ULYSSES, Kansas: How good it is to occasionally be away from the nation’s capital and out in the open spaces of western Kansas. It’s a different world. The terrain is flat, mile after mile of pencil-straight highways, fence rows and power lines, fields of corn yet to be harvested, stubbled wheat fields, grazing cattle, few people.
To an easterner unused to the great plains it’s a surprise to observe big semi-trucks trailing behind huge harvesters in the fields. Sprinklers, skinny metal contraptions a couple hundred yards long have dozens of hoses hanging low to the soil. A large tire at the circumference moves the apparatus, imperceptibly rotating like the hour hand of a clock. From the air irrigated spaces are circles of green marching across a parched landscape.
A quarter mile east a pickup on a dirt road turns up dust that hovers like a low cloud, warning vehicles behind to keep their distance.
Struggling Ulysses is the only town in Grant County. Young people move away, a natural gas boom is over. A population of 6,000 holds steady only because Spanish-speaking workers moved in.
There’s a superb museum where several rooms display the evolution of a stereotypic western town. First were nomadic Indians following herds of buffalo, then the railroad through Dodge City an hour’s drive to the east. Then agriculture and the cycle of hard-won prosperity followed by years of drought in a harsh, unforgiving environment. Grain storage silos are in every town.
This is a Trump country. Whether on talk radio or conversations with ranchers and farmers in restaurants, gas stations and motels, I find unanimous applause for the president’s tough line on China. “This should have happened 30 years ago,” said a prosperous rancher. At the I-70 truck stop in Goodland near the Colorado border an independent driver, his Peterbilt pulling furniture to Kansas City, praises the president for trying to accomplish what he promised to do. His biggest concern is illegal migration across the Mexican border.
Three hundred miles west the skyscrapers of Denver slowly rise up and grow taller as the distance narrows. Finally, there are the peaks of the Rockies, a magnificent backdrop in a lovely portrait. A westward moving traveler knows something new and different lies ahead. The great plains have been relegated to the rearview mirror.