Before I wrote my Kansas book (An Explorer's Guide: Kansas, W.W. Norton/The Countryman Press, June 2011), I explored every nook and cranny of the state by driving 13,000+ solo miles. One of my fondest memories took place in Southwest Kansas:
After months of anticipation, I was on pins and needles. Today, I would finally see Richard Duff’s massive buffalo herd of more than 400 head, grazing amid red rocks that appeared in the movie, Dances with Wolves.
I waited for a man I’d never met and a vehicle I’d never seen in the parking lot of a rural museum and gallery. A white truck jostled into view and crackled across the gravel parking lot. I walked up to the cab and shook hands with Duff. His quiet teenage son scurried from the cab to the pickup bed so I could sit beside Duff, who turned onto the highway and headed north. The truck then left the road again, crossing pale green grassland pock-marked with rugged rock formations.
I took a deep breath when he suggested sitting in the pickup bed so I could take better photographs. We neared the massive animals and Duff stopped briefly. I carefully stepped down from the cab and scurried to the rear of the truck where his son helped me hoist myself into the flatbed. Then I wedged in against the cab wall and sat down.
Hundreds of buffalo grazed across the arid landscape, mesmerizing me as late morning sunlight glinted off of their dark and wiry coats. Duff slowly increased the pickup’s speed and the engine roared while the massive tires navigated rocky, hilly and rough terrain.
When his son cast large handfuls of feed on the ground the massive creatures ran clumsily – yet with surprising speed – towards the back of the truck. Buffalo shook the ground and charged towards the food while kicking up large clouds of dust and occasionally roaring like lions. Exhilaration overpowered my momentary fear as my camera ran continuously. Every shot felt like a gift.
Fifteen minutes later Duff stopped the truck at a safe distance from the herd, which again stood nearly motionless against the rugged landscape. I re-entered the cab, and his son slammed the tailgate shut before returning to the pickup bed. As the truck trundled towards the highway and the herd became dark spots in the rearview mirror, I knew I’d never forget Duff’s buffalo.
Richard Duff’s buffalo graze outside of Scott City but they weren’t the only ones that I saw throughout the state.
A wizened rancher carrying a reproduction of outlaw Bat Masterson’s gun took me to the heart of his 50-head herd in a pickup with a massive spider web of windshield cracks. I rolled down the window to take pictures but stayed in the cab.
Other buffalo eyed me quietly from behind a surprisingly low fence along a Kansas highway. And more of the massive animals grazed amid wildflowers and native grasses while others ambled near a 100-foot-deep sinkhole.
Note: As a travel writer, I received accommodations, entry fees, etc. while visiting this area, in advance of reviews and/or profiles. I do my best to remain impartial and offer full disclosure to avoid potential conflicts of interest.
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