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.

 

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Some of the history of the Big Pool

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

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

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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…

 

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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.

 

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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!

 

Animals, Dunes, and Depression

Monday, 4 September 2017

Blanding, Utah to Lamar, Colorado – 475 miles

Colorado route

Map credit: Google Maps 2017

There weren’t many options for breakfast this morning, but we found Yak’s Cafe on our way out of town.  The parking lot was pretty full, and that’s usually a good sign, so we were hopeful – and again, we were not disappointed!  The staff was friendly and though we got the expected ‘you’re not from around here’ looks from the regulars, everyone was nice and the food was hot and good.  Nothing fancy – good ole scrambled eggs, bacon, and hash browns are a great way to start the day.  You may have noticed that we’ve been eating only two meals a day most days.  We’ve learned that a hearty breakfast can go a long way, and we haven’t even been snacking on the snacks we bought at the Dutch Bakery.  Well, except for the vegetable chips which I may be becoming addicted to…  Back to the subject at hand – today’s route would take us across southern Colorado, most of which we had not seen before.  We visited Durango, Mesa Verde, and the Four Corners Monument on our Sassy Sister trip in 2013, and this time we’d be passing through Durango from west to east instead of north to south, although we did reminisce about our stormy, rainy, curvy, scary drive on US 550 past Ouray on that trip.   We also realized that the lovely day we spent soaking in natural hot springs was in Pagosa Springs, which was right on our route on Highway 160 today.  Sadly, we didn’t have time to stop at any of those places this time, as we had lots of ground to cover.

Our first stop of the day was an unexpected one, but who can resist hand-lettered signs for an elk ranch?  We were near Del Norte, and Kim gamely (haha) turned in at my request.  What a hoot!  From the Burma Shave-like signs lining the drive to the ‘Welcome to Ribeye, Colorado’ (population 12) sign to the photo ops to the store full of game meats to the pens of elk and caribou to the cute little kittens hanging out on the steps, we enjoyed our short detour at Anta Grande Elk Ranch.

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It turned out to be a good thing we stopped here, because from Del Norte to Lamar, there was very little of interest.  The small towns were sad – very depressed, very little open – we wanted to stop for rest and refreshment, but there were no options along our route, even in the bigger places.  We were astonished to learn that there was a National Park in the middle of this nothingness, so we decided to have a look at Great Sand Dunes National Park, and we planned to ‘sled’ down the dunes.  Alas, you needed to have procured your sled in town before arriving at the park.  Oh well, we just opted to take a short hike, get some photos, and learn a bit about the dunes and the surrounding area.

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The rest of today’s trip was blah!  No scenery, no people, no place to stop, and very little of interest.  We took a little accidental side trip in Walsenburg, and that was even more depressing! We were glad we actually knew a good place to eat in Lamar and we really wished we had known there was a brand new Holiday Inn Express (right next door to our dreary Days Inn) – Booking.com, you let us down this time!  We stopped at a Sonic in Lamar for some iced tea and saw an interesting sight, but we couldn’t get a good photo. Until we stopped for gas a couple of blocks later (whew!) and the same truck pulled up next to us.  Too funny!  We passed our Days Inn and were really tempted to drive on, but it had been a long day and there was nothing promising on the horizon, and we had already paid for the room.  We ate a delicious dinner at Thai Spicy Basil (we had eaten here on our 2013 trip) – Kung Pao Chicken and Moo Goo Gai Pan, with some chicken coconut soup for me – and then we resigned ourselves to the motel.  Just to add insult to injury, there was no elevator, and even though we both had two bags and the guy ahead of us had a tiny bag, he got the first floor room and we got the second floor room that was as far from the front desk (and stairs) as it could have been.  We see how it is.  I think I get cranky when we are heading home!