About an hour east of the Colorado border, huddled
against Interstate 70 on the outskirts of the tiny
plains town of Oakley, Kansas, sits a massive
8,000-pound creature who broods with determined
solemnity over the western flatlands.
They call it the World's Largest Prairie Dog, and I
had no doubt that it was as my friend Trey and I
pulled off the road and gave in to our curiosity and
sense of the ridiculous.
We were en route to Colorado Springs, Trey to "see
about a girl," me going along for the ride. It was a
scorchingly hot Saturday in early August, and we had
set out from Kansas City, Missouri about seven hours
earlier on our great trek westward across the
Sunflower State. We were making pretty good time,
given that we had stopped at every Stuckey's
restaurant along the way (four in all), but morale was
sagging as the never-ending landscape of wheat fields
and tallgrass prairie was beginning to take its toll.
And then, we saw the sign:
"Visit Prairie Dog Town, home of 'Roscoe' the
Miniature Donkey. See the six-legged live steer.
Petting zoo. All services, 20 miles."
Trey and I sensed that we were on the verge of
something truly extraordinary, and decided to make a
pilgrimage to see what all the fuss was about.
Not that we were naive, of course. After all, we were
seasoned travelers of the nation's highways, veterans
of far too many tourist traps to count. Several places
had already claimed our entertainment dollar:
Carhenge, the World's Largest Ball of Twine,
Monticello. But here, in the unlikeliest of places,
was something that promised a taste of the sublime, a
real slice of Americana in an untouched oasis far from
the concerns of the everyday world.
Besides, we were almost out of gas.
As we stepped into Prairie Dog Town, a steal at
$3.50, we were instantly greeted by about thirty
miniature goats, who were evidently used to the heavy
tourist traffic generated by the place and who thought
we had something for them to eat (bags of "goat food"
were available at the gift shop for fifty cents).
As we ambled across the grounds, we saw the promised
six-legged live steer and the charismatic Roscoe, who
seemed none too amused by the 100-degree weather. We
were also entertained by the extensive petting zoo,
which featured a pot-bellied pig and several geese.
Our greatest excitement, though, was unquestionably
reserved for the attraction that received top billing:
The World's Largest Prairie Dog.
If you've never been to Oakley, it can be difficult
to understand just how massive this thing is. Rising
majestically from the Kansas soil to an almost
incomprehensible height of fifteen feet, the four-ton
Dog is a monument to human creativity, recalling all
the grandeur of the Seven Wonders of the World.
It is an awesome sight, and I could tell that Trey
was experiencing the same feelings of awe and
reverence as I was.
"It's pretty big," said Trey.
We just stared at it for a few minutes in all of its
glory. The Dog faces west, and its visage was just now
catching the light from the afternoon sun.
Beautiful in its simplicity, the statue stoically
looks out over the surrounding fields, perched on its
hind legs in the manner of real prairie dogs. It casts
a rather imposing shadow over the town, which,
incidentally, is home to many actual, living prairie
dogs, who occasionally come out from their holes to
look skeptically at the throngs of tourists.
"Get next to it for a picture," I told Trey.
My friend obliged, and after we had wasted about half
a roll each photographing the beast from several
different angles, we decided that we had finally had
We slowly made our way back through the grounds to
the gift shop, where we picked up some literature
about Prairie Dog Town and a commemorative shot glass
($1.99) with a stylized prairie dog on the front. Trey
also bought some post cards, which proudly boasted a
tradition of "fun for the entire family since 1973."
We saw a lot of things on that road trip, not the
least of which was Pike's Peak and the Garden of the
Gods. But for my money, nothing will ever quite
compare to Prairie Dog Town, a place where a
road-weary traveler can find a friendly smile, a bite
to eat and--most importantly--the biggest freakin'
prairie dog on the face of the earth.
Just be careful when you're around Roscoe.