Grit Blogs > The Open Book

Monarchs of the Great Plains

By Jean Teller, Sr. Assoc. Editor

Tags: driving, trip, travel, highway, wind, turbine, energy,

My major concession to higher gas prices has been to set the cruise control to 70. Yes, I know, but it’s slower for me – just ask anyone.The new monarch of the plains - a behemoth of a wind turbine.

Anyway, I’ve managed to squeeze out a few extra mpg for my Geo Prizm – nothing major, but every little bit helps, right? The slowdown, however, has had another positive effect – I’m paying more attention to the scenery. It seems a bit easier to glance to the left or the right, to really see the countryside I’m traveling through, when my car is moving a bit slower than the rest of the traffic.

This was very noticeable on my last two trips west. The homeplace is about 3 1/2 hours from where I currently live, and it’s a relatively easy drive on the interstate. So I head west in the late afternoon, and before the sun becomes too much of a problem, I keep one eye on the road and the other on the view.

The Kansas terrain changes significantly around Salina along I-70. The trees, shrubs and rolling Flint Hills give way to my Kansas. I prefer wide open spaces and the ability to see to a horizon where the landscape tinges blue. I can finally breathe.

For other views of the Great Plains, visit the other GRIT blogs, include K.C.’s Waking Up in Kansas and Kate’s Osage County Almanac.

Wind turbines and the Kansas prairie, a perfect combination.

About 25 miles west of Salina, a new sight has appeared in recent months. Rising from the prairie is a forest of wind turbines, gleaming white and silver above the green and gold land. Fifty-six of the turbines have gone on-line, producing enough power for 37,000 Kansas homes each year. From what I read, there will be 120 to 170 on-line when the project – the Smoky Hills Wind Farm – is completed. The project spans 26,000 acres and involves 120 landowners.Wind turbines soar above a Kansas wheat field.

The turbines spread along several miles, spanning the Ellsworth and Lincoln county line – it’s difficult to count as you drive past, so I’m not sure if all of them are finished. A few are close enough that I think I can reach out to touch them.

It’s an awesome sight.

And it’s even better when the blades gently swoosh through the Kansas wind, allowing the bright sunshine to cast graceful shadows on pasture and wheat fields. The farmers and ranchers are still utilizing the land, right up to the base of the giants, and one can see wheat stalks and cattle grazing even from the highway.

For me, the only sad part of the sight is the number of blades that are still – though I understand that will change by the end of the year, when the entire project is scheduled to be in operation.

When that happens, I will happily drive slowly past these behemoths, the new monarchs of the plains, watching the huge blades whipping in the prairie breeze. It’s guaranteed to bring a smile to my face – the gorgeous, awe-inspiring giants adding to the delight of my favorite Kansas scenery and offering a wonderful, renewable energy source for our struggling Earth.

If you’d like to learn more about wind energy, visit the American Wind Energy Association, the U.S. Department of Energy’s site on renewable energy, or the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s site.