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Lost in the Flint Hills

Tree Against Sky in the Flint Hills
Tree Against Sky in the Flint Hills

How many times have you hopped in your vehicle and then jumped on the Kansas Turnpike, I-70 or some other major roadway to get to your destination? The answer is probably "a lot" or "too often." The problem with sticking to the same old roads is that you rarely get to see anything new. So, whenever I can (and usually this means when I'm alone), I like to get off the highway and slowly ramble down some Kansas backroad. Such was the case on Sunday, February 8, 2015. I was driving back to Lawrence from Great Bend when, near the Manhattan exit off I-70, I decided to jump off the interstate and head south before trying to find a route that would take me back east. 

I wound up on something called Old Highway 18. Not much of a highway now, if it ever really was one. Instead, it was just a long, winding, dirt road - full of hills and valleys. No matter, as nothing can stop my Jeep Commander (except poor decisions by me). Well, anyhow, the sun was going down and I wanted to get a few photos of the Flint Hills. I didn't actually wind up with any "hill shots" but I did see a beautiful sunset in the west -- and a pretty-looking sky to the east. As it got darker and darker, I noticed I no longer had any reception on my cell phone. I thought to myself that this might have been a mistake. There was no one else out here along this road. And no one knew I had taken this little side-trip. So, for a while, the thought of my Jeep breaking down out here was at least mildly disconcerting. Don't get me wrong, I'm pretty sure I could survive in the wilds of the Flint Hills. But... it was getting so dark. And the road was so sketchy. And some country folk can be so odd. If my Jeep did break down, some of these "hill people" might not take kindly to a city-slicker wandering up their road late at night, knocking on their door, asking for help in my refined Great Bend accent. I could now hear shotguns clicking and Dueling Banjos in my head. 

Meanwhile... I kept thinking I would hit a deer -- or an oncoming pickup truck - as I crested each hill. Nope. Not today. Several miles and a few twists and turns later... and, much to my surprise, I was approaching the town of Alma. Civilization. Cool. Thought I would reward myself for making it out of the Flint Hills "wilderness" alive with some delicious Alma cheese curds. But then decided I had been outside playing long enough and should head back home... via the interstate. But now that I'm back home, safely in Lawrence... I really wish I had purchased some of that Alma cheese.

J. Schafer is the News Director of Kansas Public Radio. He’s also the Managing Editor of the Kansas Public Radio Network, which provides news and information to other public radio stations in Kansas and Missouri.