I happened to get lucky again and arrived during the annual Dodge City Days celebration. I was able to find a site at Watersports Campground which is right in the heart of Dodge. While not particularly pretty or probably as nice as the other park I looked at, it was reasonably priced and has the best location. It is right on a small lake and has a beach though you can’t put a boat or kayak in there. They do have quite a few permanent residents and the sites are not large. With a little maneuvering around a tree, I got my satellite dish to work. My aircard worked fine there. The staff were nice. This campground is not one I would go to play in but is certainly good enough as a base for touring.
I headed to the visitor’s center first thing. They have tons of brochures on both Dodge and Kansas. They also sell the Dodge Days pin needed to get into some events and get into the big drawing for cash prizes. I met Marshal Matt Dillon there and got my picture taken with him. From there, you can also catch a tour bus of Dodge which I definitely recommend. The tour shows you Boothill, the local sights, the fort nearby, the Santa Fe Trail, the stockyards, the giant steer monument, the Wyatt Earp statue, etc. You may even get held up by bandits.
A tour of Boothill next door is a must. The cemetary and museum are quite interesting. I got thrown in the original jail (all I did was call Wyatt Earp a sissy!). I had a drink at the Long Branch Saloon with Miss Kitty. They had a gunfight outside the saloon. There was a very good homestyle dinner in the restaurant there. A nice RVing couple on vacation invited me to come sit with them for dinner and swap travel tales. Afterward, we retired back to the saloon for drinks and a show with can-can girls. Both men and women enjoyed purchasing garters which you take right off the can-can girls and handsome young barmen with a blush. I got a kick out of the rowboat song the barmen sang which was out of the old Bob Hope movie “Eddie Foy and the Seven Littel Foys”.
You may want to stroll the downtown walk which was the heart of Dodge in the old days and the original location of well known saloons like the Longbranch. You can also get a genuine stagecoach ride by signing up at Boothill. I can’t imagine riding in one of those for days even with the padded seats.
Across the street at the train station is the Harvey House tour which unfortunately is only available when they can get volunteers to staff it. Learn all about the Harvey Girls and how Mr. Harvey got started with his fine restaurants along the railroad lines. Boy did he make a great business deal! The girls were paid very well, got a chance to get off the farm, and found husbands. They had to sign contracts to not marry or give up half their accrued pay. They lived in a dorm on the property. They had secret codes passed with the position of coffee cups on the tables so they knew what each customer wanted to drink before they got there. Orders were taken aboard the trains and wired ahead so patrons had time to eat before their trains pulled back out. Originally men were hired but after finding all the men at one restaurant had gotten drunk the night before and failed to show up for work, Mr.Harvey switched to women, many of them school teachers off for the summer months or farm girls.
I went outside town to see remaining ruts of wagons headed west along the Santa Fe Trail. It takes a human eye to spot them with all the overgrowth so pictures don’t do it justice but you can see where the trail cut into the sides of the hills and there’s a failed attempt at irrigation.
For the party hounds out there, a couple of local hangouts have street dancing long into the night during Dodge City Days. For others, there is quite a bit of cash given out as prizes near the end of the festival thanks to Wendy’s. Everyone gathers at the local civic center in hopes of their pin numbers being called. There is also a world class rodeo in town during the festival. Pay a couple bucks more to be in the covered section and either bring a stadium chair or rent one for a couple bucks there. I booked my ticket online very easily and got my choice of seats. The food is pretty good there and they have really cheap fare one night there at the rodeo with your Dodge City Days pin and over in the park on another day. The parking was easy enough on open grass with men on horses as attendants.
For lots more pics click here.