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.



Some of the history of the Big Pool


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


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


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!


Hair Today, Lincoln Tomorrow

Wednesday, 23 August 2017
Jefferson City, MO to Lincoln NE, ~ 400 miles

0823 Jeff City to Lincoln route 400

Map credit: Google Maps 2017 courtesy AAA

Kim and I arose to almost chilly temperatures in Jefferson City and drove a couple of miles west to Binder Lake park for a short hike.  Other than lots of bugs in the parking lot there, the walk was a nice one.  It was still very dewy, so we opted to walk along the road next to the perfectly still lake.  Except for one fisherman, the lawn mowers, and the garbage man, we were the only ones around.  We didn’t see much wildlife except for one heron who had staked out a good fishing spot, and the numerous frogs we heard but didn’t see in a lily-pad covered pond.


Binder Lake State Park

After we showered and dressed, we back-tracked into the city to have breakfast at Oscar’s Classic Diner, which we chose based on its name (in memory of my fabulous father-in-law).  As expected, Oscar did not disappoint!  We had the most delightful server and breakfast was tasty – Kim had a ham and cheese omelet and I had eggs benedict, but over tomato slices and avocado instead of bread and meat.  We both had the grilled hash browns, which were delicious!  The other great things about Oscar’s were the décor – we ate right under Roy Rogers and Dale Evans and Bogart and Bacall – and the hysterical ladies room (Beauty Salon – Miracles Performed Daily!).

Finally on the road after 11 AM (we just cannot seem to get an early start no matter what…) we hopped on US 50 and headed west.  Kim had done some ‘places we might want to stop’ research and our first stop was not too far away – a water tower painted like an 8 ball in Tipton – and we thought it would just be a fun photo op/drive by.  Until we read a note that said the parking lot of the Dutch Bakery was a good place to take the photo….of course we had to go in!  At least 30 minutes later, armed with snacks for the road, we were off.

A little later down the road, we came upon the town of Sedalia and saw a giant structure covered in white sheets.  Wondering if some humongous Civil War monument was under wraps, we veered off to investigate.  We still aren’t sure what it was – our best guess is a water tower being painted – but we loved the quaint little downtown and ended up spending another 30 or 45 minutes walking around.  We learned that Scott Joplin invented ragtime here, and we went in a wonderful old hotel that was where Harry Truman launched his political career.  There was a fabulous old theater that has been turned into an art gallery and several colorful murals painted on buildings, and we saw our second Statue of Liberty (so far).  You may be understanding now why we don’t make particularly good time on these trips…

Back on the road, we were determined not to stop again until we made it to our next planned destination, Leila’s Hair Museum in Independence.  I will tell you that since Kim had made this list, I wasn’t sure what to expect at a hair museum, but what we saw at Leila’s wasn’t it!  In my next lifetime….  It was fascinating, for sure, and very unique, as was Leila, who gave us a private tour.  Leila is 85 years old and she has been collecting hair art since 1956.  She is also a cosmetologist and she teaches hair art lessons now.  She has written three books and is working on a fourth, and she has the largest hair art collection in the world.  Possibly the only one…

So here’s the thing – hair art dates back centuries, but became mostly extinct with the advent of family photography.  Women used to ‘embroider’ with hair from different family members, thus making a unique family tree – imagine what you could learn about your family with all of that DNA!! – and these flowers/vines/nuts/etc. made from hair were put together in a way that made a pretty arrangement and then framed in boxes lined with satin (think inside of a coffin, because that’s often who made the hair art boxes).  Anyway, you’ve probably never seen anything like it!  There was more – gentlemen had watch chains made from the hair of their wives/mothers/lovers – and all sorts of things.  You have to see it all to believe it, and we were not allowed to photograph anything in two of the rooms of the museum.

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By the time we left Leila’s, we knew we would not make it to Topeka in time to tour the capitol building, but we decided to go anyway.  I have done the Kansas state capitol tour, so we thought we’d just photograph the outside and find a place to eat before continuing to Lincoln for the night.  Good call!  We got great shots of the capitol and the sculptures around it (including the Statue of Liberty) and we saw the outside of the First Presbyterian Church which is famous for its Tiffany stained glass windows.  We tried several doors….

The best thing that happened in Topeka was dinner!  We found a little restaurant called the Rowhouse that was just a few blocks from the capitol – what a gem!  It was in an old row house (surprise!) and it served a set prix fixe menu, so we didn’t even have to make decisions!  The dinner was five courses, including three small entrée servings and three desserts (!!) and it was divine!  Since it had been a long time since breakfast (no snacks, either!), it hit the spot!  And Zach, our waiter, was just great.

Sufficiently sated but not stuffed, we turned north and rolled into Lincoln well after dark.  Another day of adventure in the books!