VOL. 131 | NO. 155 | Thursday, August 04, 2016
The Daily Traveler
Finding The Old West In Dodge City
By LANCE WIEDOWER
Driving from Oklahoma City to Denver, we were looking at a 10-hour-plus journey. And on a two-week trip from Memphis to Los Angeles, there’s enough time that we didn’t need to put ourselves through that misery.
So with our eyes set on an overnight stay in the small western Kansas town of Colby, we had enough time to stop off in Dodge City to explore the Old West vibe before we headed into the true American West of this Great American Road Trip.
It only made sense; I best described our 16-day, 3,500-mile journey from Tennessee across Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada and California as my Clark Griswold moment. We weren’t traveling from Chicago to WalleyWorld, but this trip proved close enough to be our own version of “National Lampoon’s Vacation.”
And like Clark and family, we made a stop at the Longbranch Saloon in old Dodge City, where we bellied up to the bar and ordered a round of beer and sarsaparillas.
OK, so the Griswolds actually were on a Hollywood sound stage, and the old Dodge City is a re-creation. The original buildings burned in 1885 and were never rebuilt. But re-creations of the original Front Street buildings began in the 1940s, and today are part of the educational Boot Hill Museum that tells the story of this infamous Wild West town.
Dodge City isn’t exactly on the way to anywhere specific; it’s a couple hours south of Interstate 70 in the southwestern reaches of Kansas, 150 miles due west of Wichita.
But if you find yourself in Kansas or Oklahoma driving west, it’s worth a detour, especially if kids are along for the ride.
Our 9-year-old son, along with several other kids, was deputized by the town “marshal.” It wasn’t exactly Wyatt Earp, but it did help bring that legend’s story to life.
Speaking of, taming Dodge City in the cattle-drive days was the job of legendary lawmen such as Earp and Bat Masterson. Earp made a name for himself in Dodge City before traveling west to add to his myth at the OK Corral.
Looking at a map of the United States, it’s hard to imagine the Old West and its cowboy legends residing in Kansas. But peering at the collection of more than 200 original guns, a railroad depot, saloon, old photos and many other special exhibits brings home the legend and important role this town played in the days of cattle drives.
Beyond the walls of the large Boot Hill Museum sit several city blocks of an old downtown filled with cafes, gift shops and art galleries. In some ways it reminded me of a smaller version of the Sundance Square area in Downtown Fort Worth.
That connection makes sense; Fort Worth and Dodge City were connected by the famed Chisholm Trail.
Lance Wiedower can be reached at tripsbylance.com.