Help us get through Kansas
November 11, 2011 10:29 AM   Subscribe

Road trip info needed. The long bit across Kansas to Colorado, anything I should be particularly aware of except for the anticipated total boredom part?

We are relocating from the East Coast (Virginia) to Colorado Springs to my companies head office and my wife and I are driving out there in two cars with a dog and cat in each on the first weekend in December. The only part of the trip I’m totally unsure about is the bit between Kansas City (or Topeka depending on where we spend the night) and Colorado Springs on I-70.

I know that it is going to be a long flat journey, but is there anything else that I should be concerned with? We are keeping our fingers crossed for good weather but how about making gas stops? We will be making this part of the journey on a Sunday (in order to be in Colorado Springs in time for the closing our new house), and people have been giving us horror stories about gas stations being closed on Sundays and not being able to make fill ups, so we ought to carry spare gas cans in the back of the truck in case we run low. Is this just bullshit, or is it really something we need to be concerned about?

Also can anyone point me to web site with a list of radio stations from Topeka to the Colorado line that I can utilize to check weather forecasts on I-70 across Kansas – we have no satellite radio and T-mobile phone service across here may sometimes be a little spotty. Any other advice from anyone that has done the trip would be appreciated.
posted by 543DoublePlay to Travel & Transportation around Kansas (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It's a boring drive that seems to last forever, but I've made it several times and have never had issues other than wondering how on earth Kansas can take so long to cross.
posted by Zophi at 10:36 AM on November 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think it depends on whether you're talking about a small town or a city. I'll admit that the one time I've driven across Kansas it was a weekday, but I would be REALLY surprised if the gas stations in cities, like Witchita, shut down on Sundays. But the small towns are SMALL -- like, "population 306" small -- and that's where you may run into the "shut-down services" issue. Although I was able to find a gas station at night and a hotel with a front desk that was open after dark, if that helps.

If you stick near cities, you should be fine.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:36 AM on November 11, 2011

Best answer: I've driven that stretch of I-70 a few times but I can't recall if I've ever done it on a Sunday; the exits are much further apart than you'll be used to and there are a fair number of partially-fallen-down and out-of-business gas stations but I can't ever recall getting so low that I was worried about findings something. I usually try to re-fill when I drop to a quarter of a tank when driving cross-country, though, so maybe that's why. (Utah and parts of Wyoming were much worse in terms of hundred-mile-stretches with no gas station.) Keep in mind, it's a major trucking route and I would be surprised if gas is really THAT difficult to find--unless you let your tank get down to 1/8 before starting to think, "Hey, maybe we should start looking..."

What I will say is: STAY IN THE RIGHT LANE UNLESS PASSING. Kansas cops can be much more twitchy about this than any other state I've been in, and I've talked to people pulled over for going 5-10 miles per hour over the speed limit who had the cop explain, "Well you were in the passing lane for a while but you weren't passing anyone..." as part of the reason they were pulled over. If you're used to Virginia driving it will be foreign to you how somewhere around the Mississippi highways stop having right and left lanes and start having cruising and passing lanes. People will honk or tail-light you if you hang out in the passing lane too long.

Kansas is boring but it isn't SO bad. Bring a book on tape, be prepared to have a lunch at an Applebees (this will be the cream of the crop in terms of highway-stop dining) and be underwhelmed by the food.
posted by iminurmefi at 10:42 AM on November 11, 2011

Make sure to visit the Wonder Tower in Genoa CO.

And you probably already know this, but make sure you have some jugs of water, emergency granola bars or something, and lots of warm clothes/blankets, just in case you end up on the side of the highway for a while. It's not super-common or anything, but it happens.
posted by ernielundquist at 10:44 AM on November 11, 2011

Gas stations along the interstate, even in Kansas, are virtually never closed. You won't have any problems.
posted by something something at 10:47 AM on November 11, 2011

The first half of Colorado is also flat. This was a shock to my kids, who thought "Thank God! We've crossed the line, where are the mountains!?!?" Only to be disappointed.
posted by zomg at 10:51 AM on November 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Hi! I live back out here in northwest Kansas now, after spending 15 years in the Topeka/Lawrence area. I have a brother who lives in the Denver area, and have made this trip many many times. The drive will be long, and straight, and oh man the lack of decent radio is annoying, but it shouldn't be a problem.

The eastern two-thirds of Kansas is regularly populated and you won't have any trouble at all. Salina's a decent-sized town, and so is Hays. In western Kansas, Colby is really the last town of any size before you hit the Limon area in Colorado (at which point you'll be able to see the mountains start to peek over the horizon, congratulations). I'd stop to get gas in Colby if you're running low. If not, wait for Limon, which is only just over an hour from your destination and always has someplace open for gas.

There are regular signs on the interstate that will have weather radio frequency information for you.
posted by rewil at 10:56 AM on November 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I live in Kansas, and it takes about 6 hours to cross. Bring an audio book, and don't bother with the radio stations. You'll mostly find country music west of Topeka. You won't have any trouble finding an open gas station unless you wander waaay off I70.

I think the reason the highway patrol is so twitchy about people driving in the left lanes is that Kansans are notorious for just dawdling along in the left lanes and blocking people who want to pass, or forcing them to pass on the right. Whatever the reason, they are vigilant about it, so you'll want to mostly drive in the right lane.
posted by S'Tella Fabula at 11:02 AM on November 11, 2011

(OK, Goodland is available after Colby, but it's off I-70 a tiny bit. And one of those tiny Colorado towns -- Flagler, maybe? has a diner that they advertise with a pink car on the side of the road that's always intrigued me.)

(Oh, and Bunker Hill, a tiny town between Salina and Russell, has a gas station that's my usual stop when I make the drive. It's a popular stop for truckers, always open, busy, and clean.)
posted by rewil at 11:03 AM on November 11, 2011

Oh! Also! You could go on Amazon and get a two-way radio with a working range of something like a half-mile if you're worried about phones getting bad reception in sparsely-populated areas of your trip. (You'll definitely lose reception in some places in Kansas, and possibly for small stretches of I-70 in Indiana / I did this with my boyfriend when he was driving the U-Haul and I was driving the car while moving cross-country, and it worked pretty decently. As long as you guys are staying relatively close to each other while driving, it's a nice way to say "hey I need to pee, let's get off at the next exit" even if your phones aren't working.

As someone who has done both routes between Colorado and Virginia, I also think the I-64 route through West Virginia (the Monongahela National Forest! Seneca Rocks!) and Kentucky (THE BOURBON TRAIL!) is significantly more scenic than catching I-70 in Maryland and heading through Columbus & Indianapolis. (The two highways meet in St. Louis and from there it's all the way over to CO on I-70 on either route.) I suspect it's a bit faster as well because you aren't running the risk of hitting any major cities with gridlocked rush-hour traffic until you get to St. Louis. However, I'm not so sure if that's a bad route in December with potential snow or ice as I've only done it in the spring/summer, but it's worth considering maybe if you want one last look at beautiful east coast mountains before being bowled over by the Rockies.
posted by iminurmefi at 11:13 AM on November 11, 2011

Kansas native here. You'll pass plenty of gas stations, even on a Sunday. After Topeka, you'll hit Junction City, Abilene, Salina, Hays, Colby, Goodland, and then Lymon CO, all no more than a couple hours apart. Alerts (including weather) from the KS Dept of Transportation are on 1610 AM, and I think that works all the way across the state.

Your biggest concern in December is road closure due to snow, not gas availability. It may look fine where you are, but I-70 west of Hays or so gets closed for snow several times most years.

Radio is sad out west if you don't care for country, but you should get decent public radio reception from Radio Kansas through the middle of the state.
posted by donnagirl at 11:16 AM on November 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Side note: I would like the CHP to take some lessons from the Kansas patrol. If I had an RPG for every road boulder hogging the left lane I've had to deal with on long trips ...
posted by zomg at 11:42 AM on November 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: All great advice, thanks! And iminurmefi thanks for tip on walkie-talkies, never thought of that, we'll get a set from Wal-Mart!
posted by 543DoublePlay at 12:10 PM on November 11, 2011

Be aware of the Flint Hills; they're beautiful and they don't last very long but I-70 provides nice views. West bound on I-70 they start around mile 335 and end a little past Junction City. Get off at K-177 (exit 313) and go north about 2 miles for an excellent scenic overlook where you can view the Konza Prairie. Both Lawrence and Manhattan are nice university towns with viable downtowns if you prefer something less urban than Kansas City or Topeka. Celebrate crossing into Colorado by going for a spin on the excellent carousel in Burlington.
posted by carmicha at 12:18 PM on November 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

By the way, drug enforcement teams searching cars while hapless motorists watch helplessly is a frequent sight along I-70. There are also occasional checkpoints. I'm just sayin'....
posted by carmicha at 12:20 PM on November 11, 2011

You will have no problem at all buying gasoline on I-70.

You will, however, find very few decent coffee outlets. If you drink coffee, fill up a thermos-full at a coffee shop when you start. There's a Sapp Bros in Junction City, if you're desperate. There's a Starbucks in Colby, and that's about as good as it's going to get.

You're unlikely to run into truly severe weather, but it is unpredictable. So, pack a bit of food, and some warm clothing and blankets in both vehicles -- where you can get to them, not in the back of a moving van -- just in case.

My typical stopping points are Salina or Hays, then Colby, then Limon, CO. I don't know if you need/want to go through Denver, but if not, you should definitely take Highway 24 out of Limon. It shaves a nice chunk of time off the trip vs. taking I-70 into Denver then down I-25 to Colorado Springs, but Google Maps probably told you that already. (If you stop in Hays, you can get a really good spicy cabbage bierock at Schilleci's (a German bakery/deli bought and now ran by a Vietnamese family).)

If you decide to stay the night in Lawrence (b/t KC and Topeka) before driving out to Colorado Springs, let me know; I'll buy you a beer at Free State and/or give you restaurant and coffee shop recommendations.

Safe trip.
posted by cog_nate at 12:37 PM on November 11, 2011

Couple things:
1) even the tiniest gas stations are open on Sundays. Most take credit cards anyway, so if they weren't open you'd be ok. However, most do not open until 7am sunday morning. Ask me how I know this. Ugh.
2) Don't go farther than 70% of (average MPG * gallons in tank). Fill-up anomalies crossed with terrifyingly strong headwinds can make you run out of gas at the most inopportune times. Again, ask me how I know this.
3) Speaking of the wind. Yikes, it can be fierce. And once you get used to keeping the steering wheel cocked, it'll drop off for an instant. SO be vigilant.

See my comment here for more tips and tricks, and how to sleep.
posted by notsnot at 12:37 PM on November 11, 2011

I-70 goes to Denver, not Colorado Springs.
posted by speedgraphic at 2:51 PM on November 11, 2011

I grew up in Salina. KS is not the Nevada desert. There's plenty of semi traffic as well as car traffic along 70, and while towns are more spread out in comparison to east of the Mississippi, you don't need to pack gas cans in the trunk. Be smart though - esp. in winter, don't let your tank get under 1/4 without looking for a place to stop and fill up.

As for weather... the highway patrol has been known to close the roads if the weather's bad enough (doubtful in early Dec. though). KS Public Radio is statewide and should give you warnings and weather reports. You can also call 511.

The speed limit is crazy. We went home this summer, and 75? Holy cow. My trip from KC to Salina has never gone that fast! Stay alert, stay in the right hand lane unless you're passing, etc. Absolutely take audio books/podcasts/music with you -- there's not much on the radio waves other than KPR (which I love but cannot handle for 8 hours).

You might enjoy reading up on the Flint Hills and Smoky Hills. And hold your big yawns for eastern Colorado - I'm sorry, but flat KS is gorgeous compared to that awful stretch where you're crawling up towards the mountains but can't see them yet... And enjoy your view of the event horizon, as my husband says. :)
posted by hms71 at 4:29 PM on November 11, 2011

Dittoes dittoes...I've long said that the highlight of a trip across Kansas into Colorado is seeing the tree.
I made the trip once in an overheating old truck. In August. There were plenty of places to stop to cool down and to buy food/water/gas, I wouldn't worry that the horror stories you've heard are true.
posted by attercoppe at 9:55 PM on November 11, 2011

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