For 20 years, it was the TV show the brought wild west into your living room. Gunsmoke was set in the rough-and-tumble town of Dodge City, Kansas. Today it still draws people from all over the world who want to learn more about those gunfighting days, including News 9's Karl Torp and his family.
About halfway there though is an Oklahoma destination that feels 7,000 miles away.
“If you’ve never gotten here, you have to at least come once,” said Little Sahara State Park manager Greg Grimsley.
If you built it, you can bring it to the 30-foot tall sand dunes of Little Sahara State Park.
“We have 8 year-olds with their dad. Last week was Spring Break. We had an 81-year-old who built his own buggy,” said Grimsley.
Even without wheels, the 1,600 acres are can feel like a desert paradise. It was the perfect pit stop for us before hitting the road again and getting the heck into Dodge for a needed dinner and drink.
“We are more focused on entertainment and a nice weekend out of town,” said Dodge City Brewing Company owner Larry Cook.
A city ordinance required Dodge City Brewing to sell food when it first opened. The rule is no longer, but the specialty pizzas remain just as popular as the beer.
Up the hill is the Boot Hill Distillery. It’s western Kansas’s only distillery and practices what it calls "seed to sip."
“We raise the crop, harvest the crop, store it, mash it and turn it into whiskey,” said founder Hayes Kelman.
In a building from 1929 that was built on the Boot Hill Cemetery and once housed the Dodge City Fire and Police Departments, the whiskey is now barreled and bottled. Vodka and other spirits are also made in this restored space, as is the concoction for sale in a famous picture of Dodge City from the 1880s. From heartache to heartbreak, Prickly Ash Bitters was sold as a cure-all.
“If you could imagine the guy going town-to-town peddling snake oil, that's what Priickly Ash Bitters was,” said Lee Griffith.
A year's worth of a research and an actual sample of the original recipe provided the modern whiskey makers with a blueprint.
“There were a few ingredients you couldn't include because they are not allowed to ingest anymore," Griffith said.
Prickly Ash Bitters is enjoyed now a digestif.
Dodge City was actually built on a bedrock of booze as we all learned on a trolley tour that's offered during the spring and summer.
Before Dodge City, Fort Dodge was established to protect those on the Santa Fe Trail.
“That spring, our soldiers here got bored, and when they got bored they drank a lot of whisky and got in trouble,” said Assistant Director of the Boot Hill Museum Lynn Johnson.
So, liquor was banned at the fort, and Dodge City popped up five miles away almost overnight in 1872.
“We had a permanent population in the day of 200 people, but there were 16 bars,” said Johnson.
Gambling, brothels and the railroad soon followed.
Each year, tens of thousands of visitors come to walk the same streets as Dodge City's famous gunslingers.
Doc Holiday came to Dodge. He was actually a dentist.
Wyatt Earp's statue is just like his spirit in Dodge, larger than life -- and that handlebar mustache is everywhere.
“It was his idea that there wouldn’t be any guns north of the tracks, and he really cleaned up the town,” said Johnson.
All that history had us hungry, and this cowtown makes a great steak. The kids loved the ice cream, too.
There's shopping downtown and at a western wear staple. We don outfits that would make those once buried on Boot Hill turn in their shallow graves.
“It got the name 'Boot Hill' because as the top of the soil would wash away, you could see their boots sticking out of the ground,” said Johnson.
This new $6 million Boot Hill Museum expansion, including many interactive exhibits, just opened and takes you back to those early frontier days.
In a replica of Front Street, visitors can learn to mosey and do the Can-Can, and kids can even get deputized. It may be necessary around these parts. Even 150 years later, you can't come to the meanest city in the wild west and not expect a fight to break out. Because one does every day between Memorial Day and Labor Day at the Boot Hill Museum -- the way the West settled how it did in Dodge in the late 1800s.
With cold steel.
And with that, it was time to get out of Dodge.
The sun was setting on our time but not the cowboy way.