By The Hutchinson News, Dec. 8
Today’s travelers don’t have much need for “points of rock” to guide them on their cross-country road travels. But nonetheless, Kansas Department of Transportation officials should find a way to preserve such a point of history before they plow up ground to expand U.S. 50 through Dodge City.
A $69 million, 16-mile project scheduled in 2018 will expand U.S. 50 to four lanes through Dodge City, leveling the “Point of Rock” on the west side of the city. Anyone who has traveled that road knows the landmark because it is the site of one of two steel sculptures – the other being on the city’s southeast side – featuring a silhouetted band of horsemen atop the rock outcropping with the words “Dodge City.”
But the site is more significant than just the sculpture, iconic as it is. The hillside and rock outcropping was a landmark long before the sculpture was put there. Travelers on the Santa Fe Trail used it as a marker and a place where they could get an elevated view of the route and the surrounding prairie.
“There are four points of rock on the Santa Fe Trail, and three of those are in Kansas,” explains Gary Kraisinger, who is on the board of the Great Western Cattle Trail Association and a member of an area chapter of the Santa Fe Trail Association. “This is the very first one travelers would run across” on the road to Santa Fe, N.M.
Later, when cattle drives came north out of Texas in the 1870s, it was a marker signaling trail bosses to take their herds west of the city and turn north toward Ogallala, Neb. It also was a point along the north-south Cherokee Trail, which came up from Oklahoma and eventually connected into the Oregon Trail.
KDOT doesn’t think it has much of another option, because the right of way for expansion is restricted on the south side of the existing highway by railroad track, leaving only the space on the north, where the point of rock is located. The state originally proposed moving the whole highway route farther north, but locals objected to changing the alignment.
We wonder if the highway couldn’t be split, retaining the existing part as the two eastbound lanes and building the new westbound lanes north of the monument. It actually could be a good way to protect this geological and historical feature of the land.
In any event, the objection to the highway plan has merit, and highway engineers should put their heads together to come up with a solution.
Few of the wagon wheel ruts from the old Santa Fe Trail remain. True, we need ribbons of pavement to travel today, so they serve no more functional purpose than a rise in the prairie that once was a lookout point. But this is important history worth preserving. And once it’s gone, it can’t be reclaimed.