The Geographic Center of the 48 States

It was another sunny morning and, after I got up and rolled out of my truck, I spent a little time wandering around Prairie Dog State Park, mostly checking out the prairie dogs.  Then I got back onto Highway 36 and continued eastward.  The rolling hills of north-central Kansas were beautiful and the weather was just perfect on this fine morning.

 
 
Above:  I drove across north-central Kansas until I reached the small town of Lebanon, where I visited the geographic center of the 48 states. From there I drove north into Nebraska, then west across the Sand Hills. I camped that night at Bessey campground, which was literally the noisiest place I'd ever camped in my life.  But it was pretty.

 

A few hours later, I reached my main destination for that day:  Lebanon, Kansas.  Why Lebanon, you might ask?  This town is not just one of about 30 places in the U.S. named “Lebanon,” but more importantly for this extreme geographer, it’s the geographic center of the contiguous United States.  In fact, between 1912 (when Arizona was admitted to the Union) and 1959 (when Alaska and Hawaii were admitted), Lebanon, Kansas was the geographic center of the entire United States.  I’m guessing that the folks in this tiny community weren’t too thrilled when Alaska became the 49th state, but I’m sure they got over it.  That’s the way folks in Kansas are.

There really isn’t much happening in Lebanon.  It’s a quiet, little community, but judging from the numerous signs around town about the geographic center, they’re obviously proud of their location.  Well, the actual geographic center of the 48 states is a few miles to the north and west of Lebanon, so after cruising through “downtown” Lebanon, I got back on U.S. Highway 281 and drove out there.  There are signs marking the way, so it’s easy to find. 

The Geographic Center site is a nice little park about a quarter-acre in size surrounded on all sides by farmland, and there wasn’t anyone there when I pulled up.  The park has a nice gazebo with old newspaper stories posted about Lebanon being the geographic center, some picnic tables and even a little chapel.  And, of course, there’s the monument itself, a pyramid-shaped stone marker with a U.S. flag.  The park was very well kept, in a typical Midwest way, and was quite impressive, and I took several pictures, including a panorama photo.  Again, it was obvious to me that the people here were very proud of their geographic heritage.

After 20 minutes, a fellow drove up and got out of his car, and we started talking.  He was in his early 40’s, I guessed, said he was from Alabama and, like me, was interested in geographic landmarks.  He’d spent the previous week traveling around the Midwest while visiting all kinds of interesting geographic sites and, like me, was bound for Belle Fourche, South Dakota, which is the geographic center of the 50 states.  We had a nice chat and I gave him one of my travel cards.

I stayed here for over an hour, admiring the work the fine people of Lebanon had done to mark their place in the world, and I left one of my travel cards in the suggestion box.  Well done, Lebanon!

Across the Sand Hills

I got back in the truck and continued north on U.S. 281, crossing into Nebraska and passing through the city of Red Cloud, home of pioneer author Willa Cather, who moved here in 1884 at age nine.  I continued northward through Hastings and Grand Island, where I turned west and followed Highway 2 in the afternoon, passing through the town of Broken Bow, located in the Sand Hills region of Nebraska. 

I’d visited Broken Bow once before, back in 1984 when I stopped here overnight while heading east from Portland to Madison, Wisconsin during spring break from the University of Wisconsin.  I spent the night in Broken Bow with a college friend, Cindy, who was staying here at her grandmother’s house during spring break.  Grandma, Cindy and I watched “Hill Street Blues” (Cindy’s favorite show then), and the next morning her Grandma fixed us some eggs, then Cindy and I were off in my 1969 Ford Mustang, headed back to Madison.  The only thing I really remember about Broken Bow from that visit 33 years ago (other than Grandma’s fried eggs) was the nice city park, which is still pretty much the same.

An hour later, around 6 p.m., I pulled into a U.S. Forest Service campground near the small town of Halsey and found a nice campsite.  The campground was on the south bank of the beautiful Middle Loup River, shallow-and-wide in typical Sand Hills fashion and with crystal-clear water that quietly gurgled as it flowed by.  As I quickly learned, though, because this campground was in the Sand Hills of central Nebraska, it was a haven for ATV enthusiasts, who loved riding their three-wheelers and quads around-and-around-and-around the campground before heading up to the nearby sand dunes. It was a Saturday and it seemed as if every ATV'er in Nebraska was at this campground this particular weekend.

To add to the fun, the campground was right next to a set of railroad tracks and a train rumbled by literally every 20 minutes, like clockwork, all night. I felt the ground tremble every time a train went by, usually doing about 50 mph.  Now, I’ve camped at hundreds of places over the past 50 years and between the ATVs and the frequent trains, this campground was, quite literally, the noisiest place I’ve ever stayed.  But it was in a beautiful area, so I rolled with the punches as I sat there eating dinner – then put in the earplugs before I went to bed.

Northern Kansas to Central Nebraska