The Great Plains have long fascinated me, though I am not exactly sure why. Somehow that vast, semi-arid stretch of mostly flat land intrigues me in a mystifying way.
Places with legendary names like Cheyenne, Dodge City, Pecos, Scottsbluff, Deadwood, Abilene (Kansas or Texas), Wichita, Amarillo, Fargo, Laramie, and many others which all harken back to an age of discovery, pioneering, and survival. As a result, I have visited the plains many times, including the first family trip we ever took out West, when we made the Scottsbluff, Torrington, Black Hills, Badlands, Bismarck-Mandan, and Fargo circuit. The only parts of the Great Plains that I have not visited are areas south of I-40 in Texas/New Mexico and north of the Trans-Canada Highway.
At the moment I am reading the book, Great Plains by Ian Frazier. It is a worthwhile read, but not as good or as in-depth as Prairyerth by William Least-Heat Moon, Dakota, A Spiritual Geography by Kathleen Norris, or Ramblin’ Man: The Life and Times of Woody Guthrie by Ed Cray. While each book, in its own way, epitomize the Great Plains, none fully explain its hypnotic allure.
To me, this allure comes from the numerous hardships endured by the resident Native Americans, the pioneers, the sodbusters, the pony express riders, the immigrants building the railroads, the gunslingers, and the Dust Bowl era residents. One may foresee hardship crossing mountains or vast oceans of water. One does not necessarily expect hardships at every turn on a sea of grasses.
But, there is another thing about the Great Plains that I find appealing – its subtle beauty. From the glorious array of prairie wildflowers,
- to endless blue skies,
- to towering thunderheads and wicked tornadoes,
- to peaceful nights full of stars,
- to big bluestem swaying in summer breeze,
- to an amazing array of songbirds and butterflies,
- to distant mountains that appear unapproachable,
- to sweeping vistas across vast landscapes,
- to braided rivers like the Platte,
- to forlorn windmills and fenceposts dotting the landscape in various states of gradual deterioration, and
- to the rutted remains of historic trails like the Santa Fe, Mormon, Oregon, Pony Express, and California…
…it all captivates my imagination. The Great Plains are truly “great.”