Driving across this vast expanse of nearly barren Kansas land, I can’t help but stare at the bleak horizon while thinking of the countless settlers who, riding in stiff wooden wagons packed to overflowing with the sum of their worldly possessions, struggled westward toward the cold, jutting stone of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. They faced water shortages, starvation, exposure, tornados, illness, and attacks from Plains Indians. Many of them perished. And if they were lucky, their lean, dust-stained bodies were buried hastily in the dark, rich soil I see so much corn growing in today. If not, they’d be left to rot beneath a scorching sun; one that would reduce them to well-bleached bones as an ominous sign for future travelers. I think about this while driving along in a nice, roomy, air-conditioned vehicle traveling at eighty miles per hour. GPS tells me precisely how far ahead of my position the mountains lie. While consulting with my smart phone to determine the caliber of the storm clouds above, I pop some truck stop beef jerky into my mouth, then take a sip of cool vitamin-enhanced bottled water. On my right, I pass a small, ramshackle building advertising a special on arrowheads. Near the entrance stands a faded wooden Indian, wielding a fierce tomahawk. I slow the car to get a better look, but it’s gone.
By Jon Neralich