Redemption for Kansas?

Tuesday, 5 September 2017
Lamar, CO to Hutchinson, KS ~ 275 miles

0905 Lamar to Hutchinson route 275

Map credit: Google Maps 2017, courtesy AAA

We kind of figured the Thai Spicy Basil would not be open for breakfast, so we decided to give the nearby Hickory House a try.  Another good call – not only was the food fine, we had another cute as could be and super friendly server!  We had fun chatting with her and sharing our story.   On our way out of town, we stopped by a Roadside America site to see a building made of petrified wood – nothing terribly exciting, but since we’d been to the petrified forest state park, it was kind of interesting.  Soon we were on the road, and before too long we were crossing the border into Kansas.  Have I mentioned that until this trip, Kansas was our least favorite state of all fifty of them?  I had a feeling that after the past few days and the roads we’d been on, Kim may have been looking forward to some flat, boring prairie driving – and she was!

 

We’ve driven across Kansas (west to east), albeit on the interstate, and we’ve driven south to north across it on Hwy 83 (the Road to Nowhere), and we’ve explored the southeast corner several times (on Route 66), and while some of the sights we’ve seen (Dorothy’s House in Liberal, Monument Rocks in the middle of nowhere (one of the 8 wonders of Kansas), Prairie Dog Town near Oakley (now closed), Baxter Springs on the Route) have been good ones, others (Garden City, Scott (lake, city, county, state park, etc.) have been underwhelming.  As kids, we rode across Kansas and stopped at the Eisenhower Library in Abilene and then Daddy just drove and drove and drove.  For us, even North Dakota and South Dakota were more interesting; however, after criss-crossing Nevada twice now, Kansas was in good shape to move up a rung or two.  Fingers crossed, because our first stop was to be Garden City. Was redemption at hand?

On our first trip to Garden City, back in 2007, the main thing we wanted to see was the Big Pool.  The Big Pool was hand dug and concrete poured by the people of Garden City in 1921 and opened for its inaugural season in 1922. The bath house was a WPA project constructed during the 1930s, and a children’s wading pool was also added in the 1930s. Sounds intriguing, right?  Thing is, we arrived there on the day before Mother’s Day, which was early enough in May that the pool wasn’t open yet.  Bummer.  Not only that, but our meals in Garden City that trip were at Arby’s and Long John Silver’s – not because we were craving fast food (you know it’s against the rules) but because it’s all we could find open!  Well, that’s not exactly true – we were directed to the Ramada Inn for the Mother’s Day buffet, but after about five minutes inside (we had even been seated), we left.  Not happening! Anyway, here we were, back in Garden City, and it’s the day after Labor Day.  I was hoping that the pool would still be full!  You’re probably wondering what could be so exciting about a municipal swimming pool, but this isn’t just any pool – it’s the BIG POOL! When I say big, I mean BIGGEST!  At 330 feet long by 220 feet wide, it’s longer than a football field and four times wider.  It is so big that people have water skied and wind surfed in it!  It takes two teams of eight people SIX DAYS to vacuum it.  A motorized boat is used to sprinkle soda ash in it, and there is a guard stand in the middle of the pool, meaning you would have to get wet to get on the stand – all of you former lifeguards out there – you know what a bitch that would be on a chilly day, a rainy day, or on first or last shifts!  Thankfully, we were rewarded – the pool was closed (meaning we could take all of the photos we wanted) and it was still full of water.  The pool is right next to the city zoo, and we learned that, back in the day, they brought the elephants over to frolic in the pool after it closed for the season.  Sadly, the elephants aren’t there any more, so we missed that spectacle, but there is an elephant slide in the kiddie pool.

 

P1100380

Some of the history of the Big Pool

P1100160

It really is ENORMOUS! This is the shallow end, with the bathhouse/concession area at left.

P1100161

Pictures don’t do it justice! Two low dives and two water slides in the deep end.

P1100163

See the guard chair in the middle of the pool??

Turns out that the zoo and the city museum (also next door) are free, so we decided to get a few steps by walking through the zoo.  And, if you drive through the zoo, it’s $10, and you don’t see much.  Go figure.  Kim probably wished we had skipped the zoo, since I love taking pictures of animals, but I really enjoyed it.  It was not a huge zoo, but it had some fun stuff.  You can skip the pics if you want – I may have gotten carried away…

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After the zoo, we had to go to the museum, since the main reason we stopped was to see (I’m not kidding here) the world’s largest hairball.  There, I said it.  And it was right here in Garden City, although we almost missed it!  The museum was nicely done and we learned a bit more about Garden City, the Santa Fe Trail, and life on the prairie.  And about the hairball…

 

Our next stop after Garden City was Dodge City, which I was concerned would be the Gatlinburg of the Prairie.  In case you are not a long-term Sassy Sister follower, we have a habit of bestowing the ‘Gatlinburg of the ______’ moniker on things that we thought would be cool, interesting, or at least worth a stop but that ended up being tourist traps more than the places we expected (and that they probably once were).  It’s kind of sad, because we grew up going to Gatlinburg and loving it, before it became, well, THE Gatlinburg.  In case you’re wondering about some of our ‘award’ winners:

  • Gatlinburg of the Midwest – Wisconsin Dells
  • Gatlinburg of the Civil War – Gettysburg
  • Gatlinburg of the Coast – Myrtle Beach
  • Gatlinburg of the Badlands – Wall Drug

You get the idea!  Let us know if you have someplace we should include on this list!

Another blessing – Dodge City was not a Gatlinburg!  Our main stop in Dodge was as quirky as they come – the Wild West Wax Museum/Kansas Teacher’s Hall of Fame.  Yep, both of these oddities are housed in the same building, and the story is a funny one. Turns out the guy who owned the building was a photographer who somehow started collecting wax figures, mostly of wild west heroes and villians, with a few exceptions – John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Wolfman, Dracula, and Frankenstein, most notably.  His photography studio was on the first floor, and the entire second floor was filled with these wax figures in semi-elaborate dioramas with a backdrop of black velvet, black light painted murals.  When the teacher’s Hall of Fame was looking for a home, the studio was just perfect, and the wax museum was part of the deal.  The coolest part of the wax museum is that it hasn’t changed since the 60’s!!  We almost didn’t get to see either the museum or the Hall of Fame, as it was open by appointment only after Labor Day, but the nice lady who answered our phone call agreed to meet us at 3 PM or shortly after, and sure enough, when we arrived about ten after three, Miss Mary Lou was there to greet us.  She sent us upstairs to see the wax museum, and then she was our personal tour guide for the Hall of Fame and it’s piece d’resistance, an authentic one-room schoolhouse that has been restored and permanently placed on the property.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Kansas State Teacher’s Hall of Fame was very impressive!  Since 1977, the best teachers in Kansas have been honored by their peers, and it’s not easy to be in this group.  First, a teacher must have taught in Kansas for 25 years, and then, he or she must be nominated for the award.  Of course, many letters and recommendations are needed and then a group selects the award recipients from the larger group.  In addition to being a place of honor for these dedicated educators, there is a small museum featuring desks, books, typewriters. blackboards, musical instruments, etc. through the decades, and there is a gift shop, too – all in addition to the one-room schoolhouse, which is a museum itself.  We appreciated Miss Mary Lou taking time from her day to share these museums with us!

 

We thought about finding something to eat or drink while in Dodge, so we walked down the hill to the famous (or infamous) Boot Hill.  We opted not to pay to see the recreated Main Street, but we walked by it and then up and down a few blocks of the town.  In the end, we didn’t get refreshments (the brew pub and the distillery were closed) and just decided to head on to Hutchinson, our destination for the day.  On the way, we passed a huge feedyard of cattle and then an even bigger wind farm.  No kidding, the windmills, by the thousand, went on and on for miles!  We had already passed two different windmill-making facilities and a truck with a windmill arm.  This is definitely the place for it!

 

We were looking forward to staying in a Hampton Inn again, and we had no trouble finding ours in Hutchinson, since we arrived before dark (again!).  After getting some recommendations for dinner, we decided to drive a few miles south to the town of Yoder (population 194) and a place called Carriage Crossing.  Turns out Yoder is the center of several nearby Amish communities, and this restaurant (and bakery and gift shop) is family-owned and is known for its comfort food, which can be served family style if there are enough of you.  We were happy with our choice – good food, plenty of it, great prices, and PIE!

 

Buffalo, Bismarck, Big Bugs, and Bears

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Jamestown ND to Medora ND ~365 miles

Bugs!

After a fantastic night’s sleep at the Jamestown Quality Inn (which was packed – where did all of these people come from??) we repacked our bug-spattered car (ick!) and headed out in search of breakfast.  We tried a place across the street which didn’t open until eleven, but some of the women working there pointed us in the direction of the Depot Cafe downtown.  After a bit of searching we found it, in the “mall”.  It was a happening place, although we were the youngest patrons in there by about 20 years.  But they knew how to make a good breakfast!  The place was full of railroad memorabilia and all of the menu items had train names.  Kim and I both had “The Fireman”, a ham and cheese omelet with hash browns and toast.  Good way to start the day!

Breakfast at The Depot Cafe

After a short ride through downtown, we arrived at Frontier Village and the National Buffalo Museum – what a great time we had! Frontier Village was great – an old West street lined with museum quality shops and services – a newspaper office, post office, saloon, blacksmith, dentist’s office, barber shop, church, school, law office, bank, general store, etc.  Writer Louis L’Amour grew up in Jamestown, so there is a Writer’s Shack that honors him and his books. There was a stagecoach, so we paid our $5 fee and hopped aboard.  What a ride! We were practically hysterical!  It was fun for ten minutes, but we determined that we would have been whiny pioneers!  We rode out of the village and past a few buffalo grazing, then returned back to the stagecoach station.  From there we walked down to see the World’s Biggest Buffalo, which is one of Hampton Inn’s Landmarks.  We first discovered these mostly restored pieces of Americana on Route 66, and now we are on the lookout for them.  It was a big buffalo, all right – 60 tons!!  We walked through and looked at most of the exhibits, then drove down to the buffalo museum to try to see White Cloud, an the only female albino buffalo in North America.  It was a hot day (for North Dakota) so she was down in the shade of the trees, pretty far away, but we got a few photos of her.  It was almost noon and we had not gotten on the road, so we opted to skip the museum and get going.

World's Largest Buffalo, Jamestown ND

Our goal today was to get to Medora, in extreme western North Dakota.  We had been duly warned about the boringness of North Dakota, so we had searched high and low for places of interest so that the drive wouldn’t just be interstate all the way.  Our first detour took us south of Jamestown to pick up a section of “A Very Long Straight Road” which goes from Hickson to Streeter, North Dakota.  They were not exaggerating!  What we didn’t expect along this straight road through the prairie was lots of water!  And it came right up to the road, in lots of places!  It appeared that some of the water had appeared unexpectedly and had flooded out areas.  There were even seagulls!  What was really odd was that it wasn’t clear from where the water came – no rivers, just seemingly random ponds and lakes.  We enjoyed the drive out in the country and on our own. Shortly after the town of Gackle (spelled out in red, white, and blue tires) we turned back north and rejoined the interstate, headed for Bismarck and another state capitol.  Best things about the interstates out here – no traffic (NONE!) and 75 mph speed limits!

A Long, Straight Road

On the way to Bismarck, we passed the World’s Largest Sandhill Crane in the town of Steele.  It was behind the Lone Steer Motel/Cafe/Lounge and there was a pretty little memorial garden there.  It was a nice little diversion…

World's Largest Sandhill Crane

The North Dakota state capitol in Bismarck is one of only four capitol buildings in the US that are skyscrapers (you may remember the Louisiana state capitol in Baton Rouge from last year’s trip, and Florida and Nebraska are the other ones).  We didn’t think the building was very pretty from the outside, but we loved the art deco interior.  Again, symbolism abounded inside.  We had a wonderful tour guide, Taryn, who shared some of the fun facts about the capitol.  Here are a few things we learned: The sculptures in the huge Memorial Hall represent farming and mining, the two largest industries in ND; the chandeliers represent heads of wheat, weigh 1000 pounds each, and contain 109 light bulbs each; the lighting in the House chamber represents the stars and moon at night, while that in the Senate chamber represents sunrise and sunset; the bronze doors of the elevators depict the pioneer experience; and there’s a really cool room that serves no particular purpose (it’s a back entrance to the Secretary of State’s office) that is lined in “monkey wood” – you can see the faces of different animals in it.  We enjoyed the views from the 18th floor, especially of the mall with “North Dakota” spelled out in flowers.  Across the way from the capitol was the state historical museum and a statue with Sacajawea and her papoose.

North Dakota State Capitol

From Bismarck, we went south to see Fort Abraham Lincoln, but when we got there, we learned that the park had just closed (at five PM), so we turned around and visited the ND Veterans’ Cemetery next door, then continued west, bound for the Enchanted Highway.  But first, we saw the World’s Largest Holstein Cow, “Salem Sue”, a statue of a cow so big (38 feet high and 50 feet long!) that we could easily see her from the interstate.  We just took pictures from the road and chose not to stop for this one.  Erected in 1974, Sue honors and advertises the dairymen of the area, their superior herds, and the production of high quality milk.

Salem Sue, World's Largest Holstein Cow

The Enchanted Highway runs from Regent, ND, to the interstate due north, and it is lined with some of the World’s Largest (are you spotting a theme here?) Metal Sculptures.  It was easy to see where to get off the highway, as “Geese in Flight” holds the Guinness World Record as the largest scrap metal sculpture in the world.  It was erected in 2001 and is built of used oil well pipe and oil tanks.  Other sculptures along the way were The Deer Family (2002), “Grasshoppers in the Field” (1999), “Fisherman’s Dream” (2006), “Pheasants on the Prairie” (1996), “Teddy Rides Again” (1993), and “Tin Family” (1991).  Which one is your favorite?

"Geese in Flight" World's Largest Scrap Metal Sculpture

On the Enchanted Highway, we saw lots of pheasants by the road.  They hang out right along the sides of the road (something we had noticed on our Roadside Giant Tour in 2007) and this year I even got some good photos of them!  We also saw beautiful fields full of sunflowers in full bloom (second largest cash crop in ND) and we enjoyed the rolling green hills dotted with big rolled bales of hay.  By the time we got to Dickenson, we were pretty hungry, so we stopped at the first place we found, El Sombrero, and wolfed down some pretty good Mexican food.  It was dark by the time we pulled into Medora, so we found our hotel and lugged in our stuff.  We loved having our own little Teddy bear to greet us!

Teddy!

Thinking North Dakota was a lot more fun to cross than Kansas,

Jan

Day 2 Jamestown to Medora ND