We left Independence, Missouri on Wednesday, the 15th of November. We got a fairly early start and planned to spend the night somewhere along I-70, but we weren’t sure where. Since we enjoyed the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum so much, we were considering stopping in Abilene, Kansas to visit Dwight D. Eisenhower’s. If we did stop in Abilene, we had a couple of nearby overnight options, including the Abilene Visitor Center, which allows overnight RV parking in their parking lot (we called to confirm). One thing we were certain of though, is we wanted to stop in Topeka to visit the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site.
In 1951, Thurgood Marshall, the then Chief Counsel for the NAACP, encouraged the Topeka branch of the NAACP to initiate a lawsuit against segregation in the Topeka Public Schools. While Kansas’ African American elementary students enjoyed better teachers and facilities than many other segregated areas throughout the country, they still suffered under “separate but equal.”
The Supreme Court’s 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision established the “separate but equal” doctrine that opened the doors for Jim Crow laws throughout the country. Thirteen black families in Topeka, each with students enrolled in one of four Topeka-area African American elementary schools (one of which is Monroe Elementary School where this NHS is located), would eventually file suit and challenge Plessy v. Ferguson. This case would eventually join four other lawsuits from around the country and would collectively be known as Brown v. Board of Education.
In 1954, the Supreme Court handed down a unanimous decision reaffirming the 14th Amendment and rejecting Plessy v. Ferguson. The Brown v. Board of Education decision gave life to the modern civil rights movement for African Americans and was the foundation for similar movements by other minority groups around the country and the world.
We spent about two hours touring the NHS exhibits, watching a fantastic video, and talking with Ranger Dexter, who took time out to explain the fundamental concepts of Equal and Equality…and did so in terms a 7-year-old (and a dim-witted 40-something) could understand. Ranger Dexter was another in a long line of passionate and dynamic National Park Rangers that have made our Big Big Trip so special. Exposing Owen to the historic lessons of places like Monroe Elementary School and the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site is one of the primary reasons that we’re on this Big Big Trip.
After lunch in the parking lot, we got back onto I-70 and continued our slow westward journey. With almost 550-miles to go before Denver, we discussed various overnight parking options and decided that we really weren’t feeling another Presidential Library (we definitely want to visit the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum, but we were starting to feel a little road weary and ready to get to Colorado). Also, we wanted to get closer to Colorado and make Thursday’s drive a little easier before we called it a day. We decided to push past Abilene and spend the night at an Army Corps of Engineers campground further west in Kansas.We arrived at Sylvan Lake Army Corps of Engineers campground just before nightfall and found a super-large pull-through site with 50amp electric that fit our needs. We paid our $5 and got settled in for a cold, star-filled evening. While we still had a 380-mile drive awaiting us the next morning, we slept soundly after being serenaded to sleep by a hyperactive pack of coyotes somewhere in the nearby hills.
We planned to spend a few days in Denver before heading up the mountains to Anna’s parents’ home, but without reservations we had a hard time finding a campsite. We managed to score two nights at Cherry Creek State Park, in the Denver suburb of Aurora and felt happy to get them. We spent our one full day in Denver shopping restocking cold weather clothes at REI (we didn’t have any real cold weather stuff) and hitting up the local Trader Joes. On a sunny Saturday morning, following a quick-moving, overnight snowstorm, we headed up I-70 to the Vail Valley.
We spent the next nine days moochdocking at the in-laws’, enjoying a wonderful Thanksgiving, and preparing for our final push to Oregon. On the Monday after Thanksgiving we hitched up and hit the road for Oregon.