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Where does the American West begin? A good case can be made for U.S. Highway 283, which runs north-south across the Kansas plains. Here, near the 100th meridian, the air becomes decidedly drier, the horizons wider, and the skies bigger. Spaces between towns are also much greater; when pickup trucks meet on an empty stretch, their drivers often raise a hand from the steering wheel just to say "howdy." This is Kansas. But Kansas is also the cosmopolitan suburbs of Kansas City, the rolling green hills near Lawrence and Topeka, and dozens of lakes shimmering in the steady Kansas sun. It's little surprise that Dorothy, the fictitious heroine of The Wizard of Oz, felt the wonders of the Emerald City couldn't quite compare with the pastoral pleasures of her beloved Kansas.
Kansas has 10 state-designated travel regions. In the east, they include the Kansas City area, with its upscale shopping, dining, and nightlife; the Heritage Hills, featuring the historical college town of Lawrence; Little Ozarks, bordering the more famous highlands in Missouri; Flint Hills, famous for its tallgrass prairies; and Pony Express Country, also known for its Santa Fe and Oregon trail lore. Central Kansas includes Post Rock Country, the region surrounding Hays that inspired Dr. Brewster Higley to write "Home On the Range"; Heartland Country, where Hutchinson is home to an innovative new space center, the Cosmosphere; and Wichita, the state's largest city. West Kansas includes the High Plains, known for their vast spaces and grand rock formations, and Wild West Country, where Dodge City lives on.
The West was indeed wild in 19th-century Kansas. Numerous tribes had long called the region home, among them the Plains Apache, Pawnee, Shawnee, Pottawatomi, Iowa, Sac, and Fox. In 1830, when the U.S. government passed the Indian Removal Act, many eastern tribes were forced into Kansas and Oklahoma. Traffic on the Santa Fe and Oregon trails, the opening of the frontier to white settlers, the slavery question--all combined to make Kansas a violent place in the 1800s.
During the 20th century, however, the old "Bleeding Kansas" gained a new reputation for innovation and a pioneering spirit, particularly in aviation. Soon after the Wright Brothers' first flight in 1903, Kansas exploded with aviation activity. Famous Kansans from the world of flight include Clyde Cessna, Walter Beech, and Amelia Earhart. Today, the state's northeastern corner is experiencing a telecommunications and technology boom as headquarters to such companies as Sprint, yet life in much of rural Kansas retains a quiet, traditional calm.
Kansas is not a big tourist destination, which makes it all the more welcoming to travelers eager to see a place in more or less its native state. Defined by its broad geography and sweep of sky, Kansas offers life in the slow lane for visitors willing to take the state on its own easy terms.