I suspect that many have heard or have even thought to themselves; “What is there to see in such a monotonous and flat state, like Kansas?” In some respects, they might be partially right, but wouldn’t the same be said about Colorado and Wyoming? States that often are remembered because of their mountainous areas and thus, overlooking the areas that actually are larger, by square miles, than Kansas and it’s flat lands? One of the things that I am thinking, as I am traveling around this great country of ours is: “Where are the farm fields to grow things?” And by this I mean the lands of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. As citizens of this country we are lucky to have this ability to grow so many “table foods” within Kansas and other “Plains States.” Also, Kansas is celebrating its Sesquicentennial in 2011! Just a mere 150 years ago, on January 29th, 1861, Kansas joined the Union. The state of Oregon had joined the Union just two years before and then, two years after Kansas joined the Union, West Virginia became a part of this country, too.
For full disclosure, I was born and raised (at least 17 years) in Kansas, but haven’t lived there for almost forty years. I might be a little biased in how I love this state, if you were not aware that I have spent those years away, ensconced in the Rocky Mountains. I am a true believer in that if you take some time to understand something; your appreciation might grow some. My attempt here, is to share some of the things that I have enjoyed over the last year, as I criss-crossed Kansas, on my numerous travels through this state. So I thought I would start 2011 with a second attempt at a Trip Report. As with my First Trip Report, this one is of Kansas and maybe present a view many might not have seen before.
We often have things from our past that have influenced us during the remainder of our lives and I am not much different. When I was in my teens, I started exploring Kansas by riding my bicycle around the state. To grab a cold respite, on these rides, I would keep my eyes out for Windmills.
For those of us, that are still riding bicycles, Kansas is celebrating its 37th year of a program known as; Bike across Kansas, or BAK, for short. They have upwards of 900 riders enjoying the two lane roads, as it’s riders criss cross the state. Even though the Kansas winds prevail from the south, as it is my memory the wind would change each direction I changed to. This seem to ensure that I had a "headwind" each direction I was pedaling. Funny how a child mind's remembers these things, or maybe it was a fact!
It seems my photo logs always seemed to be salted with Windmills. So let me express my apologies now, while I self indulge.
Ok, Maybe the use of a lens shrinks the sizes of Windmills, just a tad bit.
We are seeing these Wind Farms throughout the country; the most famous would be the Bakersfield, California/ Tehachapi Pass Wind Farm in California, as well as this Smokey Hills Wind Farm along I 70, in what is known as the; Blue Hills of Ellsworth County. The farm encompasses approximately 12,000 Acres, with expectations to expand to 20,000 Acres.
These monsters are held aloft by huge masts, manufactured in Texas and Colorado and transported to the various locations by truck;
No matter what your Opinions might be on these types of projects, they are providing a significant return in energy. Such as the Spearville Wind Farm, just a few miles east of Dodge City, Kansas on US 50 at Spearville, Kansas.
The the original settlers recognized that the power of the wind and by harnessing this energy it would provide a necessity that many of us now, take for granted. Another necessity was the natural water springs to water the beasts of burden and Iron Horses. These springs often dictated the direction that many of the original Trails West’ followed. To now search out some of these Springs’ Locations, provides some interesting locations to explore. Such as Alcove Springs, outside of Marysville, Kansas. This site is the location of one of the many stops of the doomed and infamous The Donner-Reed Party. At this location, one of the first members to perish, along their difficult journey, was Sarah Keys and was buried nearby. The location of this spring and many other important springs became well known to the western travelers, along these western routes;
You will find the typical Tourist recreations of an Old West Town and the actual Boot Hil,l is just a short walk up to the Hill, too. Directly across the street is a Railroad Depot, with a museum providing history of the cattle drives that would terminate in Dodge City, from as far away as Texas. The Railroad had a direct impact on the demise of these storied cattle drives, as the Iron Rails expanded further.
The fact that the 100th Meridian bisects Dodge City is an interesting fact and is commemorated here.
Along many of these routes, these pioneers often walked, rode horseback and if they were lucky, riding in Prairie Schooners seeking refuge in places, such as Fort Dodge, (GPS: 37.7320,-99.9358) just East of Dodge City.
While I was traveling in the backcountry of Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas, I encountered some trail signs for the Overland Butterfield Mail Route (that I photographed and posted below), and this caused me some confusion when I was following the Butterfield Overland Trail in Kansas. So when I looked into it I found that the only connection to the Overland Butterfield Despatch was in name only.
Wagon trains often used natural landmarks for helping their travels west and one of these natural landmarks can be found along the river tributaries feeding The Smokey Hill River watershed. There are many of these eroded sedimentary outcroppings, some of them along riverbeds which ironically make great boondocking locations. Just you the wide open spaces, stars at night and the rumblings of passing thunderstorms, that seem to punctuate the evening skies.
Many miles, to the East, are a much more famous Monument Rocks and some locals know it as Castle Rocks, just a few miles east of US 83, south of Oakley Kansas and I-70.
Continuing south, within a quarter of a mile, there is a stream and an old abandoned Kansas Homestead with occupants out and about. I stopped to invite them over for dinner that night. But, as often happens with me, they beat a quick retreat. Maybe it is my cooking or I might of let slip what I was planning on fixing that night;
For anyone looking for a more formal camping area, just south of this location is a small lake area with many campsite locations (utilities) and good fishing at Scott State Park GPS: 38.67943,-100.911996
One of my favorite hikes, in this area, in this wide open country was along the headwaters of the Smokey Hill River, a few miles South of Oakley Kansas, west of US 83, milepost 29. GPS: 38.850203,-100.981693
I didn’t have to go very far, before stumbling over some of the wild flowers that punctuate the open plains. They are for those that want to stop their speeding across this state to just to get out and smell the flowers, but be careful with what you might stick your nose into, remember what your mom told you about knowing when to mind your own business;
Common Sunflower - Helianthus annuus
Showy Chloris - Chloris virgata
Noxious weeds, that seemed to piggy back into the United States, like the irrepressible Tumble Weeds, came to this country mixed into the planting seeds of our grain sources from Europe more than 200 years ago, and we now have an abundance of non native species choking out many of the native plants;
Wavy-Leaf Thistle - Cirsium undulatum
Purple Poppy-Mallow - Callirhoe involucrate
Engelman’s Daisy - Engelmannia peristenia
Berlandier’s Flax - Linum berlandieri
There is an entire cycle of life that is very apparent within the plains and seeing the different parts and how they complement each other, is another wonder of the plains. Just like the fountain of life that exists in the “potholes” of the Canyonlands of Utah, Kansas has their own living microinvertraberts in the "pond waters." From these we get larvae and pupa or something I find so irritating, yep, the Mosquito. So when I see these crazy Barn Stormers and their Aerobatic maneuvers, I know something is in the works to minimize my discomfort, the Barn Swallow. Do you ever get the feeling you are being watched? Yep, they live up to their name and find many crevices to make their seasonal nests out of many dabs of mud. From these elevated locations, they farm the surrounding areas for the protein of various flying insects.
I have tried so very hard to photograph these birds and often to catch these Fighter Jets, of the Kansas Sky, and I only have this photo, for my efforts. These are amazing birds to watch, but be prepared to watch them like a tennis match, first this way and then that way, only to find another one to suddenly zoom into your view.
The fields of Kansas Prairie Flowers are often times, overwhelming. It would seem the plains throughout Oklahoma, Colorado, Nebraska and the Dakotas are often a wave of color during the spring and early summer. All you need to do is watch for them, as you tour these areas. Usually a good rainy summer, the previous season, is a good indicator that the wildflowers will be abundant the following season.
Indian Blanket Flower – Gaillardia pulchella
Royal Catchfly - Silene regia
Guarding these many vast acres are numerous gates to pass through and one morning I found an indicator why these vast plains remain so fertile, the morning dew that coats everything, including this gate spring one morning;
I found many wonderful remote boondocking locations throughout Western Kansas, and it might be hard to believe, but my rig didn’t have any issues in making it into some of these locations and settling in, for a few days.
During certain times of the year, it pays to be diligent watch on the horizon and passing clouds. This particular night became very important, when I was out one evening out on my motorcycle. I had been riding most of the day and kept watching the big Storm Cumulonimbus clouds building. I could see by the sheet rain ahead of me, it might be good to seek the shelter of an old barn ahead. I was lucky to ride into this barn, in time to miss a wave of wind and hail, only to witness the grand display of clouds that rewarded me afterwards. Such a panorama of contrasts on the great plains of the west.
Some might remember when I posted about my electrical system in my LANCE Camper Electrical Meltdown. This was when I was traveling through Kansas and it was really hot. Hot. Really hot. I can remember working wheat harvests, as a kid, and it would be some of the hottest days of the season. Now that a few years have gone by now, my truck camper can get pretty hot too.
During the summer months it can be exceptionally beautiful and with enjoyable temperatures too. Luckily for me, I have traveled through these times of the year too.
And then have the weather change dramatically, over a 24 hour period.
With my dog, Keiss, enjoying this bit of weather change too.
Personally, I have found it amazing, reading the many books and diaries of these brave individuals. To imagine that they often left loving families and thriving businesses and farms just to make a change. They often did this just to seek a new home in a new frontier. A frontier that was fraught with danger and sometimes murdering outlaws and raiding Indians. One of these routes was known as The Santa Fe Trail .
It was because of this important trade route, that the United States installed a system of US Calvary Forts along these routes. One of these important fortifications was Fort Larned. The Fort was located a short distance West of the Arkansas River on the Right Fork of the Pawnee River. This fortification is still available to visit (Non Fee National Park Site), 2 miles west of Larned Kansas on state highway ~ K156. This fort remained active until the beginning of the Civil War. The National Park Service has preserved the original buildings and through the generous help and funds of many contributors. The NPS has restored many of these structures to what could be their original representations. Fort Larned .
Commissioned Officers Quarters Row;
The attention to detail, in the restoration of these historic barracks, is amazing. So much for the cliché; “Government work.”
This would include the details of the hardware, used to construct these US Calvary Fortifications. I am told; the Smithy’s would often show their skills by making everyday things, resemble the many things we found in our everyday life. I can see this in this lock of that era;
The acquisition of water is so important and having it within a garrison is even more important. ( I would point out that the Fort is built alongside the Pawnee River.) As this local Guide is more than happy to exclaim;
This octagon shaped building is actually the covering for a large hand dug well. It is easy for me to imagine the days of the horse soldier, when inside it. Sorry for the sepia toned photo, as my imagination goes back to those early days.
And, just to the west of the Well House, are the long store buildings where a soldier could easily find the stores for the next campaign, or new buttons and or mail from far away family.
Unfortunately, the outcome of this western travel was not always a happy one. Some of these original Pioneers fates were sometimes never known to those families they left behind. Some of the earlier settlers’ are buried in many remote cemeteries, that hold their own interest for those that take a few moments to stop, maybe to Geocache, tour some of the graves and their markers.
One of the more interesting graves to be found, is the grave of the incredible Marshall Thomas J Smith, of Abilene Kansas. Marshall Smith made his mark, not with a gun, but with his fists. He eschewed the existence of guns in this new frontier and found that by working with the citizens of Abilene, he was effective with the workings of the law. One night, he was summoned out of town, to assist another law enforcement group and his fate was sealed, yes, by a gun.
Also a location, not to be forgotten while visiting Abilene, Kansas, is the Presidential Library and campus and exhibits of President Dwight David Eisenhower. I have visited it many times, including the day of his funeral, March 28, 1969. I just don’t have any recent pictures of this campus, on the south end of Abilene. But, one should definitely take this in as a stop. To locate the campus, go south on South Buckley Road (Hwy K-15), or GPS: 38.9120,-97.2128. President Eisenhower was not born in Abilene, as many assume, but was born in Denison, Texas, after his parents moved there briefly, from Abilene and then returned to Abilene. If you enjoy history, this president is definitely someone to look up, as he was from the West Point Class that the “Stars Shown Upon,” Class of 1915. I truly feel saddened that an important Kansan is missing from my report. I hope to add this to my Trip Report during an upcoming trip, through Kansas.
Being in the middle of the United States, migratory birds have always found Kansas an inviting location to layover before, continuing onto their breeding grounds, Canada or Wintering locations of Texas and South America. Cheyenne Bottoms, just Northeast of Great Bend Kansas is one of these great locations and does have a few sites for overnight camping. There are guided tours of the area and fishing too.
They have some excellent signage available to help understand the area, in more depth.
There is also a new museum to explore and learn more about the history of migratory birds and the efforts that early Kansans made to protect these birds. The museum is free, but closed on Mondays.
US 50 is sometimes called the loneliest highway in the USA. But, that has to be out past Ely, Nevada as it certainly does not apply to the stretch that crosses along the southern portion of Kansas. Just south of US 50, on Highway US 400 there is an individual, like many individuals in America, that express their right to freedom of speech. This certainly is quantified in a local farmer, by the name of M.T. Ligget. The location where he likes to, “Fly his Flag of Democracy” is in Mullenville, Kansas. Mr. Ligget has been well known, locally, in the extreme measures he takes to express his opinions, about world leaders and local politicians. Even his neighbors are not immune to his penchant of public pillorying.
Granted, Bald Eagles are not that unusual these days. That is since their miraculous comeback from the DDT debacle of the late 60s and early 70s. I have photographed them many times in Yellowstone, along the Madison River and in Idaho. Sometimes dozens sitting in trees along the river in the winter, but for me to watch them in Kansas, this was an added treat.
After a while the Bald Eagle disappeared around the hill from me and I continued to look for rattlesnakes and Wild Turkeys when I saw something coming at me, fast, and from above. In a moment I had my camera up and snapped a picture of what seemed the same Eagle as it cleared over my head by only a few yards and saw the very end of his dive as he contacted a small jack rabbit, just as it started moving from a sage brush 20 to 30 yards from me. Yes, it is good to be out witnessing wildlife in their true habitat, but even better getting proof. This time, the big one didn’t get away, as you might say for the Bald Eagle too.
A few days later, a few miles from the previous location, I was able to watch an Immature Bald Eagle hunting, as well;
Nearby, there are many farm fields that provide a safe habitat/cover, in the numerous tree windrows and drainages for some of the ever increasing White Tail Deer populations. Being a frequent Motorcycle rider, I pay particular attention to these animals and their movements, especially after dark. After spending decades in the Rocky Mountains, I find any of these types of animals interesting to observe, but one thing is pretty clear, White Tail Deer are really small. Not much bigger than a large Great Dane. After watching Moose, Mule Deer and Elk, I am a bit unimpressed with their size, until they mount themselves on the headlight of my motorcycle!
Also in the area, are numerous areas of these curious rock formations, known at Mushroom Rocks. They extend for a number of miles north and south of Ellsworth County. An example is even found within one of the rest stops along I-70. This example is in Mushroom State Park.
Some of the Rest Areas, from the old WPA days, are in some of the most amazing places.
~~ Yes, I have more and will post another part in a little while, too.
Thanks for checking out this initial part of my Trip Report on Kansas.
* This post was
edited 04/14/11 08:03am by bka0721 *
Tremendous trip report! The State of Kansas should be sent a link to your write-up. Fascinating and informative, and well photographed.
My memories of Kansas are: dodging herds of deer bounding across I70 in the evening; camping near a highway, and being forced into a hotel (with reinforced concrete block construction and steel shutters over the windows) after tornado warnings were issued; and battling gale-force winds on the port side for hours
The above says a lot for slowing down and smelling the roses! Every State has myriad sites of interest.
*Note: I just placed your "1st trip report" into Trip Reports this morning
Good stuff there Bryan. There is great beauty in all of the states. Like you I come from a flatter part of the country than where we currently call home. I come from western Nebraska. With fuel prices being what they are my planned trips to Alaska and the northwest are off for now and shorter local trips are on the burner now. I think a person could spend a year exploring the historical sites in Nebraska alone. I also want to see the parts of Colorado that my hunting expeditions have not taken me.
Keep up the good travel shots and happy travels.
Two years ago as I was headed to Colo in Aug. I went west on I70 which was the first time I had been in Kansas. I loved the topography of the state When I returned from Montana I drove back down through Neb to Kansas to see it again. What I was surprised at was the state is not that flat. I counted 70 raptors in one mile. The rest stops were the best some with wifi and parking for r/v's with water and dump.
My purpose for traveling is fly fishing, and fly fishing only so I don't stop and look at the tourist spots but some day I may.
I would recommend Kansas to anyone one.
I will add that I have not found anywhere in this country boring. Some have alluded to certain parts of WY and MT as unattractive, I have not found those places yet.