Don’t Let Anyone Tell You Driving Across Kansas Sucks

BMW F31 in Kansas sunset
BMW F31 in Kansas sunset

I've lost count of how many times I have crisscrossed the USA by car. Each interstate adventure has been a little different. But when I tell people about these trips, the first comment is almost always something like "Ugh, but you have to drive across Kansas." Take it from a guy who's done it a dozen times: Crossing Kansas is wonderful.

The lighting of a Kansas sunset makes for some truly golden car and portrait photography, and I'll share some of my recent faves throughout this little essay. But that's just one aspect of what makes a Kansas crossing special.

BMW F31 in sunset
Westbound, an I-70 frontage road, somewhere between Colby and Salina. Andrew P. Collins

Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, and Oklahoma share a similar terrestrial aesthetic of infinite flatness. But I think people are inclined to name-drop Kansas in this context because it's in the dead middle of contiguous America. Traversing the Kansan section of I-70 is a long stretch of many coast-to-coast road trips. Or maybe people remember it from The Wizard Of Oz, I don't know.


"It's so boring," I'm told. "There's nothing to see." Au contraire, my friends. You can see further, in more directions, from I-70 in Kansas than you can from any interstate on the eastern seaboard.

Stop groaning! I'm serious—wide open space is something worth appreciating. Do you like sitting on the beach and looking out at the ocean? Wind-swayed stalks of wheat have a peaceful animation similar to waves on a calm sea.

<em>Andrew P. Collins</em>
Andrew P. Collins

Zooming by plains of crops at a highway gallop is like blazing across open water—except instead of having to be entirely self-sufficient like you do in a boat, there are plenty of opportunities to slow down and grab fuel or snacks or a short walk every hour or so.

Crossing Kansas feels epic. Your vehicle is an insignificant little vessel exploring the depths of the country's heart, hurtling toward an unreachable horizon under an enormous sky. The speed limits are high and traffic is (usually) low. Boredom? I don't get it. The prevailing feeling I have at warp speed on I-70 between KC and Denver is reverence.

The Sunflower State is a keystone of our country, in an abstract geographical way and in a very real functional sense. Wheat, corn, beef, soybeans—these are major cogs in the machine of America. And there's nothing like spending a full day crossing a single state full of that stuff to help you appreciate the significance of it.

And finally, there are the sunsets.

Australian Shepherd mutt enjoying a sunset.
Australian Shepherd mutt enjoying a sunset.

California sunsets over the Pacific Ocean are spectacular. Seeing the sun go down among the Rocky Mountains in Colorado is a heck of a thing to behold, too. But there's no place like Kansas to capture a sunset that categorically consumes your field of vision.

When there are no obstructions protruding from the horizon, and huge fields of gold on the ground, a dropping sun in Kansas lights the world on fire in a way I have not quite seen anywhere else.

It makes for some super cool high-contrast car photography, like these shots I grabbed on my last two laps (eastbound and westbound) through Kansas in my wife's Bimmer.

In the summer of 2007, a good buddy and I did our first coast-to-coast car run. We loaded a 1988 Mitsubishi Starion turbo with tools, snacks, and spare parts, did an oil change, patched a clutch line with tape (sketch), then lit out from Boston, Massachusetts to Los Angeles, California where he'd be going to college.

That trip was my first experience in Kansas. It took us about two days to cross the state, but it took me hardly any time at all to disagree with everybody who warned me about how bored I'd be on that leg of the journey.

The novelty of Kansas's vastness profoundly impacted me as an 18-year-old; almost every other highway I'd ever been on was one of the congested tree-lined arteries between Boston and New York. (Talk about boring, in my humble opinion.)

It took me longer to appreciate some of the other factors I mentioned in this story, but I've been enamored with big skies and golden fields since that first cross-country road trip I took 17 years ago. Having crossed Kansas twice again this year, and again hearing how miserable it is, I felt compelled to articulate the majesty of our country's most open spaces.

If you get the chance to cross America by car, don't dread the middle. Soak it up—and make sure to pull over for some pictures of your car while the sun's on its way to bed.

BMW F31 wagon, Kansas
Bring me that horizon. Andrew P. Collins