A Drive Through Middle America Part 2
Kansas City to the Grand Canyon
In A Drive Through Middle America Part 1, we began in the heartland at Cincinnati, Ohio and traveled to Kansas City, Missouri. Today, in A Drive Through Middle America Part 2, we will cruise across Kansas into Colorado, over the Rockies, past Four Corners, and to the Grand Canyon. Join me as we visit some of my favorite stops.
I-70 then Hwy. 24 from Kansas City to Colorado Springs
Most people dread a drive across Kansas, but I actually enjoy it. Eastern Kansas is not pancake flat like most of us envision. It is actually quite hilly. The further you drive past Topeka, the flatter it gets. The drive across Kansas displays subtle beauty as the colors from miles and miles of crops blend into one another: bright yellow from sunflowers, deep orange from millet, green from corn, and tan from wheat; creating a tapestry of earth tones.
Sternberg Museum of Natural History – In western Kansas, immediately off of I-70 is a wonderful and unexpectedly delightful stop: the Fort Hays State University’s Sternberg Museum of Natural History in Hays, Kansas. This is the best collection of fossils that I have ever seen. Most of the fossils were discovered in the Great Plains of the U.S.: a full saber-toothed tiger, T-Rex, and enormous sea serpents. Do not drive past this one! LINK
As you drive into Colorado, the terrain becomes more desolate and desert-like. The first tumbleweeds that I ever saw came bouncing across the highway near the Colorado border. I thought that these were just from movies!
If you continue on I-70, you will arrive in Denver, which is a nice place to visit. We will detour to the southwest at Limon on Hwy. 24 and head for Colorado Springs. Make sure to look around as you drive and you might spy pronghorns (American antelopes). Keep looking ahead, too and seemingly out of nowhere, Pikes Peak will appear in the distance.
Colorado Springs, Colorado – I love Colorado Springs! The views of the front range of the Rocky Mountains and Pikes Peak are stunningly beautiful, and there is so much to do and see! The second Garden of the Gods (the first was in Illinois) on our Drive through Middle America is here and should be on your bucket list. Check out our prior posts for details on what to do here.
I-24 to Hwy. 160 Colorado Springs to Mesa Verde
The next leg of our Drive through Middle America Part 2 will take us across the less touristy southern Rockies. Heading south from Colorado Springs, through Pueblo, and on to tiny Walsenburg, we steadily lose elevation and the environment becomes hotter and drier. Turning west on Hwy. 160, we head into the Sangre de Cristo (Blood of Christ) mountain range, named for the red appearance of the rocks. Much of Hwy 160 is on a 2-lane road. The scenery of high desert with jagged peaks in every direction is amazing.
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Reserve – About an hour drive north of Hwy. 160 lies the Great Sand Dunes National Park, home of the highest sand dunes in the United States, stretching up to 750 feet above the surrounding plains. Dune sledding is allowed! It is quite a hike to get to the top of one of the dunes, though. This is definitely worth a detour! It is a site that you will not forget. LINK
Pagosa Hot Springs – High in the southern Rockies on Hwy. 160 on the edge of the San Juan River lies Pagosa Springs; home of sulfur hot springs. The Springs Resort and Spa has over 20 hot spring pools ranging in temperature from 90 – 108 degrees Fahrenheit. On warm days, you can swim or raft the San Juan River and then keep warm on the cool mountain nights in the hot spring pools. A park across the road has trails leading up to the top of the mountain and a disc golf coarse. LINK
Mesa Verde National Park and World Heritage Site – Off Hwy. 160 in the far southwest corner of Colorado, past Durango, we find Mesa Verde National Park. Established as a National Park by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908, it is home of the largest archeological preserve in the U.S. with over 600 pueblo and cliff dwellings. The drive up the mesa is an experience in itself. The 2 lane road winds around the edge 2400 feet from the base to the top. The views are amazing! Tour brilliantly preserved structures like the Cliff Palace that were inhabited from 600 to 1300 A.D. LINK
Hwy. 160 from Mesa Verde to the Grand Canyon
Most of this part of our Drive through Middle America Part 2 is through barren desert. There are some interesting cliffs and mesas, though.
Four Corners – Four corners is the spot where Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona meet. Hwy. 160 passes within a few yards of this spot. While there is really nothing to see here other than a monument, it does make a nice photo- op.
Navajo Code Talkers Exhibit – Hwy. 160 runs through the heart of the Navajo Nation. In the town of Kayenta, in a Burger King of all things, is the Navajo Code Talkers Exhibit. Four hundred soldiers from the Navajo nation who were fluent in their native tongue served as code talkers during World War II and were able to confound Nazi and Japanese code breakers. This small, free exhibit is worth a stop to learn a little history and for refreshments. Across the road is the Kayenta Monument Valley Inn, a nice motel with a restaurant serving traditional Navajo cuisine; also worth a try.
Grand Canyon National Park – The Grand Canyon is absolutely breathtaking. What an explanation point to our Drive through Middle America Part 2!
I hope you have enjoyed our Drive through Middle America Part 2. If you have not seen it yet, then check out Drive through Middle America Part 1 and follow our trek across the Fly over zone of the United States, from the heartland to the desert southwest. The fly over zone is actually worth a look!