Crawling Westward

Heading back to Colorado, I left Columbia this morning in blowing snow and frigid air; the edge of our latest Arctic front was pushing through central Missouri and temperatures were expected to keep dropping for the next 24 hours.  Due to the steady snowfall, gusty wind and cold air, Interstate 70 was snow-packed from Columbia to Kansas City; a journey that normally takes just under two hours took more than three.  Since I was driving slowly in my four-wheel drive pickup, I was not concerned about the road conditions or the weather; however, the 18-wheelers and SUVs that raced by in the fast lane were a bit unsettling.  Apparently, they had not noticed the cars and trucks that adorned the median and shoulders of the highway (in various states of disrepair).

The snow had ceased by the time I reached Kansas City but patches of snow and ice covered portions of the Interstate all the way to Salina.  In addition, brief ground blizzards developed as the strong north winds raked the snow-covered fields; this phenomenon was enhanced in the Flint Hills, west of  Topeka, where gaps in the road-cuts funneled the wind, sending jets of snow across the highway.  Fortunately, sunshine bathed the frozen landscape west of Salina and the road surface gradually cleared; nevertheless, my journey was well behind schedule and I opted for a night in Colby, Kansas, rather that testing my luck on the High Plains in the dark.

As harrowing as modern travel across the Great Plains can be, generally related to blizzards or supercell thunderstorms, it pales in comparison to the challenges that were faced by early settlers in their conestogas.  Today's journey, like many in the past, served to highlight the courage and tenacity of those explorers as well as the resourcefulness of Native Americans who have thrived on these vast grasslands for 20,000 years.