Road Trip: Driving the Prairie
Unlike mountains and ocean, the prairie doesn't get right up in your face and flaunt its beauty. It requires that you slow down and pay attention. You have to take the time to watch the light change on undulating oceans of gold. Walk out into it, where the sea reveals itself to be a hundred different grasses and flowers. Sit quietly and listen to bird songs, the buzz of bees, the gentle rustle of grasses and wildflowers in the breeze, and smell the sun-baked earth.
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Once upon a time, North America had 170 million acres of tallgrass prairie. Today, less than 4 percent of that remains. These prairies, and the often-overlooked Midwest in which they grow, have their own gestalt, literature, history and idiosyncratic small towns.
The flat interior of the United States is sometimes described as the quintessential flyover country. That's why it requires a road trip. This one leads from Red Cloud, Nebraska, and Willa Cather country, down through Kansas and into Oklahoma. But you can't zip through at 70 miles an hour. To appreciate the texture of this part of the country requires that you slow down, breathe and let the place come to you. It will.
Red Cloud, Nebraska -- Day One
Cottonwood Falls, Kansas -- Day Two
Ponca City, Oklahoma -- Day Three
Bartlesville, Oklahoma -- Day Four
The beautiful great plains have a dark side -- this part of the country is also known as Tornado Alley. Storm chasing, to witness the grandeur of nature's power, is actually a tourist activity 'round these parts, but the massive twister that recently ravaged Moore, Oklahoma -- about 100 miles south of Ponca City -- was a disaster of unimaginable scale. Take tornado watches and warnings seriously, and follow National Weather Service safety tips. And if you would like to help Moore rebuild, here are some ways to help.