restricted access Smoky Hills Region
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60 d r i v i n g a c r o s s k a n s a s trains a specified distance in either direction, where they would turn the train over to the next crew. They would then work on another train for the return trip to Brookville. Brookville’s economy suffered a blow when, around the turn of the twentieth century, the Union Pacific moved its division farther west. Businesses left town and moved to Ellsworth and Salina. Residents went off to find jobs in larger towns, and Brookville became a quiet country community. The Brookville Hotel remained, though, and its reputation grew. During World War II, the military personnel at the nearby Smoky Hill Army Air Base patronized the hotel by the hundreds. People came from miles around for dinner, and notable guests came to stay. Originally known as the Cowtown Café and then the Central Hotel, the Brookville Hotel has had notable guests such as Buffalo Bill Cody, J. C. Penney, and Henry Chrysler, whose son Walter founded the Chrysler Corporation. smoky hills region 238 Entering the Smoky Hills 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 the Saline River, just north of the interstate, the river has cut canyons that are 300 feet deep in places. You will notice interesting rock formations exposed on eroded slopes. The area only gets about 24 inches of precipitation annually, so trees are confined to the edges of streams and ponds—mostly cottonwoods and willows, with green ash and hackberry sometimes present. Streamside bottomlands, with their deep, rich soils, will be in cultivation. The uplands, with poorer, shallower soils, will still be in prairie grasses: buffalo and grama grass interspersed with taller grasses such as bluestems. You will cross Elkhorn Creek ahead, 61 w e s t b o u n d which reminds us that elk once roamed these lands along with herds of buffalo, grizzly bears, and wolves. Today, watch for coyotes , wild turkey, and deer. The Smoky Hills region is the heart of the state’s oil production. Natural gas and salt are taken from underground. On the surface, rich soils produce sorghum, wheat, soybeans, hay, and new varieties of drought-resistant corn. 236 A Land of Lincoln You will be passing through Lincoln County, established in 1867 and named after Abraham Lincoln, who had been killed only two years earlier. President Lincoln was a hero here because Kansas was an antislavery state and remained with the Union throughout the Civil War. After George Washington’s name, Lincoln’s is the most popular choice among political place-names in the United States. There are, for instance, twenty-two Lincoln Counties in the nation! 235 Bison Just to the left, you will notice a ranch with a tall flagpole; it often has buffalo, more accurately called bison. In earlier times, bison numbered in the millions in this region. However, the coming of the white settlers and the railroad quickly eliminated them from Kansas. At first, settlers killed bison only for their meat and hides, Shooting buffalo on the line of the Kansas Pacific Railroad in 1871. (Library of Congress) 62 d r i v i n g a c r o s s k a n s a s but soon after the railroads arrived, bison were killed from trains by sport hunters, and their carcasses were often left to rot. Within a few years, the bison were gone. This mindless slaughter not only eliminated a fuel and food source for settlers but also helped to seal the fate of the Plains Indians, who depended on bison herds for survival; in fact, this was the motivation of some buffalo hunters: to wipe out a key source of food for the Indians. In 2016, President Barack Obama signed the National Bison Legacy Act, which made the American bison the US National Mammal. Our national mammal can be seen up-close at Frontier Park across from Fort Hays State Historic Site (Exit...