FMCA members on their way to Hutchinson, Kansas, this fall will find many reasons to stop and explore the Sunflower State.
By Peggy Jordan
The Kansas state song is “Home On The Range,” and FMCA members soon will be turning their moving homes toward Hutchinson, Kansas, to enjoy the association’s Motor “Home On The Range” extravaganza October 1, 2, and 3. These intrepid roamers will be able to identify with the settlers and cowboys who moved from town to town across Kansas.
Kansas is known as one of the biggest producers of grain in the United States; as a place where gunfighters once dueled in the middle of dusty streets; and as a land graced with sunflower fields and beautiful prairie sunsets. All are important aspects of the state, but it has much more to offer. Consider the following travel suggestions as you plan your itinerary before and after the Hutchinson extravaganza. Should you explore some of these sites, you just may decide you need a bit more time to meander through the Sunflower State.
Near The Interstate …
RVers who like to see sights that are conveniently close to an interstate should consider the following suggestions. Interstate 70, the main artery that traverses Kansas from west to east, offers an abundance of off-the-highway stops. It intersects Interstate 135 near the center of Kansas, where thousands of motorhoming families will be turning south to travel toward Hutchinson.
Numerous attractions await not far off the highway. We’ll take this journey from west to east.
After you cross the Colorado border and enter Kansas on I-70, make your first stop at Goodland, where you’ll find a state travel information center. You can pick up Kansas travel guides there, and get directions to the High Plains Museum.
This museum offers artifacts and stories relating to local pioneer history. Two Goodland residents invented the first patented helicopter, and a working replica of their 1909 invention is displayed at the museum. Admission is by donation, and the museum is open year-round; phone (785) 899-4595 or visit www.goodlandnet.com/museum/ for more information.
As you head east from Goodland, you’ll leave the Mountain Time zone and enter the Central Time zone, so make sure to move your watch ahead 1 hour. The next stop is at the Prairie Museum of Art and History in Colby. This museum contains the Kuska Collection, an assortment of fascinating antiques and artifacts from around the world. Featured items include dolls, furniture, silver, ceramics, glass, toys, and more. Local history is emphasized outside on the museum grounds, where visitors will find a 1915 church building; a 1936 cattle barn (one of the largest barns in Kansas); a sod house; a one-room school; and a 1906 farmhouse decked out as it would have looked in the 1930s. The museum is open daily and a small admission fee is charged. Phone (785) 462-4590 or visit www.prairiemuseum.org for more information.
The Fick Fossil and History Museum in Oakley is a must-see for those interested in folk art, wood carvings, antiques, and — oh, yes — fossils. It truly offers much more than a rock collection. Items of interest include a sod house, a depot, and a general store, as well as a historical photo collection, and art created from fossils and rocks. The actual rock, fossil, and mineral collection includes more than 11,000 fossilized shark teeth, all found in this area — proof that Kansas was once covered by seawater. The museum is open daily in the summer and Monday through Saturday the rest of the year; admission is by donation. Phone (785) 672-4839 or visit www.oakley-kansas.com/fick for more information.
Walter P. Chrysler, founder of the Chrysler Corporation, was born in the little town of Wamego, Kansas, in 1875, and grew up in the town of Ellis. He lived in the house at 102 W. 10th St. in Ellis until he was 21. The Chrysler family home is open daily, and a small admission fee is charged to tour inside. (Phone 785-726-3636 for more information.) In addition to the home, a museum on the grounds is filled with Chrysler’s personal belongings, as well as a 1924 Chrysler auto owned by Walter’s great-grandson, Frank Rhodes.
Chrysler learned about mechanical repair and machinery operation at the Ellis Union Pacific train shop. The Ellis Railroad Museum commemorates the town’s association with the railroad. The museum is located in a historic city office building and open daily. (Phone 785-726-4493 for more information.)
Hays should be your next stop along I-70. Aside from being home to Fort Hays State Historic Site (mentioned in another article in this issue of the magazine), it also boasts the Sternberg Museum of Natural History.
Sternberg’s emphasis is on paleontology, and displays feature the famous “fish within a fish” fossil, as well as fossils of sharks, flying reptiles, and more. Hands-on exhibits and live animals are on display, too. The museum is a department of Fort Hays State University and is open daily; an admission fee is charged. Phone (877) 332-1165 or visit www.fhsu.edu/sternberg for more information.
Sights in Salina, located at the intersection of I-70 and I-135, include the Smoky Hill Museum, housed in a former post office building and dedicated to the history of the Smoky Hills region. Salina’s historic downtown is full of Victorian homes and features a business district with art deco buildings. The town is also the site of Kansas’ newest zoo, the Rolling Hills Refuge Wildlife Conservation Center. The zoo’s occupants include 61 endangered species. It’s open year-round, and an admission fee is charged.
FMCA members may wish to check out a special festival that will take place in Salina on Friday and Saturday, September 27 and 28, the weekend prior to the FMCA motorhome extravaganza. Santa Fe Days offers food booths, arts and crafts displays, a parade, and much more. For information about the festival and all area attractions, contact the Salina Chamber of Commerce at (785) 827-9301 or visit www.salinakansas.org.
Abilene, located east of Salina along I-70, salutes one of America’s most beloved military figures and presidents: Dwight D. Eisenhower. The Eisenhower Center complex includes a visitors center, the presidential library, a museum, the Eisenhower family home, and the graves of Eisenhower and his wife, Mamie. A small admission fee is charged. The museum’s Presidential Gallery has been closed for renovations and will reopen October 12, 2002. As of June 2002, former President George Bush was scheduled to speak at the gallery’s re-opening. For more information, contact the Eisenhower Center at (785) 263-4751 or visit www.eisenhower.utexas.edu or www.dwightdeisenhower.com
Other points of interest in Abilene include the Dickinson County Historical Society museum, the Seelye Mansion and Museum, the American Indian Art Center, and the Russell Stover (candy) Factory Outlet. Phone the Abilene Area Chamber of Commerce for more information (toll-free) at (866) 224-5357.
Topeka, Kansas’ capital city, is full of fascinating attractions. Daily tours are offered of the state capitol, which features gardens, memorials, and murals by John Steuart Curry. The Kansas State Historical Society is headquartered at the Kansas History Center, and maintains the Kansas Museum of History, among other attractions. The museum contains more than 20,000 square feet of exhibits and is open daily. Admission is by donation.
Topeka also is home to the Combat Air Museum, located at Forbes Field. Two hangars full of aircraft, uniforms, and other military exhibits are open daily; a small admission fee is charged. In addition, in 1992 Topeka became home of the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site, which commemorates the 1954 Supreme Court decision that ended segregation in public schools. For more information about these and other attractions, contact the Topeka Convention & Visitors Bureau at (800) 235-1030 or visit www.tcvb.accesstopeka.com
East of Topeka along I-70 is Lawrence. This town was founded in 1854 by anti-slavery advocates from New England. They hoped that by adding their numbers to the state’s population, they could help sway Kansas against slavery. Lawrence was the scene of fighting between abolitionists and pro-slavery forces, and was partially destroyed during a skirmish with Quantrill’s Raiders during the Civil War. The Watkins Community Museum of History reveals the details about this and other events.
Lawrence also is home to the University of Kansas and is listed among the top 15 “100 Best Small Arts Towns in America.” Visitors will want to tour Lawrence’s Spencer Museum of Art, an extensive collection featuring more than 17,000 works. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday (closed on Mondays), and admission is free. For more information about Lawrence attractions, contact the Lawrence Visitors Information Center at (888) 529-5267 or visit www.visitlawrence.com
The eastern edge of I-70 touches Kansas City, where a new home for stock car and open wheel racing, the Kansas Speedway, recently opened in 2001.
Kansas City also boasts the National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame, which contains thousands of farming relics, including former President Harry Truman’s plow; and the Wyandotte County Historical Society and Museum, which has one of the few remaining American Indian dugout canoes. A monument at the latter facility honors the people who built B-25 bombers. For more information about these and other sites, contact the Kansas City, Kansas/Wyandotte County Convention and Visitors Bureau at (800) 264-1563 or visit www.kckcvb.org.
Kansas, The Natural Way
Kansas’ natural state is one of prairie grass, rolling hills, and a variety of landscapes — not at all pancake-flat, as some might believe. The eastern and southern parts of the state receive more rain than the western portions … and the Flint Hills lie in between. This region begins southwest of Topeka and runs north and south through the east-central part of the state. Its rolling hills are dotted with limestone and steel-tough chert, commonly called flint.
This region originally was covered with prairie grass. At one time, 400,000 square miles of tallgrass prairie covered North America. Less than 1 percent remains, and much of it is preserved in Kansas’ Flint Hills.
Travelers can glean a close-up view of this type of environment at Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in Cottonwood Falls, 2 miles north of Strong City (22 miles west of Emporia) on State Route 177. The park has nearly 400 species of plants, 150 kinds of birds, and 30 types of mammals. A 7-mile bus tour of the preserve’s backcountry is narrated by park rangers who are knowledgeable about the prairie’s history, geology, and ranching legacy. The bus tour is offered three times a day through October 27; reservations are suggested.
The preserve also features a visitors center, where an orientation video is presented; a magnificent, 11-room 1880s limestone home and a massive three-story barn; and a nature trail. For tour reservations or more information, phone (316) 273-8494, e-mail [email protected], or visit www.nps.gov/tapr.
Kansas’ four national wildlife refuges provide a variety of experiences. Flint Hills National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), approximately 40 miles east of Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, is centered around a reservoir and offers camping and fishing. Kirwin NWR is in the northern part of the state and preserves a prairie and wetland, which can be seen via an auto tour route. A hardwood forest and river beautify Marais des Cygnes NWR, located along the Marais des Cygnes (French for “marsh of the swans”) River, near the Missouri border in central Kansas.
Motorhomers will especially want to note Quivira NWR, which preserves two large salt marshes and is located approximately 27 miles west of Hutchinson via U.S. 50. Since FMCA’s extravaganza occurs during the fall, the timing should be perfect to see an amazing number of migrating birds at the refuge. A half-million geese, 100,000 ducks, and 150,000 sandhill cranes have been counted there during the migration season. Even non-birders will enjoy the visitors center, with its wildlife exhibits, and will want to check out the preserve’s prairie dog community. For more information, contact the refuge at (620) 486-2393 or visit www.quivira.fws.gov
Other natural views of Kansas can be enjoyed at 25 state parks — too many to mention here individually. Phone the state travel bureau listed below for more information about them, or visit www.kdwp.state.ks.us. A fine Web site at www.naturalkansas.org lists the state’s best wildlife viewing sites for various creatures, from birds to elk and prairie dogs.
Maxwell Wildlife Refuge is a must-see for folks who have been yearning to see bison roaming free on the plains. This preserve is approximately 40 miles northeast of Hutchinson near the town of Roxbury. The refuge also features a new tour center and an observation tower. The refuge is home to approximately 200 bison (buffalo) and 50 elk living in a 4-1/2-square-mile area. You can take your own driving tour of the area to see the bison (the refuge is open daily), but there’s no guarantee you’ll catch a view of these creatures. To assure an encounter, take one of the tram tours offered by the Friends Of Maxwell group. Tours are available year-round by reservation; phone (620) 628-4455.
A Heritage Worth Remembering
Kansas was crisscrossed by pioneer paths, including the Santa Fe Trail, the Oregon Trail, and many more. Conflicts between the American Indians, who already occupied the land, and the settlers, who traversed it, were bound to occur. At a little town called Medicine Lodge in south-central Kansas, attempts to stop the fighting are commemorated. A peace treaty between the U.S. government and the five Great Plains Indian tribes was signed there in 1867, and a marker attests to that fact. Unfortunately, the treaty didn’t stop all of the fighting, and a stockade was built at Medicine Lodge in 1874. Today the Stockade Museum contains photos and artifacts relating to those times.
Next-door to the Stockade Museum is another record of Medicine Lodge’s place in Kansas history: the Carry Nation home. Carry and her second husband, David Nation, moved to Medicine Lodge in 1889 to escape David’s political opponents in Texas. Carry joined the local Baptist minister’s wife in organizing a chapter of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union in Medicine Lodge, and by 1900 she was using a hatchet to tear down the state’s many illegal saloons (prohibition became law in Kansas in 1880).
The Stockade Museum and Carry Nation Home are open year-round from 10:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, and a small admission fee is charged. For more information, phone the Medicine Lodge Chamber of Commerce at (620) 886-3417.
Kansas was settled by people from many different cultures and backgrounds. A reminder of this is the town of Lindsborg, built by Swedish immigrants. A pleasurable shopping experience is available along the town’s cobblestone streets, where stores are filled with imported and locally made Scandinavian items, clothing, and art.
A view of the entire county’s history can be seen in Lindsborg at the McPherson County Old Mill Museum, which tells the story of the Swedes as well as the American Indians, Germans, and Scots who settled this county. The Old Mill has 12 acres of historic buildings, such as Bethany Academy, built in 1879; an 1898 mill; the Lindsborg Union Pacific railway depot, used from 1880 to 1974; a cabin; a windmill; and much more. The museum is open daily and an admission fee is charged. For more information, contact the Lindsborg Chamber of Commerce at (888) 227-2227 or visit www.lindsborg.org.
Many famous people have called Kansas home over the years, including jazz musician Stan Kenton, comedian Buster Keaton, “I Love Lucy” actress Vivian Vance, and actors Harold Lloyd and Dennis Hopper. Famed aviatrix Amelia Earhart is remembered in her hometown of Atchison in several ways: at the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum; at the Amelia Earhart Earthwork, an amazing 1-acre landscape mural; and at the Atchison County Historical Society Museum. For more information about these and other Atchison attractions, contact the Chamber of Commerce at (800) 234-1854 or visit www.Atchison.org
The countless cowboys, gunslingers, and hangmen who occupied Kansas’ many cow towns are recalled in many locations throughout the state, especially Dodge City, home of the popular Boot Hill Museum. (Phone the Dodge City Convention and Visitors Bureau for more information at 800-653-9378, and watch for an article about Dodge City in an upcoming issue of FMC.)
If you don’t explore Kansas on your way to or from FMCA’s Motor “Home On The Range” extravaganza, pardners, you’re going to miss a passel of fun. Contact the state travel bureau below and follow the trail to Kansas!
Kansas Travel And Tourism
1000 S.W. Jackson St.
Topeka, KS 66612-1354
(800) 2-KANSAS (252-6727)