-thirties C) to just 11C (fifty-odd F). In UK terms, that’s a very hot mid-summer to late autumn in two days. I thought it was clearly time to get moving before the snow started.

Despite the chill, I shot out of town with the wind at my back, and drizzle in the air. The riding was so easy that it took a while for me to realise that I was heading uphill. Super gentle uphill, yes, but uphill. In fact, it’s been there right through Kansas; I started out at around 300m (less than 1000ft), and am now up at around 900m. You don’t really notice it happening, as the height gain has happened over hundreds of miles. Reckon there must be some mountains up ahead…

The altitude causes another 100th meridian phenomenon. It marks the transition to the high plains. A much more arid area than the lower levels, which caused the early settlers major problems. One last Kansas road picture will show you the incredible difference that makes to the scenery:


Ignoring the fact that the road has a curve, can you see the difference? As far as I can tell, the grass is a bit scrubbier, and maybe not as green. But overall, it’s the same scenery it’s been for days and days. And days. I remember a guy I met from Missouri who was talking about western Kansas. He said that, “you can sit on your porch and watch your dog run away for five days”. Can’t disagree with that.

But it’s also providing me with a break from the heat, a nice bit of drizzle, and a tailwind (in fact, with what I’d consider perfect English bike-riding conditions). With a bit of luck, it’s Colorado tomorrow. The flat bit, naturally…


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