Lake Scott State Park and Scott City
Midway across Kansas, south of the Monument Rocks and west of US-83, Lake Scott State Park (620/872-2061, daily dawn-dusk, $4.20 per car Apr.-Sept.) is a true spring-fed oasis sheltering cottonwood, ash, hackberry, and willow trees in open high-sky rangeland. Beyond offering a lovely and relaxing spot in which to unwind, Lake Scott includes Kansas’s most intriguing historical site, El Cuartelejo (The Old Barracks), the only Pueblo Indian community in Kansas and the farthest north of any in the country.
Originally settled in the 1660s by Taos Pueblo people fleeing the Spanish in New Mexico, the area became home to the Picuris about 30 years later. Both migrant groups joined with the local Plains Apache clan, but the oasis and the ruined pueblo buildings continued to be used for occasional nomadic squatting by the Pawnee, and later by Spanish and French explorers and traders, before eventually eroding away. In the late 1880s the site was encountered accidentally by Herbert Steele, who stumbled onto the extensive irrigation ducts leading from spring areas to crop patches. Further excavation eventually revealed the pueblo sites, now considered the first permanent-walled structures in the state. The park has a few other historical points of interest, including a marker on the site of the fateful last battle between the U.S. Cavalry and escaping Cheyenne Indians led by Chief Dull Knife. The park also has herds of elk and bison, and visitors can see the preserved home of Herbert Steele, full of pioneer furniture and farming implements.
South of Lake Scott State Park, US-83 continues across the high plains, with not a whole lot to disrupt the continuity until Garden City, another 45 miles south. The only town of any size is Scott City (pop. 3,816), with its miles and miles of cattle fencing, feed lots, innumerable cattle companies, and big American flags greeting you (or waving good-bye) at the town limits. It’s a hardy, industrious place, with everyone busy working.