Friday, December 31, 2010

Sundial for New Year's Eve

Let's make the last post of the year about the impressive Mountain Time sundial at the historic Dodge City depot, which signaled railway passengers in years past that they had crossed the 100th Meridian and were officially in the West. There's an identical sundial, a Central Time one, a few yards to the east (although the meridian doesn't run between the sundials -- that line is about a mile to the east, between avenues L and M). Travel Note: Dodge City is on Central Time. Mountain now begins a bit farther west, in Hamilton County.

Best coffee in Dodge

For me, coffee is as essential to a research trip as a notebook and camera. Here's where I found the best coffee in Dodge City -- Cup of Jo-nes at about Ninth Street and Wyatt Earp Boulevard. The blueberry muffin was also good, and served with fruit on the side. The interior was warm and comfortable after braving the ceaseless wind (photographing) out on the Santa Fe Trail. For eats, the best was Casey's Cowtown Club, a traditional steakhouse at 503 E. Trail (that's south of the tracks and beyond the deadline, for you Dodge City buffs). Sorry, no photo of Casey's, but the steaks and hamburgers were terrific and there's an odd and interesting mix of western art on the walls to browse while awaiting your food. The prices are unbelievably reasonable as well --- the $19 ribeye I had would have been two or three times that price in a major city, and without the home-baked bread and green beans. I have to confess, however, that I was warmly inclined to Casey's when, upon entering, the owner shook my hand and asked where I was from. And no, I didn't tell either Cup of Jo-nes or Casey's that I was, ahem, a writer. The worst food in Dodge City? Perhaps I shouldn't... Oh, what the hell. It was The Inn Pancake House, which served a tired and over-priced breakfast buffet. Curiously, had a hard time finding local places to eat in Dodge City, despite having traversed much of the town. Oh, there were lots of chain restaurants -- including an Applebee's infringing on Front Street, shudder -- but few authentic establishments. Where, I wonder, do the pheasant hunters eat breakfast?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

And the trail itself

The Santa Fe Trail runs to the upper right.The trail was 1,200 miles and was essentially the path the railroad would later take. This is the longest identifiable section of the trail remaining and has been designated a National Historic Landmark. This photo was taken on Wednesday, and while the temperature was unseasonably mild, the wind was fierce.

More trail...

Here's the sign from the photo below. Caravans traveled with wagons four abreast, cutting a wide swatch in the prairie for 60 years. "Look for long, wide depressions, different vegetation, and water courses running at odd angles at places were 'bridges' in the path span ruts," the sign advises. "They are easiest to see when the sun is low."

Santa Fe Trail

About 11 miles west of Dodge City along U.S. 400, there's one of the best remaining places to view the ruts of the old Santa Fe Trail. There's a parking area and a path across the prairie to an observation point where you can plainly see the ruts as they go ever westward. The trail, established in 1822, ran from Franklin in central Missouri to Santa Fe in what was then Mexico.  Near this spot is where the trail forked. The Mountain route, cutting across the edge of what is now Colorado, was the safer route. The Cimarron Cutoff, which took off to the southwest across the sand hills of the Oklahoma panhandle, was faster -- but risky, since there was precious little water.