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Vermont to Vegas: Curves in Kansas, Denver's 16th Street Mall

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh  August 25, 2013 12:31 PM

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Thursday's 629-mile drive takes us from Kansas City, Mo. to Denver.

10:00 a.m. Leave downtown Marriott for I-70.

10:30 a.m. Once past the Kansas border, we stop at the official tourism office rest stop. The woman behind the counter admits there is nothing to see until we reach Colorado (“It’s as flat as that floor,” she says, pointing to the linoleum.) Later, we pass Abilene, the hometown of Dwight Eisenhower, who pushed to create the coast-to-coast network of high-speed interstate highways we're driving on today.

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10:50 a.m. We try a scenic route called Native Stone, as suggested by the Kansas Official Travel Guide. “The limestone, for which the route is named, was formed from sediments of shallow seas that covered Kansas 80 million years ago,” the guide said. It’s a nice, southerly loop off I-70 just past Topeka, and about as countrified as can be. There is nothing but green farmland, hills, and to our amazement, actual curves in the road. At the one stop sign we reach, I switch off the country music and hear nothing but cicadas. Not even a breeze whispers.

11:30 a.m. We stop in the town of Eskridge and find out everything is closed or shut down, despite a dozen or so cars lining the streets. Some towns die over time, but Eskridge somehow lives.

Kansas-Eskridge.jpg


11:45 a.m. Route 99 gets fun, and I switch the Cruze into manual mode and proceed not to brake. Mike holds onto the grab handle. Still haven’t seen one stone wall.

12:30 p.m. We return to I-70 after a small stretch of stone walls. This is as scenic as Kansas gets.

12:35 p.m. I’m missing the back roads already. For the next several hours, the steering wheel never rotates. This has to be the longest stretch of flat, straight roads anywhere in the country.

1:30 p.m. The Kansas State Police know that, too. Despite not seeing any cruisers in Maryland, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana  or Missouri, we run into four in Kansas. Apparently, they’re not too happy about the state’s 75-mph speed limit, because when we’re pulled over – after the cruiser hits us with radar from behind while we’re traveling slightly below the limit – the officer tells us “it’s already 75, and we like to keep it tight.” At least he’s friendly, and once he’s certain the Connecticut plates don’t show up as stolen, we’re on our way.

1:55 p.m. At another rest stop, we pull next to a tractor-trailer hauling caskets.

4:30 p.m. Still in Kansas, still pointing dead straight. Beef jerky and Lay’s potato chips are the menu du jour. Then it’s McDonald’s.

6:00 p.m. A strong thunderstorm belts the roadway and washes the dead bugs off the windshield.

Denver-16th-St-Mall.jpg6:30 p.m. The sun peeks out as we enter Denver, cool and dry, and the storm recedes as we check into the Westin downtown.

8:00 p.m. We stroll down the 16th Street Mall, a mile-long, brightly lit promenade full of restaurants, bars, and homeless people playing chess. We eat steak and fish at Marlowe’s, watching horse-drawn carriages and pedal cabs blasting techno ride past.

9:00 p.m. Beat, we walk back to the Westin for an early night’s rest. Tomorrow’s drive is huge.

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Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
In the garage: 2006 Subaru Baja
AAA's Car Doctor, John Paul John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
In the garage: Hyundai Sante Fe, Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible
Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
In the garage: 1968 Buick Riviera, 1996 Buick Roadmaster, 1974 Honda CB450
Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on About.com. He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
In the garage: Mazda 5, Dodge Neon
George Kennedy is a senior writer for WheelsTV in Acton, which produces video reviews for Yahoo, MSN, and other auto websites.
In the garage: Lifted 1999 Jeep Cherokee
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