Get the Heck Into Dodge

Location: WaKeeney KOA, WaKeeney, Kansas

Dates: July 28 to 30, 2017

When we were in Odessa, Missouri, we started checking on campground availability for Friday night somewhere in Kansas. We weren’t set on a particular route, but were planning on traveling across I-70 as far as Denver.

When Malcolm checked our old standby along I-70, the Salina KOA, he found it was full. Checking around various other KOAs along I-70 and up across I-80, he found they were full, as well. Though it meant a bit longer drive, we settled on the KOA in WaKeeney, Kansas and went ahead and made reservations for two nights to get us through the weekend.

We headed on over there on Friday, arriving mid-afternoon. We were assigned a large end site with plenty of grass. While we were relaxing, we decided to go ahead and plot the rest of our trip to Washington, making reservations so we wouldn’t get caught spending a lot of time trying to find a place along the way (we ran across that last year, as well) or having to drive an extra-long distance just to get somewhere with a space available.

Since we have another week and a half to get to Washington (and it’s only about a four day drive from this point), we also needed to plan some multi-night stops. We got all those figured out, so now we are set literally through about mid-September (when we’ll be traveling back across the country) as far as reservations go. After Labor Day, finding campsites gets a lot easier in most places since children are back in school and people are doing less camping.

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Large grassy site 59 at the WaKeeney KOA

Once we were settled in and had dinner in our stomachs, Val was looking around for things to do in the area. Though it was 80 miles away, we decided we would take a trip down to Dodge City for the day on Saturday. We parked in a public parking lot and walked over to the visitor information center. We snagged some postcards, souvenirs and information, as well as this photo op.

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We found out that a statue in front of the information center, which was covered at the time, was going to be unveiled and dedicated the next day. It was a statue of Matt Dillon and was based on James Arness, the late actor that played Matt Dillon in the Gunsmoke series on television for years.

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After walking around a bit and having lunch in a Mexican restaurant near where we parked the truck, we decided to wander over to “Boot Hill” and check out the place. That is the main tourist attraction in town. Tickets and souvenirs can be bought in the Great Western hotel.

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When we were walking up the sidewalk to the hotel, we passed a lady wearing a University of Kentucky shirt and commented on her fine choice of apparel. She stopped to chat for a moment and mentioned that she actually attended college at another Lexington, KY school – Transylvania University. That is where Malcolm graduated from college. They compared notes and discovered that they were at the college at the same time (for at least a year).

Our new friend invited us to go on a walking tour around town with her and some friends. We also found out from her that the widow of James Arness, Janet, was in town with some other family for the new statue dedication the next day. We got to meet Janet and chat for a bit, but she couldn’t join us on the walking tour.

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Photo op with Janet Arness

We purchased tickets to wander around Boot Hill after our walking tour and set out for the tour. Charlie Meade is a long time resident of the area and is a walking encyclopedia of history in the area. He took us for about an eight block walk around the area, stopping to tell us about various people and events that make up the history of Dodge City.

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Charlie explaining some history

After the tour, we said our goodbyes to our new friends and headed back to Boot Hill to look around for a while.

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The Boot Hill display is a replica of what the main part of town looked like in the 1800’s. The buildings all burned in a fire in the late 1800’s and more modern buildings took their place. This replica was erected in the 1950’s and is run by a non-profit organization to let people see what life in Dodge City was like back in the 1800’s.

After touring Boot Hill for a while, we wandered up the hill behind it to the Boot Hill Distillery. We took a nice tour while we were there and Malcolm tasted some of their products. The distillery has only been in operation 3 or 4 years, so their aged products (i.e. bourbon) were still aging and weren’t yet available for tasting.

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The distillery building was the old city building for Dodge City for years before being abandoned and falling into disrepair. The distillery purchased the building and fixed it up (and is still renovating parts of it).

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Our tour guide explaining the grain delivery system

As a matter of fact, the working part of the distillery is in the section where the fire trucks were parked originally. There’s even a covered hole in the ceiling where the fire pole used to come down from the upstairs portion (now converted to offices).

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Some of the distilling equipment

After the tour and tasting, we headed upstairs to their bar and gift shop and purchased a t-shirt before leaving.

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First runs of bourbon aging

After the distillery tour, we headed down to a restaurant called Central Station, which is located in the old freight train station in Dodge City, and had dinner in the dining car. We mainly had a light dinner of sandwiches. After dinner, we headed back to the campground, about an hour and a half drive, arriving right around bedtime.

On Sunday morning, we took advantage of the pancake breakfast the campground serves each morning and filled up with pancakes before we hit the road to our next destination in Colorado.

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