Interstate 70 follows the route of US 40, avoiding all of the small towns that US 40 still goes through. US 40 followed the route of the Victory Highway, one of the first auto routes to connect the coasts, second only to the Lincoln Highway (US 30, then Interstate 80). The Victory Highway and Lincoln Highway pieced together an assortment of wagon roads and helped usher in the era of automobile travel.
We followed Interstate 70 east through Kansas, from the high plains in the west to the metropolis of Kansas City. We stayed overnight in Hays, built up around Fort Hays, established in 1865 to protect the wagon trains of the westward expansion.
Hays is larger than I had expected it to be. It is the largest city, with 20,000 residents, in northwest Kansas. Our motel was by the highway, amid a cluster of motels and fast-food and restaurants we might find anywhere in the country. Through the magic of the internet, Andrea found Gella’s Diner and Lb Brewery, in the old downtown. Like many towns on the plains, the streets of Hays run to the compass points, but like most towns built up around the railroads, the old part of town is aligned with the railroad.
Gella’s is in an old brick building among others lining a narrow brick-paved street a few blocks from the tracks. Inside they’ve created a brew-pub that would be at home in Portland’s Pearl District. They even proudly proclaim their award in 2013 of Best Small Brewpub. It was fun to discover something like this in the wide-open spaces of western Kansas. (We asked what the Lb in the brewery name stands for. Liquid bread.)
Driving east on I-70, the land became less dry but evidently less fertile. In the west, we passed huge fields of corn and soybeans and sorghum and crops we city girls couldn’t identify. But as we drove east, there was more open land and smaller farms, with more roll to the land. By the time we hit Topeka, we were in cities and towns instead of farmland.
We charged the car in Salina. East of Salina, we pulled off the highway at the tiny town of Solomon to buy postcard stamps. When we pulled up at the post office, we found a swarm of monarch butterflies pausing on their migration to Mexico. After getting our stamps, we drove out of town carefully, trying to avoid hitting any of the migrants.
We charged again at a shopping mall in Topeka. By mid-afternoon, we were in Olathe to visit a woman Andrea has known since her kindergarten years. We spent the afternoon and supper in conversation before heading to our motel.