One of the most notorious places on the Wild West frontier, Dodge City (pop. 21,129) can be something of a disappointment if you come here looking for a rip-roaring frontier town. In its heyday, which lasted roughly from 1872, when the railroad arrived, to 1884, when the cattle drives were effectively banned, Dodge City was the undisputed capital of the buffalo-hunting, cattle-driving Wild West, with as many as 100 million bison hides and seven million head of cattle shipped out from here in that decade alone. At the same time, Dodge City was known as "Hell on the Plains," famous for its gunfights and general lawlessness, despite marshals like Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp keeping order and planting bad guys in the Boot Hill cemetery above town.
However, almost nothing in Dodge City survives from that era. Boot Hill, for example, was bought by the city and is now the site of a small office building. Most of what you see dates from the 1920s at the earliest. Dodge City is still a busy farming and cattle-ranching community, with extensive stockyards and slaughterhouses surrounding the small downtown area, but for travelers there's little here apart from one of the Midwest's tackier tourist traps, the fake but fun Boot Hill Museum (8am-8pm daily in summer, shorter hours rest of year; $6) and its re-created Front Street, where actors stage gunfights and "medicine shows" throughout the day; there's also an evening burlesque show, featuring "Miss Kitty and her Can Can Girls." Not surprisingly, Boot Hill is hard to miss, well marked on the west side of town, just north of the railroad tracks off Wyatt Earp Boulevard (US-50/56), the main route through town.
Across the street from Boot Hill stands the Kansas Teachers' Hall of Fame (11am-3pm Sun; free), with plaques and a wax museum remembering contributions to education in the state. (Yes, it is the first and only such place in the U.S.) Wyatt Earp Boulevard (US-50) also holds most of Dodge City's eating options, as well as large and popular Econolodge and Super 8 motels.
West of Dodge City, the highway runs right on top of the historic Santa Fe Trail. One of the best preserved sections of trail ruts is nine miles west of Dodge City, just past the Howell grain elevator. Marked by a large sign, the ruts lie in a rollingfield 100 yards north of the parking area and are basically a broad depression in the soil, approximately 800 yards wide and two miles long.
Paralleling the mainline Santa Fe Railroad across 50 miles of the flattest, emptiest 50 miles of Kansas cornfields, east of Dodge City we follow US-50 as far as Kinsley, where we switch onto US-56 (old US-50) to follow along the Santa Fe Trail.
** Marginal comment: Dodge City sits atop the 100th Meridian, long considered the dividing line between East and West. It's also the approximate midpoint of the coast-to-coast journey.