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2012 Road Trip Photos #4: Between Topeka and Denver — Buffalo Bill, Black Copters, and MegaVanGogh

Other than the hour-plus we spent in Abilene, all other stops on Day Two were momentary diversions from the infinite plains of western Kansas and eastern Colorado. The early miles were brownish-green hills, less verdant than usual thanks to this year’s drought.

Remove all windmills, multiply times ten thousand, and presto! Instant simulation of much of the day’s eight-hour drive, except for a few blessed highlights along the roadside.

I-70 nestles right alongside Fort Riley, where an entire fleet of scary black helicopters was perched, no doubt awaiting orders for their next covert operation. I had considered exiting the interstate for a closer look, but parking next to a military base to take hardware photos somehow didn’t sound like a wise idea.

The town of WaKeeney wasn’t even on our list. I pulled over anyway when I noticed their exit is decorated with a decommissioned fighter plane.

No signage, no explanation, no admission fee, no security. It’s a not-so-old plane, just sitting there and attracting the attention of bored drivers. When we walked up, an older couple of geocachers was searching the hull for hatches, doors, hidden compartments, or any other recess that might hold the object of their quest.

I was sad to learn that the engines had been removed, leaving only a pair of hollow chambers. I mollified myself with a brief moment of James Bond, though I’ll bet Mister Big-Shot 007 never had to share a scene with a farmhouse.

Further down the road, the town of Oakley boasts a few attractions for visitors. The only one my wife considered appointment viewing was their statue of Buffalo Bill Cody gone a-huntin’, in the historical scene that earned him the “Buffalo Bill” moniker.

William Cody wanted that nickname so bad, he was willing to kill for it. Afterward, let’s presume the local Native Americans taught him how to use every part of his prey so that nothing would go to waste.

The buffalo tried to convince him it was actually Bill Season, not Buffalo Season. The two of them went ’round and ’round on the subject for five to seven minutes in a rollicking escapade.

At the foot of the hill where the statue is positioned, the Buffalo Bill Cabin Gift Shop offers objects for sale. I’m taking that on faith because they were closed when we arrived in the middle of a Sunday afternoon. A small paper sign on the door advertised that the cabin was for sale. Behind the cabin stood the framework of a new gift shop being groomed to inherit its prime real estate someday.

We changed media from sculpture to painting in the town of Goodland, where a Canadian artist erected a monolithic, 32-foot-tall simulacrum of Vincent Van Gogh’s “3 Sunflowers in a Vase” resting on an 80-foot-tall easel. This creative gent intends to plant one of these superpaintings in seven different countries. So far he’s up to two and counting, the other one being in faraway Manitoba.

Before the end of the year, we finally crossed over from Kansas to Colorado. I snickered at the sign at first, perhaps a bit unfairly. Brown and sickly green are colors, after all.

Beyond that point, Colorado’s first measurable thunderclouds in weeks gathered and obscured the view west of us. Our hotel was in Aurora, too far from the Rockies to feast our eyes upon them through the joy-killing haze of inclement weather. Our first encounter with proper mountains would have to wait one more day. So tantalizingly close, and yet so far.

The residents weren’t complaining. It was a radical change of pace from the perpetual everyday forecasts of “hot with a chance of wildfire”.

To be continued!

[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for previous and future chapters, and for our complete road trip history to date. Thanks for reading!]

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