Driving across Kansas
A Guide to I-70
Published by: University Press of Kansas
Title Page, Copyright
Table of Contents
Preface and Acknowledgments
So you are crossing Kansas on Interstate 70. Early pioneers heading west
hesitated at the edge of the eastern forests, mustering their courage as
if the prairies were a lonely ocean or dangerous desert to be conquered.
You will soon experience the vastness of the Great Plains and seemingly
endless open spaces as you proceed across the state.
Some travelers still find the prospect of crossing the Plains daunting, even in climate-controlled cars cruising along at 70 miles per hour. Today as in the past, for many travelers, the Plains are an obstacle...
The state of Kansas was named after a tribe of Indians called Kansa or
Kaw, meaning “People of the South Wind.” This tribe arrived in what is
now Kansas around 1720 and settled in temporary villages near the current
cities of Leavenworth and Atchison. Later, to be closer to the best
bison-hunting grounds, they established their principal village where
the Big Blue River joins the Kansas River, near the present city of Manhattan.
From 1492 to 1845, land that became Kansas was at various times claimed by six different countries. The first European to see this land...
Kansas City–Lawrence Area
Welcome to Kansas! This is the lowest elevation of your trip across the state. At the mouth of the Kansas River, where it joins the Missouri just to the north, the elevation is 760 feet above sea level. At its highest point, at mile 3.7, Interstate 70 will have climbed to an elevation of 3,910 feet. The elevation change between here and the Colorado line is so gradual that few people perceive the difference. However, I-70 will take you over hills and drop you into valleys...
Topeka, the State Capital
Just ahead is Topeka, the state’s capital and fifth-largest city. On December 5, 1854, nine antislavery men met on the banks of the Kansas River at what is now Kansas Avenue and Crane Street and drew up plans for establishing Topeka. A ferry service had started there more than ten years earlier to take Oregon Trail wagons across the river. Colonel Cyrus K. Holliday, a Pennsylvania native who would become Topeka’s first mayor and the founder of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, wanted to name the town...
Flint Hills Region
You have entered the grass-covered Flint Hills, the second landscape region of Kansas along I-70. The Flint Hills are characterized by flat tops and prominent valleys that in some places are 300 feet deep. It might be more accurate to call these the Flint Valleys because erosion has cut ever more deeply over the centuries, creating these “hills” from the flat terrain. The flint referenced in the name comes from the chert, or flint rock, that lies beneath...
Junction City–Fort Riley
In a short distance, the interstate crosses the Smoky Hill River. By
this point, the river has flowed all the way from Colorado through
a shallow valley you will see to the left of I-70 as you drive west.
About 2 miles to the right, it joins the Republican River. Together,
they form the Kansas River, which you have followed from its
mouth in Kansas City to its source here.
The explorer Captain John C. Frémont camped near this spot on a trip west in 1843. “The Pathfinder,” as Frémont...
Salina: Crossing the Center of the State
Ahead, you see the buildings of Salina. This city was founded by William Phillips, a lawyer and writer for the New York Tribune who wrote articles about the slavery issue in Kansas. He was a colonel in the Civil War and later became a Kansas congressman. In 1858, Phillips and several other men established the town site of Salina near the confluence of the Saline and Smoky Hill Rivers. One of the men, A. C. Spillman, is given credit for picking the name. The name was first pronounced “Salēna,” but because the group feared that...
Smoky Hills Region
The Smoky Hills, so named because in the summer the hills are obscured
by a smoky-looking heat haze when viewed from a distance,
are the third region through which I-70 passes.
You have climbed to over 1,500 feet from the 760-foot low point at Kansas City. The elevation will change another 1,000 feet as you travel the next 60 miles to the western edge of the Smoky Hills region. Considerable ruggedness is evident over short distances, particularly where rivers have eroded their channels. Along...
Mark Twain said, “A railroad is like a lie—you have to keep building it to make it stand.” This observation was borne out in Kansas as the railroads kept being built across the Plains. As railroads moved west through this part of Kansas, so did the settlers. This encroachment into “Indian” territory sparked conflicts between settlers and Native Americans. To protect the settlers traveling the rails and trails, the I-70s of the 1800s, the federal government built military posts along the way. Forts provided some peace of mind for settlers...
Entering the High Plains
You have entered the High Plains region — the largest, highest, and driest region in Kansas, covering the western third of the state. Elevation ranges from about 4,000 feet above sea level along the Colorado-Kansas border to 2,000 feet here on the eastern edge of the region. The climate is becoming drier as you travel west. This region receives less than 20 inches of precipitation per year. The High Plains have a reputation for having strong winds and extreme temperatures (both hot and cold) that...
When counties were being formed, towns competed to be chosen as the county seat. These competitions were always bitter and sometimes even violent and destructive. You probably take your county seat for granted today, but in earlier times in this sparsely settled region, having the county government locate in your town was a big deal. Being the county seat “put the town on the map,” so to speak, and held the promise of economic development, political...
Most of you who are entering Kansas from Colorado will have recently
experienced the majestic Rocky Mountains. It has been said
the Rockies will take your breath away, but the pleasant, peaceful
landscapes of Kansas will give it back to you again. We hope that
you will catch your breath as you drive across Kansas.
1 The High Point
Exit 1 marks the town of Kanorado. South of Kanorado is the highest point in Kansas...
Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 72 photographs, 2 maps
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