I grew up on the northern edge of the Flint Hills, however, I didn’t fully appreciate them when I lived so very close. My love of them developed as I traveled I-70 and I-35, at 70 mph. I was looking forward to a slower, more in-depth connection. The reminder on the pamphlet to drive slowly on the unpaved roads did not fall on deaf ears.
I’ve driven down countless country roads in my life, they are almost always lined with barbed wire fences. It’s a funny thing, barbed wire, hardly noticeable from a distance, but sending a very clear message to keep out. I always felt that message on an emotional level, as if what I needed was just on the other side of those dangerous barbs. Unfortunately, these roads were no different.
That is until, with a word of caution, I entered the Open Range. I had to get out of my car and just stand there in awe at the difference, not just in the landscape but in my state of mind as well.
Much of the afternoon was spent driving or walking through the open range, feeling the freedom in my heart. I had lunch near a herd of free roaming cattle, watched a Red Tailed Hawk search for his lunch and enjoyed the unobstructed views. I noticed, for the first time, the different types and colors of prairie grass and imagined what it must have been like to travel these hills before there were roads. At times, it looks flat, then when you least expect it, there is a deep groove in the land. In other places, you’d find a creek flowing here, however, in Kansas the places you’d expect to see water, often leave you with profound respect for the strength of the life found here.
Arriving back at the bunk house just in time to see a gorgeous Kansas sunset, one of my absolute favorite things, I found my weekend neighbors standing out back, as amazed as I was. I fixed dinner and had a glass of wine while I reflected on this first day out on the roads of the Flint Hills, how they provided solitude and a reconnection with my soul I wasn’t aware I was in desperate need of.
I saw one other vehicle while I was out on the back roads, a man in a pick up with a dog as his passenger and a pallet piled high with feed. I saw him again later in the day, his dog still in the passenger seat, the pallet now empty. This time he stopped to make sure I wasn’t lost. I assured him that I was not and realized that I was, in fact, found. That sign at the edge of the Open Range, a caution about unrestricted cattle, really should say Welcome Home.