Little Houses on the Prairie

Kansas House

Kansas House, Taken over by Trees and Sky

One of the things I love most about driving through Middle America are the abandoned houses. Thousands of these bygone homes dot the back roads, each with their own charms and I’m sure, their own stories. In Kansas, most of these places are unpainted houses, with an array of outbuildings, house trailers and farm equipment scattered around and buried beneath the weeds. As I drive, I’m always looking for these relics, hoping for a great photo, a wind-whispered story and maybe even some fresh-cut flowers for my car from somebody’s long-lost overgrown garden.

I will say, one of the downsides to towing the Teardrop is that it’s much harder to pull over when I drive by one of these relics. Harder to brake, harder to pull off safely, harder to be inconspicuous while I trespass to snap a few photos. I’ll cruise on by at 50 mph (my ideal speed) and catch a glimpse of homey disarray off the side of the road. If the light is right and there’s nowhere to pull over safely, for the next mile I’ll think about catching that glimpse in a frame. And then I pull a U-turn. The turning radius can handle two lanes and on the kinds of back roads I like to drive, there’s usually nobody coming in either direction. In 2,800 miles, I’ve made my fair share of U-turns on this trip to photograph abandoned houses.

Tall Grass Farm

Tall Grass Farm

Heading south from Independence, Kansas, where I camped at Elk City State Park, I passed a faded sign for the “Little House on the Prairie”: the restored Homestead of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s family. Confession: I’ve never read any LHOTP, though maybe I will start, now that I’ve seen the place, a tiny log cabin flanked by a tidy white house, a one-room post office and a two-room school.

Given more literary flair, I bet any number of people who lived in the countless abandoned houses in Middle America could write fascinating tales of life on the big prairie. I think I will pick up some Wilder…

THE Little House on the Prairie

THE Little House on the Prairie

The Wilder Place

The Wilder Place

A Slightly Bigger Little House

A Slightly Bigger Little House

Busted Windmill

Busted Barn, Leaning Windmill, Twisted Cottonwoods

Lots of farm equipment stored on these plots. Usually, the family who owns and farms the land has built a more modern place elsewhere.

Lots of farm equipment stored on these plots. Usually, the family who owns and farms the land has built a more modern place elsewhere on their property.

Overgrown

Overgrown

One of the best gates I've ever seen!

One of the best gates I’ve ever seen!

Oklahoma Panhandle Farm

Oklahoma Panhandle Farm (click to enlarge)

Little House in the Desert. Just over the New Mexico state line.

Little House in the Desert. Just over the New Mexico state line.

Love ruins? Me too! Check out my previous posts Losing Middle AmericaCedarvale Ghost School and Tres Piedras Cabins.

About theblondecoyote

Mary Caperton Morton is a freelance science and travel writer with degrees in biology and geology and a master’s in science writing. A regular contributor to EARTH magazine, where her favorite beat is the Travels in Geology column, she has also written for the anthologies Best Women's Travel Writing 2010 and Best Travel Writing 2011. Mary is currently based in Big Sky, Montana. When she’s not at the computer she can usually be found outside -- hiking, skiing, climbing mountains and taking photographs. Visit her website at www.marycapertonmorton.com.
This entry was posted in Bowie & D.O.G., New Mexico, Photography, Road tripping!, Sustainable Living, Teardrop Trailer, Uncategorized, Vagabonding 101. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Little Houses on the Prairie

  1. amberlife says:

    When we were kids growing up in Ireland, there were some runins down the fields that dated from famine times. There wasn’t much left of the walls and things, but a wonderful Damson orchard had survived and I remember my Mother making Damson jam with our pickings. We always picked a few wild flowers from the gardens too. Happy days :0) I have always wanted to see the ‘boring’ bits of the US like these. One day. One day!

  2. The abandoned houses and their potential backstories are fascinating. Good post!

  3. Barneysday says:

    Do you ever explore the insides of these abandoned homes and barns? I would bet there might be some interesting objects to be discovered. That’s what I used to do as a kid exploring old farms back in New England. Found some very interesting objects over the years.

    Great post

  4. I have always had the same fascination and attraction to old abandoned buildings…they carry such a tangible sense of the lives lived there and the secrets they hold…

  5. Craig M says:

    A great program to watch about the area and people that lived there was made by Ken Burns. Lots of great interviews from people who lived in the KS,TX,OK,NM during that time and lived in houses like the ones youv’e pictured.

    http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/dustbowl/

  6. beeseeker says:

    I especially love the photo of the gate – as always you have a good eye for the right photos and add just the right timbre of information.

  7. Julie says:

    Ah, I can smell the mustiness! What is it about these forlorn places that draws us in? Thank you for sharing these beautiful photos. I enjoy your blog so much.

  8. forkinriver says:

    That gate is awesome. Someone put a lot of love into crafting that. I guess that’s what makes this post somewhat tragic. Fast-forward 90 years. What will that gate look like? Will the owners be gone, the farm in disarray, and the gate hanging off its hinges? Like those dilapidated prairie houses crumbling in the sun. Surreal to think of how much blood, sweat, and tears went into keeping those places going before they were abandoned.

  9. Kerry K says:

    I recommend this book, “Whose Names Are Unknown” by Sonora Babb…written by a woman affected by the Dust Bowl in the 1930’s it was rejected by her publisher because the Grapes of Wrath had just come out. It is incredible. (http://www.amazon.com/Whose-Names-Are-Sanora-Babb/dp/0806137126/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1363965624&sr=1-1&keywords=whose+names+are+unknown)

  10. azsoap says:

    Reblogged this on AZ SOAP and commented:
    One of my favorite blogs, she inspires me to make a road trip.

  11. Your photo, titled “Tall Grass Farm” reminds me of a painting by Andrew Wyeth titled “Christina’s World”. Are you familiar with it? Welcome to New Mexico! I live in Silver City and if you’re in the area, I’d love to meet you!

    • Hey Linda, You won’t believe this, but I’m working on a post right now about Pemaquid Point in Maine, and I included a couple of shots of the Olson House in Cushing, which was Wyeth’s model for the farmhouse in Christina’s World. Weird! I don’t have plans to go that far south in New Mexico this spring, but I’d love get back down to the Gila sometime! Maybe next winter? I’ll look you up when I do. Thanks for reading! M

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