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A 24-Hour Stop in Dodge City.

Westbound out of Chicago on the Southwest Chief about a dozen years ago, I awoke on the first morning and peered out the window to find that we were stopped in Dodge City, Kansas. Five minutes later, the conductor called “All Aboard!” and as we gathered speed, we passed a hand-painted wooden sign that said “BOOT HILL” . I jotted something about it in my notebook.

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Three years later, I was reviewing those same notes while planning another trip and it occurred to me that Dodge City could be worth a brief visit: get off Tuesday morning’s train, spend the day seeing whatever Dodge City has to offer, then get back on Wednesday’s train and continue on to L.A.

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And that’s how I booked it. At the conclusion of the Rail Passengers meeting in Washington, I took the Capitol Limited to Chicago, and the next afternoon boarded Amtrak’s Train #3, the Southwest Chief.

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The sun was barely up the following morning at 5:20 a.m. when the Chief came to a stop in Dodge City. I stepped off and was greeted by Kurt, owner of the Boot Hill Bed & Breakfast, who drove me the short distance to his charming  home. I was taken upstairs to the spacious Wyatt Earp Suite and, after freshening up a bit, I enjoyed an incredible breakfast prepared by Kurt’s wife, Enid.

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The day was spent by a visit to the Boot Hill cemetery, followed by a tour of the town’s very interesting museum and a reproduction of Dodge’s old Main Street.  (The hit TV show, Gunsmoke, starring actor James Arness as Sheriff Matt Dillon, was supposedly filmed in Dodge City. In fact, the show was always shot on a Hollywood set.) 

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After a luxurious afternoon nap, I enjoyed a  wonderful steak dinner at a local restaurant. Back at the B&B, I found Kurt and Enid chatting with two other guests, also visitors. I joined them and we spent a very enjoyable couple of hours, sipping an excellent Scotch whisky and solving many of the world’s problems.

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I was up before dawn the next morning and found Kurt waiting to drive me the short distance to the railway station.  The Chief arrived at 5:30, about 15 minutes behind schedule. An hour later, I was having breakfast in the dining car and feeling very pleased with how it had worked out. 

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My total rail fare had increased somewhat by splitting the overall trip into two segments, but it turned out to be the perfect way to see a slice of authentic Americana. 

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And of course there are other, interesting small towns served by one of Amtrak’s long-distance trains where a 24-hour “power visit” would make sense. Glenwood Springs is certainly one possibility, and Alpine, Texas, will be on the list as soon as the Sunset Limited becomes a daily train. 

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And so, as of today, I’m taking suggestions of small towns that (1) are located on one of Amtrak’s long-distance routes, and (2) offer something unusual or interesting that would attract tourists for a 24-hour stay. I’ll publish the results here. Thanks!

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