Kansas (Finally!)

At last I’m getting to redo our entry for Kansas. Better late than never! I hope that reading it out of order won’t be too confusing.

September 5, 2010

We left Dadeville, MO on a beautiful day. It would have been a perfect kayaking day. Our drive to Emporia, KS was to be only 4 hours. We took our time in the morning by taking the beach chairs and coffee down to the lake. This gave Opal some off leash time that she greatly appreciated.

On the road, we headed west  staying on US 60 through southeastern MO. This is mostly farm country. We passed through many small towns. One that I remember was Yates Center. You hardly knew you were there before you were leaving. They proudly had a sign declaring themselves Hay Capital of the World. Not just he US mind you but the World! As with most of our trips, I find something worth stopping to see. In this case, it was Fort Scott.

Fort Scott is just over the MO/KS border. It is a National Historic Site. We started at the Visitor’s Center for an addition to our vest pin collection and some information. Then we took the self-guided tour. Fort Scott is different from many of the western forts in that it was built to be a permanent post and resembles eastern army forts more than the temporary outposts of the West. It was built in 1842 to serve as an infantry and dragoon fort on what was to be the permanent western frontier. Dragoons were the elite soldiers who fought both on foot and on horseback. Originally, it was to keep peace between the white settlements and the Indian Territory. As settlers flocked to the West, the fort provided protection to wagon trains on the Oregon Trail. The troops also left to fight on 2 fronts in the Mexican-American War 1846-48. During the era known as “Bloody Kansas” when pro and anti slavery forces were fighting each other, the fort served as a conference center.  By 1855, the westward migration made this fort obsolete and it was sold thus creating the town of Fort Scott. During the Civil War, the Union army once again occupied the fort. There were many small battles in the area. The last era for the fort was during the railroad expansion years until 1873 when unrest between squatters and the railroad occurred. We spent about 2 hours here talking with docents and seeing what life on a prairie fort was like.

Kayaks In A Hay Field

Back on the road, we turned north and then west again to Emporia, KS. Emporia is in central eastern Kansas. We arrived about 5P to find gale force winds of 45-50mph gusting steadily. We opted not to set up the awning for fear it would tear off. This was the first time that weather had forced us indoors for dinner. As it turned out, the winds blew until the morning of Sept. 7.

Midwest Sunset

September 6, 2010

Those of you who know how soundly I sleep will appreciate this story. We haven’t been letting Opal sleep with us as we do at home because RV beds are shorter. I awoke to find her on the bed and wondered why. “What’s Opal doing up on the bed?” I asked sleepily. “You didn’t hear all the racket last night? The wind had the blinds clattering and Opal was terrified. She was huddled on the floor by my side of the bed. It was cold too. I told her to come up on the bed” said Steve. “No… no, I didn’t hear a thing.” He just shook his head.

Our main reason for coming through Emporia was to see the Tall Grass Prairie Reserve and to drive the Flint Hills Scenic Byway. This former Kansas Byway is a recent addition to the National Scenic Byways. The Byway runs both north and south from where US 50 where we were staying and the byway intersect. At first we turned south to Cottonwood Falls to see the famous Courthouse. Built in 1882, this courthouse is the oldest courthouse still in use today. It was a very photographic building. I also couldn’t resist taking a photo of this small town on a weekday morning with no traffic at all.

Cottonwood Falls Courthouse

Then we turned north to the TGPP. This is a NPS site jointly run by the Park Service and the Nature Conservancy. An old barn serves as the Visitor’s Center and the original farmhouse is the store. The majority of this property has never been plowed and serves as one of the largest plots of original prairie just as the pioneers would have seen it. We started on a hike for about 1 mile but this section looked more like regular pastureland. It was also 95 degrees and the wind continued to blow at 45-50 MPH. We drove over to a one room school house and here we found the prairie we were looking to see. The docent at the school was very interesting. She told us that the current floor was the third one and that it had come from the childhood bedroom of Ulysses S. Grant. Although smaller, it did remind me of the Reynolds school I attended for half of 2nd grade and all of third grade. As I took a picture, through the curtained window, I wondered how many daydreaming children had looked out that window.

Just Dreaming....

Prairie Schoolhouse


Tall Grass Prairi

Next we continued north on the Flint Hill Scenic Byway toward Council Grove, KS stopping often to photograph sunflowers and scenic spots. Our destination Council Grove Lake which is a Corps of Engineers lake with campgrounds. Both the lake and the campgrounds were wonderful. If we ever come this way again, I’m sure we would stay here. As we drove through Council Grove, Steve made note of the newspaper office on Main Street with the door wide open on a late summer day. He said it was right out of the 1940’s, a Norman Rockwell moment. We’d hoped to return to the school for some sunset shots but a looming thunderstorm told us we’d better head back to the trailer. When we got back, our towels had blown off the line and the clothespins were still there! Fortunately, the trailer blocked the wind from scattering them all over. Otherwise, it would be Wal-Mart here we come! Less than an hour later the rain came in torrents. We tried to get TV working but could only get two channels.

It's the Sunflower State

Along the Flint Hills Byway

...and More Sunflowers

September 7, 2010

Up and moving on to north central Kansas this morning. Our destination is Wilson Lake State Park, just north of I 70 on KS 232. KS 232 is a Kansas Scenic Byway known as the Post Rock Byway. There are beautiful rolling hills here called the Smoky Hills. Not at all what I thought Kansas would look like. The road gets it’s name from the Greencastle limestone layer that covers this area. When the pioneers first arrived there was little wood for building. They discovered that when first quarried, the limestone could easily be cut with a saw. After exposure to the atmosphere, it hardened and resisted weathering. the limestone was used for homes, barns, silos and fence posts. Many of the fence posts still in use today are the same ones cut over 100 years ago. That’s what I need. I’ve replaced 2 sets of fence posts in 13 years!

Steve and Opal at Wilson Lake Campsite

Kansas Countryside

Post Rock Fenceposts

Wilson Lake is a large recreational lake and today was a beautiful, windless day for kayaking. Unfortunately, by the time we got set up, it was too late to do anything today. As it would turn out, the boats never did get into the water. We’d come to this area to see a wildlife refuge called Cheyenne Bottoms. This is a major stop on the central flyway for bird migration. I’d read in one place that the sandhill cranes come through about this time. This was in error. They come mid-October to November. We drove the 30 miles to Cheyenne Bottoms. What a beautiful spot! The drive through there is part of another Kansas Scenic Byway called the Wetlands and Wildlife Scenic Byway. Definitely not what I pictured Kansas to be. We saw some turkeys, some egrets and I think one crane but not sure what type. The sunset was beautiful. I’m hoping a few pics turn out well. Dinner was late and we opted for Pizza Hut. While there, our server upon finding out we were from NC asked “Have you been to Cherokee? I’m Cherokee.” He told us where the Cheyenne Bottoms Visitor’s Center was and about a two story observation tower.

Cheyenne Bottoms Sunset

Sunset Over Wetlands

Why Did the Wild Turkey Cross the Road?

Egrets at Cheyenne Bottoms

Oh, the day wasn’t over yet. We got back to the trailer and Steve realized he’d lost the trailer keys. Fortunately, I carry spare keys for both the trailer and the car. we knew we’d have to try to get replacements. Traveling for another 8 weeks with only 1 set of keys didn’t set well.

September 8, 2010

After breakfast we headed to the town of Russell to see if we could get replacement keys. Steve got some made at a lumberyard but wasn’t confident that they would work. We needed to go through the town of Great Bend to get to the Cheyenne Bottoms Visitor’s Center. Along the way we saw a RV dealer and stopped. They had the key blanks but did not cut keys there. They referred us to a True Value store about 10 miles back. We did get keys made and felt much more confident. The Cheyenne Bottoms Visitor’s Center is very nice and run by the Nature Conservancy.  We decided to also visit Quivira Wildlife Refuge. This is 35 miles south of Cheyenne Bottoms. The two refuges are very different from one another. The water in Cheyenne Bottoms is fresh water while that at Quivira is salty. Salt leaches into the water from salt marsh in the soil. Different species of birds are attracted here. It was very quiet when we visited but along the approximately 1 mile trail we saw turkeys, ducks, hundreds of dragonflies and a frog. As we were driving out of the refuge, we saw a coyote.

We got back to the trailer and the new keys worked!

Dragonfly at Quivira NWR

Frog Swimming in Wetlands at Quivira NWR
















Wildflower at Quivira NWR








September 9, 2010

We awoke to the first overcast and misty day we’d had. It was not going to be a kayaking day. We went to Plan B. Sometimes what you don’t plan is better than what you do plan. This would be one of those days and one of the funniest days of the trip.

How do you attract people to come visit a small town (pop. 450) in central Kansas? You’re about to find out. I’d picked up a brochure (imagine that) about things to do near Wilson Lake. It mentioned some attractions in Lucas, KS which was 8 miles north of Wilson Lake. The first one was called Garden of Eden.  It is on the National Register of Historical Landmarks and a finalist in the 8 Wonders of Kansas. For $6 you can take a tour. Samuel P. Dinsmoor was a former Civil War nurse, farmer and teacher. He was also an outspoken member of the Populist Party. After he retired in 1907 and for the next 20 years he worked on the home and surrounding garden. He built the home to be a tourist attraction. That should tell you something. The home was made from the local post rock and built to look like a log cabin. That part’s OK. Then he started building cement sculptures as a fence and later as free standing sculptures. These were large and not very attractive sculptures. He started with Adam and Eve then branched out into local figures and political items. Later he built a mausoleum on the property for his wife and himself. He must have had a bit of .P T. Barnum in him. The story goes that when his wife died he wanted to bury her in the mausoleum but the city prevented it and she was buried in the town cemetery. Mr. Dinsmoor dug up her coffin, brought it back to the mausoleum and encased it in cement. The cement dried before the town was aware. He later remarried when he was 81 and his wife was 20! He fathered 2 children. Both are still alive and in their 80’s. His son is the only surviving son of a Civil War veteran. It doesn’t end there. He built his own coffin which had a glass top. Mr. Dinsmoor died at age 89. At the end of the tour and with great respect, the guide takes you into the mausoleum and shines a flashlight down onto Dinsmoor’s mummified remains! We couldn’t get out of there fast enough! We held in our laughter until we were outside the gate.

Our next stop was to have been (read carefully) The Biggest Collection of the Smallest Versions of the World’s Largest Things. Unfortunately, the artist was out of town. We were told that she visits the real largest thing (for example, World’s Largest Ball of Twine) then comes home and makes the miniature then returns to the site and takes a picture of both of them. This collection is housed in an old school bus.

Oh, there’s more. We stopped into the Flying Pig Studio where we were met by an aging barefoot hippie who is a porcelain artist. The studio is an old Chevrolet dealership. He and Steve spent some time talking about the 1930s kitchen. The front of the gallery had an exhibit of local talent. One piece was a quilt about a former exhibit called the Ugly Lamp Contest. Eric, the artist said “I brought in my ugly lamp”. Believe me it was! The gallery is being expanded to include some public restrooms. For now, the future mosaic toilet and mirror and other things that will grace this space are sitting outside the building in an area called the Bowl Gallery. Next to this is an exhibit of American Fork Art. At this point, Steve’s eyes were glazing over but there’s more.

Down the block is the Grassroots Art Gallery. For $5 we took the guided tour. A grassroots artist we learned is someone who has no formal training in art, who often starts later in life and who uses whatever materials they can find. There were a few that weren’t too bad like the carved wood spirits or the miniature dioramas. Some were humorous like the pull top (old style that had the tab attached) car and motorcycle that used over 800,000 pull tabs. In the courtyard was a display of various uses of the local post rock for buildings. This was actually well done. Most exhibits were just ghastly collections of stuff that looked like a nursery school class had put them together from yard sale cast offs. At this point Steve was well beyond his capacity for weird. We were ready to leave when one of the local artists came in with another local and said “Take them to my gallery. It’s the garden of Isis”.

Before we could beg off, we were being escorted down the middle of Main Street to this woman’s house. A bit of history first. The house originally belonged to one of our guide’s  teachers. She would visit a historic site and come home and make what she called a postcard for her garden. The small backyard was filled with not so good reproductions of Capital Reef, Mount Rushmore etc. She died at 99. The home was then purchased by it’s current owner who is a former NY TV producer and photographer. She has created what she calls Re-Barbs. Can you guess what they are? Yup. Old Barbie dolls dressed in every concoction or parts of dolls used in collages. There was even a Crossdressing Ken in a tutu and wig! The walls of the house are covered floor to ceiling with silver foil and hundreds of these Re-Barbs. Our guide told us he’d had a group of 24 old folks on a tour the day before. I could just imagine a busload from the local nursing home trying to make sense of this!

We finally left Lucas with 2 thoughts: people in Lucas seem to live a long time and people in Lucas are nuts!

Being in need of some sane human contact, we made a quick visit to Fort Hays which had been an army fort where Custer’s regiment had been stationed.

Steve’s hoping we won’t have to go back to Kansas for a long time.


About vagabondpress

Recently retired and "hitting the road". Hobbies include travel, nature photography, kayaking, hiking, good food and good friends.
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One Response to Kansas (Finally!)

  1. Pingback: 2010 in review | The Vagabond Press Blog

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