Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Driving US 54 . . .

. . . from Tucumcari, New Mexico to Wichita, Kansas.

US 54 runs northeast-southwest for 1,197 miles from El Paso, Texas to Griggsville, Illinois. The highway is mostly two lane but has areas with passing lanes and some areas with four lanes. It runs through lots of small towns that have interesting things to see and do. Now don't get me wrong it probably isn't the best or fastest way to travel across the Southwest and Central United States but it is a good way to see some out of the way places.

Thomas and I have traveled US 54 in New Mexico from Tucumcari down to Alamogordo quite a few times but that was the only part we knew. When Thomas was invited to attend the S.P.I.R.I.T. conference in Pratt, Kansas we decided to drive US 54 from Tucumcari to Pratt to see what the highway was like and what there was to see and do along the way.

In New Mexico the road from Tucumcari to Nara Visa and to the Texas border is actually pretty good. The speed limit is around 65mph except through the towns where it can go as low as 35mph. We really didn't encounter much traffic and what we did was going the speed limit or it was easy to pass them. There really isn't much along the way except for Ute Lake State Park and the town of Logan.

We crossed into Texas and noticed very little change in the road. It was still two lanes with some passing lanes and very little traffic. There really wasn't much to see or do from the NM/TX border until we got into Dalhart. In Dalhart, I loved the brick streets in the downtown area and I was looking forward to seeing the Mission Twin Theater until we got there and found it to be some sort of evangelical center. Other things to do in Dalhart are The XIT Museum, The Empty Saddle Monument, the James R. Fox, Jr. Memorial and the Veterans Memorial. Other things in the area are Lake Rita Blanca Park and Rita Blanca National Grasslands. We continued from Dalhart and made our way to Stratford. Along the way we encountered the Scary Giant Cowboy Statue (aka Big Tex) in Conlen. In Stratford there is an old Phillips Gas Station and the Sherman County Museum which is housed in the old train depot. From Stratford we continued northeast to Texhoma and the Oklahoma border. US 54 in Texas wasn't bad and we didn't encounter any traffic. It was a pleasant drive through the panhandle of Texas.

Now we were in Oklahoma and we realized we were in the area of the Dust Bowl. The Dust Bowl covered the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma and also adjacent areas of Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico. From Texhoma which is a divided city with sections being in Texas and Oklahoma we continued our drive along US 54. The road was still good and the traffic was minimal. In a short while we arrived in Goodwell. Here we made a stop at the No Man's Land Museum. We were hoping to get a little information and see some pictures related to the Dust Bowl. We parked in the front of the museum and at the door we were greeted with a sign that the entrance was now on the side. So we walked around the building and entered. We met the nicest woman as we walked in and she explained that they had just added on a large addition and the place was in disarray. But she kindly showed us around and we got to see a lot ot the exhibits (just not set up) and she found a stack of Dust Bowl photos and took the time to go through them with us and even answer a lot of questions we had. We spent about 30 minutes here and then we were on our way again. I think when they have everything up again the place will be really nice. Goodwell is also home to Oklahoma Panhandle State University. Not far up the road we arrived in Guymon. There are a few nice parks in town and a drive-in theater but the highlight of the area seems to be the Playa Lakes Loop. We didn't have time to do the drive but it seems worthwhile - maybe on another trip. So we continued on and drove through the small town of Optima and then shortly after arrived in Hooker. I had read somethings about Hooker at Roadside America and thought it would be fun to stop and look around. Roadside America stated there were signs when you entered town with pictures of 19th century prostitutes but we didn't see any. Apparently you can find t-shirts with different sayings such as "Why don't you come back and see us sometime?" and "Not your typical hooker.". From hooker we drove throught Tyrone and in no time we crossed over into Kansas.

Not far into Kansas we arrived in Liberal. Liberal is home to Dorothy's House and the Land of Oz. We made a stop here just for the fun of it. There is a bronze statue of Dorothy and a big statue of the Tinman and a yellow brick road. They also have a farmhouse as a replica of Dorothy's house and a walk through exhibit of the "Land of Oz". The exhibit was closed so we didn't see that but we walked around the outside area and took pictures. It was fun! Liberal is also home to the International Pancake Day of Liberal and the Mid-America Air Museum. Continuing on US 54 we drove through Kismet, Plains, Meade, Minneola, Bloom, Kingsdown, Bucklin and Greensburg. Greensburg suffered a massive tornado strike back in 2007 which devasted the community. They are now rebuilding and the town looks great. They have the Big Well Museum, Greensburg GreenTown and the Kiowa County Historical Museum and Soda Fountain. Here are a few links about the tornado that hit Greensburg.

Facts about the May 4, 2007 Greensburg Tornado
Greensburg, Kansas: Rebuilding after the May 4, 2007 Tornado
After Devastating Tornado, Town is Reborn 'Green'

From Greensburg we drove through Haviland and Cullison before arriving in Pratt. Pratt is home to the Hot and Cold Water Towers, Lemon Park Nature Trail and the Pratt County Historical Museum. The highway in Kansas was very good. Smooth, wide with enough shoulder room to pull off if necessary and again there wasn't much traffic. We really enjoyed the drive and had no problems with finding gas for the car or food for us.

The drive to Wichita was a little different as they are working on four laning the road between Pratt and Wichita and there was some construction. This is the only time we encountered construction on US 54. Driving from Pratt to Wichita we skirted Cunningham, and drove through Kingman, Garden Plain and Goddard. In Wichita there is a lot to see and do. You can find information at Roadside America, Wichita Convention & Visitors Bureau and at Wichita Attractions. Driving this section of US 54 was really nice, even with the construction.

Overall we really enjoyed our drive on US 54 - the road is in pretty good condition for most of the drive and the speed limit is 65mph except in small towns. Usually you can pass a car if they are going too slow or there are passing lanes at different intervals along the way. But to be honest there wasn't much traffic. Now maybe at different times of the year it would be worse but during our drive we really thought it was very low traffic. I really enjoyed our time on US 54 - it gave us a different view of part of our country.