Quirky Kansas: Day trips bring colorful spots into reach

By Leslie Chaffin

If you’ve got a day to spare, chances are Kansas has a spot you’ll enjoy visiting. That’s what Patty Lane discovered after deciding to stay close to home for a vacation.

“I didn’t have much vacation time, and discretionary funds were limited, so I wanted to take some day/weekend trips,” said Lane, a graphic designer in Wichita. “I had purchased the Kansas Guidebook (published by the Kansas Sampler Foundation) last year and looked through it for places to go.”

Lane chose Harper County for her first trip and got a look at one small Kansas town’s patriotic spirit. Her destination was Anthony’s  9/11 memorial, which includes part of a beam from one of the World Trade Center towers, soil from the Pennsylvania field where one of the hijacked planes crashed, and limestone from the Pentagon, another target.

“The city had raised funds and sent them to the family of a fallen firefighter, a first responder who lost his life helping at the scene,” Lane explained. “The memorial commemorates this firefighter and recognizes all those who lost their lives that day.”

Before leaving Anthony, Lane made a pit stop at Christi’s Cafe, and in the spirit of not using the restroom without buying something, gobbled down some peach cobbler. “It was a divine experience,” she said.

From Lucas to Arkansas City, Anthony to Marysville, travelers will find art, history and nature that may give even longtime residents a different perspective on Kansas. 

In Arkansas City, the Cherokee Strip Land Rush Museum pays tribute to the largest land rush in the world, which took place on Sept. 16, 1893, with six million acres in Oklahoma at stake. Located near where the land rush started on Highway 166, it includes the Baird Living Farm and Garden, where pioneer farming techniques are demonstrated.

Arkansas City’s population temporarily swelled to around 100,000 people before the first land rush, according to Anita Judd-Jenkins, a museum volunteer and former state representative. “Both the first and the fourth land rush, in 1889, took away our population, bringing it down to around 12,000, where it has remained since.”

The Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. Admission is $4.50 for adults; $3.50 for seniors 55+; and free for children 17 and under.

A new addition to the Museum’s exhibits is the recent discovery of the Lost City of Etzanoa east of Arkansas City. The Wichita Indian settlement dates to the 1500s and, based on accounts from Spanish Conquistadores, was at one time a community of more than 20,000 stretching at least five miles. 

“Etzanoa extends to Winfield and possibly further up the Walnut River,” said Sandy Randel, Museum director and Etzanoa Conservancy Director. “About 11 archaeological digs in the area based on well-documented accounts in the newspaper which began in 1870 have produced significant results.” 

Randel recounted several instances of accidental artifact discoveries in the area as well as the finding of a large number of artifacts uncovered when digging began for a highway bypass in the 1990s. That drew archaeologists from across the country as construction was halted in order to recover as much as possible. 

The current archaeological project began in earnest in 2015. 

A public tour is available through the Museum for $10 on Saturday mornings at 10 a.m. While the tour does not include the live dig site, it includes areas in and around Arkansas City where Indians lived and where a battle between the Indians and the Spaniards took place.

“Those who want to take the tour should plan about three hours,” Judd-Jenkins said. “We start with a 20-minute film about the known history of Etzanoa and how it was confirmed that it is here.” 

If you’re interested in geology or just enjoy interesting rock formations, a trip to Minneapolis will reward you at Mushroom Rock State Park and Rock City. There is no clearer evidence of what the forces of nature can do than the unusual Dakota Limestone mushroom-shaped rocks in Mushroom Rock State Park. An early account of the rocks was made in 1844 by Capt. John Charles Fremont, one of the best-known explorers, soldiers and politicians of the era. Over the decades, the park became part of private property. In the 1960s, Ellsworth County Historical Society purchased the acreage to preserve this area and make it open to the public. It may be the state’s smallest state park, but the large rock formations make it unique.

Just south of Minneapolis is the field of rounded Sandstone boulders known as Rock City. Strewn across the hillside as if some giant was playing marbles, the largest of these boulders is about 27 feet high with an average diameter of about 12 feet. Operated as a public park, Rock City is open May 1 to Sept. 1, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with admission of $3 for adults and $ .50 for children.

Add a bit of whimsy and culture to your trip about 45 minutes west of Minneapolis by visiting grassroots artist John Dickerman’s Open Range Zoo, an outdoor art installation that’s seemingly too imaginative to be confined to one location. Fantastical beasts can be found off Highways 14 and 18 in the Lincoln. area as well as in the communities of Lincoln, Beverly and Lucas, including the “Little Bird” that sits atop the “Welcome to Lincoln” sign and the Dream Dragon near mile marker 181 on Highway 14. More of  Dickerman’s work is in his Soaring Heart Gallery in Lincoln, and he is a represented artist in the Grassroots Arts Center in Lucas. This can easily be a trip of its own if you take your time enjoying the sculptures.

The Lucas area, best known for the Garden of Eden – a bizarre collection of Biblical and political sculptures considered the oldest intact folk art installment in the United States – has become a grassroots art center with many working from found and re-purposed objects.

“We’re just a quirky little arts town,” said Jeannie Stramel, director at the Grassroots Art Center. 

The arts center started in 1990 with the acquisition of a collection of stone carvings. It has grown to occupy three buildings. Nearly as photographed as the Garden of Eden is the Bowl Plaza just outside the Center, which is a restroom done completely in mosaic tile, inside and out. Nearby Wilson claims the world’s largest Czech egg – actually a 20-foot-high, 7,000-pound fiberglass sculpture painted in the traditional fashion.

Lane, after her trip to Harper County, next headed south and west to partake of an organic farming experience at Heartland Farm in Pawnee Rock. Operated by the Dominican Sisters of Peace Heartland Farm engages visitors in classes and workshops covering a variety of skills from canning and bread baking to spinning yarn. It also manages a herd of alpaca. While you can go for the day, you can also stay at the farm for a short getaway.

“My cousins invited me to join them for a weekend at Heartland Farm,” said Lane. “We stayed at a house on the farm and had fresh eggs and baked bread each morning.”

As for the resident alpacas, Lane said, “I learned that alpacas are shy, but curious and always pet them on the neck.They also have a gift shop with homemade soaps and shampoo, jellies, jams and bread and items knitted from Alpaca wool. I had a great time!”

For more great trip ideas, the most comprehensive resource is the Kansas Explorer Guidebook 2 by Marci Penner and WenDee Roe. This is the second edition, stemming from visits to all 626 Kansas communities to record their unique features. It is available on the Kansas Sampler Foundation web site (www.kansassampler.org), through AAA and in select local bookstores in the state.

ROAD RESOURCES

For more information about destinations mentioned in this article, visit these websites:

9/11 Memorial, Anthony

www.anthonykansas.org

Cherokee Strip Land Rush Museum, Arkansas City

cherokeestripmuseum.org/about/

The Lost City of Etzanoa, Arkansas City

etzanoa.com/

Grassroots Arts Center, Lucas

www.grassrootsart.net/default.html

 Heartland Farm, Pawnee Rock

heartlandfarm-ks.org/about-us/

Mushroom Rock State Park, Minneapolis

ksoutdoors.com/State-Parks/Locations/Mushroom-Rock

Rock City Park, Minneapolis

www.kansastravel.org/rockcity.htm

Jim Dickerman’s Open Range Zoo, Lincoln

livelincolncounty.com/jim-dickermans-open-range-zoo/

Contact Leslie Chaffin at
lrchaffin20@gmail.com

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