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.
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.)
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?
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.
Speed limits on the Interstates and two-lane highways were much higher out west than I'm used to seeing on the east coast. But speed limits in the towns were very low. Just about everyone obeyed the postings so enforcement must be strict. Something not different from the east was that even a town that seemed to be doing OK, like this one, still had plenty of closed businesses and vacant commercial buildings.
More of those strange looking sky and cloud colors. This
is quite faithful to what the colors looked like in person. Sampling
picture areas in ACR, the white paint on the water tower is slightly
yellow, the white window panels are slightly blue, but the deeper "gray"
areas of the clouds are really quite blue.
The painted sign says, "WILSON, Czech Capital Of Kansas." The black cutout figures seem to represent costumed folk dancers. Seems strange that the chalked "Happy Halloween" message was still there in May. But then, maybe it isn't even from the previous year.
Early Sunday morning not only were almost no people out and about in the town of Wilson, but for the first time the incessant Kansas wind had let up a little. The heat wave was still in effect though, with the temperature not dropping below 70° overnight, and this was just May 27. The next theater on my list was in Dodge City, and the one after that in Medicine Lodge, too far for one day without rushing. So instead I decided to slow down and do as much "off topic" shooting as I could, ending up at Dodge City to do the drive-in and maybe other subjects there as well.
After the wind, the second thing I noticed in Kansas was that the color—of everything—seemed "off" to me. It was easy to see that the color of the native dirt was much more red than I'm used to, but other things like concrete pavement or bare metal or white painted surfaces all seemed to have a weird tint to them. Then I realized the sky itself looked "wrong."
This made me think that the color of the light might in fact be different. Whether there were clouds or not, the sky always looked veiled or hazy even if middle distances looked bright and crisp. Clouds didn't really look white, but a strange sort of blue/red tint. There may be an established cause for this difference in the light that I'm just not aware of, but something that occurs to me is that it could be connected to that constant battering wind. Maybe there's more particulate matter in the atmosphere, churned up by the constant gale. With dramatically lower humidity than I'm used to back home it didn't seem as though the hazy look to the sky would be from water vapor. I was keeping notes to identify the locations where pictures were made, so I began to add notations about my perception of the colors and what the sky looked like. Things like, "cloudless sky, but it looks dark and leaden, as much gray as blue." I figured this might be helpful later when I'd be working up the files for posting or printing.
Several people I spoke with in Kanopolis told me the neighboring town of Ellsworth was noted primarily for its deceptive (though technically legal) speed traps and general corruption. When I stopped to photograph these places, both at the same intersection, I couldn't help wondering if whoever went broke at the food mart might not be better off, if it meant they got out of town. But then, corruption is pretty widespread. Just recently the FBI raided the town hall of the little Connecticut village where Tina grew up, removing a van-full of paperwork. Now, if they could just get around to Wall Street...
It's hard to show wind in a photograph, but the relentless Kansas gale was blowing full force. It's not very apparent in a file sized for web viewing, but in a print at 10x14 or 15x20 inches the wind would reveal itself in the tall grass. Especially at the right side of the picture, the grass is motion-blurred even though the shot was made at 1/500 second.
It took a moment to figure out why this trash can at an Interstate highway rest area was hanging between two posts. A gust of the intense wind that had been buffeting my car all morning came through and the trash can began to pivot and swing. It's an alternative to bolting the can to the concrete to keep it in place.