Tumbleweeds the size of boulders streak past in all directions causing me to involuntarily close my eyes and make darts to the left or right behind the safety of the windshield. One sticks on the hood ornament and I lurch back with enough force to strike the head rest and then bounce back to an upright position. My motions would appear silly to anyone watching, but there isn’t anyone. I’m lost.

Travel writers and guides never fail to recommend getting lost in such places as Marrakesh or Seville. All those twisty narrow lanes of mystery lead to experiences that fully engage the senses. Maybe not always gently; sometimes “onslaught” is a more accurate description. Onslaught or not, a memory is etched. THAT is the essence of travel.

Getting lost gives the experience an “edge”, an emotional jump start. And road trip travel in places like Kansas is no different. Really. Those twisty narrow lanes of mystery in places with exotic names have nothing on what you can stumble across in Kansas.

The first time through Mullinville was a mistake.  If you read that sentence carefully, it’ll tell you that a second time was on purpose because the first trip was rewarding enough to go back.

Careful of my speed limit through the small town, I’d just begun picking up speed when I see this:

Heavy Metal Highway -- Mullinville, Kansas

“What the?!” The wind is doing its best to alter the footing of the 5,000 lb. Yukon as I pull off the road. The sun is full-on but the barren landscape broken by the freaky signs, the desperate squeak of whirling buckets suspended as high into the Kansas atmosphere as the strength of a metal pole will support, the flags flapping out of unison, all screechingly collide into one perfectly produced Twilight Zone scene.

It’s October so I pull on a jacket before picking up camera gear, zip it completely (I’ve learned a few things about Kansas wind), and get jerked out of the truck onto my side because I’ve learned a lot about jackets and Kansas wind, but I’m still learning about the wind powering open a truck door. I don’t bother looking around. There’s no one to have seen me.

After gawking for sometime and taking in all the symbolism and dark humor, I begin taking photographs. A local barrels by on the highway and honks (he obviously knows the local law enforcement). His intrusion confirms I’ve not really landed in a Twilight Zone episode.

One year later…

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There will be a 3rd trip. I still don’t have the shot I really want. Maybe a Fisheye?

Want to see all this for yourself? Head west on 54/400 out of Wichita, through Pratt. Mullinville is 41 miles west of Pratt, 120 miles west of Wichita.


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