824 miles

What a DAY!

Let’s see… I left Denver at 7:30 their time, which is 8:30am here. I pulled in here at 1 am. That makes… 16.5 hours of travelling. I only started seeing double right up at the end, so I think I did pretty good. Only one near accident so far…

The surprising thing about today was how interesting Kansas was. It was just as flat and relatively uninteresting as I thought it would be, but fascinating in other ways.

First things first though. I officially think that Denver has some of the worst drivers I’ve ever encountered. Ok, so it’s obvious that I’m moving or something. I can barely see out my windows, and there’s a huge cargo box on the top of the car. I was cut off and passed on the right at least 4 times before I got out of Denver this morning. It was kind of scary. And then, as a final piece de resistance, this dude on a Harley with no helmet passed me really close, on the right, and shook his head at me as he passed me. Right after that he cut off a dump-truck, so I decided that he’s an idiot with a death wish, and I’m not going to take any driving advice from him.

There are also an inordinate number of H2s in the Denver area. Actually, between Denver and Topeka, I saw more H2s than I think I’ve ever seen in one day.

But the cool thing about Kansas is the little community museums that are at nearly every exit. I also passed the hometowns of not one, not two, but THREE (ah-ha-ha) astronauts. They are very proud of their astronauts in Kansas and make sure that everyone passing through knows who is from what town. Apparently Kansas produces astronauts and politicians. I passed the hometown of Bob Dole and Arlen Specter (remind me not to move there), and of course Eisenhower is from KS as well.

The first stop I made was in Oakley, KS. That is where Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley are from, but more importantly, that’s where Vi Fick is from. Who is Vi Fick? Probably my new most-favorite-artist-ever. http://discoveroakley.com/visitors/museums/fick-fossil-museum

The basin that includes most of Kansas is well known for its fossils. Huge clams, oysters, ammonites and other wonderful swimming things lived there. I knew this, and hoped to get a chance to see some fossils while passing through. I kept my eyes open, and lo and behold, saw a sign advertising the Fick Fossil Museum in Oakley. I got gas and ventured into town. After driving around a little, I found the Fick Fossil Museum sharing a space with the Oakley City Library. The book sale sign obscured the museum sign.

I expected to see fossils. I did not expect to see exquisite landscapes created on old oil skins using local fossils. This wonderful lady, who apparently passed away 15 years ago, was a local farmwife with a high school education and more talent in her pinky nail than many famous artists. She started off painting on old oil skins. She also liked to go around her farm and collect the fossil fish bones, sharks teeth, plants and shells that are thick on the ground there. Pretty soon she started using the fossils to add depth and perspective to her paintings. She would “glue” the fossils into place using paper mache, and then paint over them, creating a bas relief effect. For example, in a painting of a deer in a stand of trees, she used fossil shark vertebrae for the trees and small snail shells for the leaves. Brilliant colors and a slightly cartoony style really make the paintings stand out. If Van Gogh and R. Crumb had a kid raised by Gothic stone carvers and paleontologists, they might have created something like her art.

She seemed to have a pretty cool sense of humor, as well. One of the coolest pieces was a large cartoony looking shark with a big googly eye made up of 3,000 fossil teeth.

My favorite was a piece called “God Created the Earth”. God is sitting on the back of a Mosasaur, surrounded by the animals that are fossilized all over that area of the country. It’s brilliantly blue and yellow, and complex in its meaning without being overwhelming in its composition.

Later in life, she taught herself to carve. Included in her carvings was a full sized Hominid, I think a Neanderthal. This was a woman who walked the line between old fashioned Christianity and scientific understanding with an honesty that comes through in her art. I really, really wish I could have met her.

I learned all this from the little old lady who had been working at the museum for 22 years. She knew the artist, of course, and was kind of entertained by my enthusiasm. She shared with me that they’ve had 10 curators in her time there, and none of them have ever tried to promote the artwork the way they should. Folk art is a recognized part of Americana now, and this stuff is so unique and so fun to look at, it could be a really cool book. Travelling exhibits wouldn’t be too far out of the realm of possibility either. As it is now, they have nothing to take away. I would have happily plunked down $40 or $50 for a good book of her life and art.

Not only was the art amazing, but they have on hand there the oldest and most complete Mosasaur skull known, and it was found right there in the next county over from where the Ficks lived. That whole area is just astounding.

While I was gasping and ahhhing over the stuff at the Fick museum, the lady recommended that I check out the Sternberg museum in Hays. Even though I needed to cover 840some miles today, I decided that this is what road trips are for. I am glad I did! They have a recreation of the late Cretaceous in there, where you start off above ground, and walk down the exhibit into the depths of the inland sea. It’s very fun, and you can really let your imagination soar. http://sternberg.fhsu.edu/

They also have some very cute live reptiles, mostly from the Plains. There’s a Plains skink who looked like a little version of my skink, and made me miss the Doodle a whole lot. I didn’t realize that the Plains are also home to some pretty big Salamanders. I hung out with the lady who takes care of the reptiles for a while, and she had a funny story about a Velociraptor. Apparently after Jurassic Park came out, some of the dinosaurs became part of a travelling exhibit. The Sternberg museum was going to host the exhibit, and the dinosaurs showed up a month or o early. They were stored down in the catacomb-like basement of the building. One evening the lady was down there getting something, unaware that the dinos were already there. She heard a noise, and went to see where it was coming from. She backed into something fleshy and large, and turned around to find herself staring into the maw of a very realistic Velociraptor. She said it took her a few seconds to realize what was going on, but in those two seconds she thought she was a goner.

The best part of this museum was the Fish within a Fish. A large (over 6 feet) Xyphactinus swallowed a Gillicus and promptly died. It’s body floated down to what is now Gove County, KS and fossilized. The fossil is perfectly entact, and you can see the smaller fish in the belly of the larger fish. It’s very, very cool.

Other than that, I just drove and drove. I was surprised to remember that Brown vs. the Board of Education was brought to the courts in Topeka, and they have a monument for it. Like I said, Kansas is just full of all kinds of history. I would like to come back and just spend a week exploring.

Driving into MO it was already dark, which made me sad. I would like to see what Huck Finns home looks like, but maybe I’ll get to see something of it tomorrow. I think I can finally sleep now. The road vibrations in my body seem to have finally abated.

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