Monday, July 30, 2012

Roads, Fields, Skies, and Storms

Dodge City, Kansas

Back on May 27, I left Wilson, KS, and stopped to try for some pictures in several small towns on the way to Dodge City, where I wanted to photograph The South drive-in theater. The highway pullout at the edge of town—"Dodge City, Queen of the Cowtowns"—was situated on a bluff overlooking an enormous feedlot. The city's main industry is meatpacking. After working at the theater, I looked around Dodge expecting that such a famous piece of "The Old West" should offer all sorts of off-topic shooting opportunities. What I found instead was a dreary commercial strip with the same chain restaurants and stores you see everywhere else.

Greensburg, Kansas

There were some billboards that I photographed and posted here, but the only remnant of historic Dodge City I could see was a small, paid-admission theme park. I gave it a pass. The next theater on my list would be in Medicine Lodge, KS. Not only was that quite a distance away, but unlikely to have much in the way of nearby accommodations. Using my road atlas and the Points Of Interest data in my GPS, I decided to head for Medicine Lodge but stop for the night at a Best Western listed in Greensburg, KS. (The POI feature was extremely useful, but far from infallible. A small but significant percentage of hotels, not to mention theaters, turned out not to be where the GPS expected them, or not to exist at all, or to have changed from one chain to another.)

Greensburg, Kansas

I found the hotel, which appeared to be brand new. The surrounding area was solid farmland, with big (at least to my Eastern eyes) spreads that appeared to be well established. Only the state highway was paved, the roads serving the farms were all unpaved, though carefully graded and tended. The farms had quite a mix of row crops, wheat and corn fields, and pasture for beef cattle. But I couldn't seem to find "the town." There were no older buildings from the same era as the farmhouses and barns, but, not far from the hotel there was a brand new, not yet finished group of developments. Houses not yet occupied, stores not yet opened, offices not yet tenanted.  Some signs indicated that the whole place was an experiment in "Green"—as in environmentally sound, renewable-energy-based construction. This was all also green, cluster-style development of mixed residential and commercial construction. This all seemed just a bit out of character, too progressive. Are we still in Kansas?

Greensburg, Kansas

Back in my room I got online and found the answer: mother nature's urban renewal. On May 4, 2007, 95% of the town was taken out by an F5 tornado. It was evidently a direct hit on the town itself, which happens to be the county seat. The long-established surrounding farms were relatively little damaged. The new Greensburg that is emerging will be one of the most ecologically/environmentally sophisticated municipalities in the U.S.—right there in the middle of Kansas.

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