It was the Great American Road trip. Rob and I loaded up his truck last Friday after work with our camping and hunting gear, and a couple of fishing rods. Our destination: Cimarron National Grassland. It was a 254 mile drive into the far southwestern corner of Kansas. Literally only a few miles from both the Colorado and Oklahoma borders. We stopped by our favorite local burger joint and hit the road by 5:30 p.m. It was going to be a long drive; a very long night.
We drove into the sun until it set, then another two hours of nighttime driving. The conversation flowed as freely as the sunflower seeds and Dr. Pepper. We’d drive through tiny western Kansas towns that were lit up by the local high school football stadium lights. We stopped once for gas and could feel the cold night waiting for us like a hunter in the trees waiting on unsuspecting deer.
A right turn here, a right turn there. Eight more miles this way; Nine more miles that way … We finally pulled into the Cimarron River campground around 10:00 p.m. There were people camping there already — with only 12 campsites available I had no idea what to expect. We had several sites available to choose from. We found one that would work just fine. Cold and dark, now the fun would would begin in earnest.
This region is full of cottonwood trees — the state tree of Kansas. We each pitched our Coleman pop-up tent in the yellow glow of headlights and my Coleman lantern. It was 36 degrees under brilliantly electric stars. The Milky Way was obvious. Despite the cold, it was exciting. It was fun to be setting up camp. We’d eventually start a campfire to try to warm up a bit. After a tiny sip of whiskey and one beer, I was freezing cold and tired. I went to bed slightly skeptical of my preparation and I wasn’t wrong for my worry. I was pretty cold through the night. I woke up at 4:30 a.m. to pee and after that I slept much better. I awoke around 7:30 a.m. to start the day.
After a tremendous breakfast hash (yet to be named), venison steaks, and homemade turkey sausage, as well as freshly pressed coffee, Rob and I were about to part ways for awhile. While he went out to scout and hunt, I stayed around the campground ponds to fish. I was told they were stocked with catfish and trout, so that’s what I fished for only to find out that the trout were probably to be stocked later this week while there are actually bass here which I did not bring tackle for. I didn’t catch anything or even have a bite all day. It was still more than enjoyable and at one point I even took my shirt off and soaked up the sun — it was in the low to mid 70’s with absolutely no wind most of the time. The insects and flies were out in full force. It was absolutely gorgeous, if not a bit too warm at times.
By mid-afternoon we were up for a little sightseeing, so we drove to Point of Rocks. It is a series of bluffs that overlook the dried up Cimarron River. It’s said that you can see Colorado and Oklahoma from here. There are also historical signs detailing the local history of the region including the Santa Fe Trail.
The sky was the clearest, bluest hue I’ve seen in quite some time. We were in the Kansas high plains — it was rugged, bone-dry, and picturesque in a way that is often not witnessed.
Saturday night was spent around a roaring campfire. Dinner consisted of soup, grilled cheese sandwiches, and for dessert: a freeze-dried ice cream sandwich just like the astronauts eat. It was awesome.
The temps stayed in the low 40’s through the night but a cold front was coming. I stayed really warm in my sleeping bag and slept well until 3:00 a.m. when the rainfly on my tent started flapping frantically. The north wind was brutal. I finally got up around 7:30 a.m. and braved the blustery greyness and started making coffee. It was cold but not like Friday night (when it sunk into my bones). The coffee was wonderful. It was time to pack up and head home.
We drove east and stopped in Hugoton for a bite to eat since I was in no mood to cook bacon and eggs in the cold wind. After purchasing a breakfast burrito and donut holes, we were on the road again. A little bit later, a stop at a local tractor/farm supply store for a look around. It was one of those places that has a lot of cool things to look at but nothing either of us needed right away.
The rest of the road trip consisted of conversation and coffee as we drove by cotton fields and dairy farms. It was probably the quickest 500 miles I’ve ever encountered but that’s what happens with good company. It was a typical quick camping trip with absolutely no boredom, plenty of excitement, tons of relaxation and plenty of good food and drink. One of the most memorable camping trips I’ve been on. There’s a good chance my friend and I will return, if not at least camp/hunt/fish together again someplace else.