Understanding Kansas using road signs, public art, and local culture.

One of the joys of road trips is discovering unique countryside symbols – road signs, public and social art, and expressions of local culture.  I twice previously traveled the I-70 corridor of St. Louis to Kansas City and from St. Louis down to Branson in the Ozarks so the state with its huge farms bursting with green bounty this summer was no mystery.

But Kansas was relatively unknown to me save for a ride down the eastern edge over thirty years ago with my son Sasha.  We were headed to Tulsa and admired the green rolling land watered with many streams.  On this trip I wondered if comedians’ impression of the state as just 400 miles of endless, flat wheat fields was true.

The comedians were wrong – the state’s topography is mostly rolling land and the production of corn, soybeans, canola and cattle may rival wheat.  The farther west one goes, the dryer, emptier, flatter and more barren the land gets.  The following Kansas Byways road sign provides a basic foundation in understanding a state blessed with spectacular sunsets and super-agriculture.


The Mission Mountain Wilderness is a collaboration between the Flathead people (Salish and Kootenai nations) and the state in preserving the native culture.

The legend of the Burlington County road map and sign describe important locations, basic resources, and other fundamentals for economic development, assist local tourism, and general information purposes.

Two murals exhibited on the sides of walls of buildings in western Kansas illustrate the fecundity of wildlife before the practice of raising cattle.  The open range had to be fenced in and predatory wildlife threatened the security of herds. 

The big eagle statue, located in Pendleton, Oregon symbolized to me the freedom and expanse of our western lands.   

The railroad played a vital role in developing the American west and connecting it to the big eastern markets for their beef, vegetables, fruits and manufactured goods.  Many towns in the west either thrived or withered depending on their proximity to the railroad and the commerce it spurred.  Trailer trucks, of course, have today replaced a great deal of the trains’ role in moving the bulk of our goods and commodities.  I snapped this monument to railroad connectivity in western Kansas.   

The rattlesnake was a very scary creature to western settlers, especially in the more sparsely populated southwestern states.  The snake avoids humans but will strike if threatened.

Native Americans of the Great Basin in eastern Oregon cultivated rice grass to supplement their diets and built up stores of it to make it through the winter.  Settlers noted the practice and adapted elements of indigenous agriculture.