Traveling in Kansas 9 years 9 months ago #8654
I'm starting this topic because there isn't much information here on the mid-west. We are spending this summer in this area and are enjoying it very much. Here is some info from our blog. Feel free to view the blog if you want more info and/or photos dddlin.blogspot.com
Fort Scott -
Our first stop in Kansas was Fort Scott, located in the south-east corner of Kansas. We had just crossed the border from Missouri and as it was a National Historic Site, we decided to seek it out and get our National Parks stamp. Fort Scott is a restored 1842 U. S. Army Post. When the fort was established, our nation was still young and confined primarily to the east of the Mississippi River. As America grew, settlers pushed west, forcing American Indians from their tribal lands in Tennessee, the Carolinas, Florida, and other east coast states to the lands west of the Mississippi. But beginning in the 1840s, settlers began to push farther west along the Oregon and Santa Fe trails. Conflicts arose between the settlers and the Indians and a line of forts were established along the frontier stretching from Minnesota to Louisiana to keep peace. Dragoons from Fort Scott patrolled trails west, providing safe escort for the numerous wagon trains. The fort was abandoned after the Mexican-American War in 1946-48 but was reactivated during the Civil War and remained active until 1873 when the Army moved out and the buildings were sold at auction to local citizens. Local restoration efforts started in the 1950s and the fort became a national historic site in 1978.
We spent two nights in Topeka, in Lake Shawnee Park, a city campground. We had a beautiful campsite overlooking the lake. The park includes not only the campground but a 7-mile walking-biking trail that goes around the lake, a golf course, a swimming beach, and a public garden. This was a very convenient site from which we could visit the State Capitol and the Brown versus Board of Education National Historic Site. The Capitol would have been exceptionally beautiful except for the extensive renovation efforts inside and the construction equipment surrounding the exterior. The renovations started in 2000 and everyone is hoping they are completed "in a year or two. Call before you come." Construction of the capitol began in 1866 and except for the top of the dome, was completed 37 years later at a cost of $3.2 million. The dome was capped off in 2002 with a statue of a Kansa warrior named Ad Astro, which means "to the stars through difficulty." From the ground floor to the top of Ad Astro's bow is 304 feet - 16 feet higher than the U. S. Capitol in Washington, DC. The interior has elaborate marble columns and wainscoting, massive copper and bronze columns in the Senate chambers, and beautifully restored and polished copper staircases and railings. The Senate and House renovations are complete and the chambers are exceptionally beautiful. It was amazing to learn that the beautiful and ornate ceilings and murals had been painted over or covered with drop-down ceiling panels prior to the restoration. Unfortunately, the rotunda and dome are still under repair and could only be seen through a very thick and dark plexiglass panel. We will try to return in a few years so we can see the changes. www.kshs.org/portal_capitol
While in Topeka, we also visited the Brown versus Board of Education National Historic Site. This old Monroe Elementary School was one of four segregated elementary schools in Topeka. This building has exhibits addressing the long fight for equal rights, from slavery, through the Civil War, the "Jim Crow" years, the Civil Rights marches and protests. This historic site is dedicated to the premise "equal justice under law" and the ruling that "in the field of public education the doctrine of "separate but equal" has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal" - from the 1954 Supreme Court decision.
We had a great campsite in Manhattan at the Corp of Engineers Tuttle Creek Cove Campground; with our NP pass, just $9/night for 50 amp power and water. It was a quiet campground on the lake, and would have been perfect if the sites had been level. We never could get level even with our jacks and 2x6s. (For our RV friends, sites 11, 12, and 36-39 are level.) We stayed there for a full week, through July 4th. Manhattan is a fairly good size town and home of Kansas State University. It was a good home base from which to see the sights in Abilene, Wamego, Fort Riley, and Council Grove.
Just south of Manhattan is the Konza Prairie overlook which surrounds visitors with a view of Kansas much as it looked 150 years ago with an uninterrupted vista of prairie and sky. The Konza unfurls across the rocky hillsides and green valleys of the Flint Hills, a nearly treeless 4.5 million acres that encompasses North America's largest remaining tallgrass prairie. A few miles further south is the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. It was established in 1996 as the first national park dedicated to preserving grasslands. We toured the 1881 ranch house and barn. We would have liked to hike out into the prairie but it was 102 degrees. It wasn’t hard to persuade ourselves to just drive along the road in our air-conditioned car. Next time we will come in October and do a little hiking.
We did a short trip to the Pillsbury Crossing. This is a natural flat-rock crossing that has been used by wild animals and Native Americans as well as pioneers and now local people and tourists to cross the river. It was very pretty and an unexpected water oasis in the midst of the prairie, and obviously a favorite for local families. I was wishing I had brought my swim suit with me. On the way back, we stopped at the Barr Cabin. This old cabin, built in 1863, was discovered intact inside a ranch house when the house was torn down in 1962.
What a week! One day we visited the gravesite of a President; the next day it was the gravesite of a horse! It’s amazing what you can find when you look for local sights and sounds. In Abilene we visited the Eisenhower Presidential Museum and Library. The Eisenhowers live in this house from 1898 until Ike’s mother died in 1946. The house is located on its original site and contains furniture and personal Eisenhower memorabilia. Eisenhower’s home was quite small especially considering that there were seven boys growing up in it. Of the seven sons, only two did not go to college - one became a pharmacist, the other a lawyer. We guess that back then a degree was not necessary to dispense medicine or take someone to court. The museum presented Ike’s history from his humble beginnings on the wrong side of the tracks in Abilene, to West Point, thru three wars, and finally the White House. A small chapel contains the graves of Ike and Mamie.
Fort Riley –
Fort Riley, established in the 1850s to protect travelers and settlers in the west, is home to the Big Red One, the U.S. Army’s 1st Infantry Division. It is a beautiful base with many historic buildings constructed of native limestone. We visited the Infantry Museum, the Cavalry Museum, and the Custer House, officer quarters built in the mid-1800s. One of the most unusual exhibits was a gas mask for horses, used during WWI. We walked around the parade grounds and saw the gravesite and monument to Chief, the last cavalry horse who was retired in 1949 and died in 1968. The base was on the closure list several times but is now undergoing expansion and new building.
Wamego is why we spent so much time in Kansas. We wanted to experience a "small town" July 4th. When I googled "fireworks Kansas" Wamego, Kansas popped up. This small town has been celebrating Independence Day in style for 140 years.
Earlier in the day we visited the Oz Museum, home to one of the largest collections of privately-owned Wizard of Oz memorabilia in the world. We then wandered over to the city park and spent an exciting hour watching matchbox car races on a fifty-foot long track. The kids were so excited sending their cars down the track and thrilled with the small trophies they won. Then the adults had their turn and the cheering and competition was pretty fierce. Lots of fun. We toured the Wamego Historical Museum that housed a lot of old items that obviously came out of attics, basements, and barns. The memorabilia included military items, dolls, dresses, high school yearbooks and photos, antique furniture, tools, farm equipment, etc. Wamego is the birthplace of Walter P. Chrysler (1875), founder of Chrysler Corporation and the museum exhibits include at 1950 Chrysler coupe with just 30,000 miles and original paint, upholstery, and even the tires. Nice car.
We shared a cup of homemade ice cream that quickly melted in the 90+ degree sunshine and staked out a spot in the shade on Main Street to watch the parade. It was excellent, with an honor guard from Fort Riley, WWII veterans, politicians, city officials, fire trucks, rescue squads, lots of tractors, including a huge quad-track, horses, and lots of children on their bikes. After the parade we had dinner at the local Methodist church before heading to the fireworks.
The fireworks display was spectacular with over 50,000 shells in 30 minutes, the largest pyrotechnic display in Kansas. It was 30 minutes of constant “grand finale” fireworks, the best we have ever seen, even outdoing the Washington, DC fireworks. What a way to end the Fourth!
On our north, we spent one night in Marysville, at a free city park with just four RV sites with water and electric. We could have stayed for five nights but the next morning we were on our way. Marysville was a Pony Express main transfer stop and the site of the first barn on the Pony Express route; the original barn is now a museum. The fabled mail service only lasted from April 1860 to October 1861 but the legend endures thanks to riders who braved thieves and hostile Indians. The museum was small with a few good exhibits that could have been presented better; and all were covered with a thick coat of dust. A good cleaning is certainly needed. I am sure we will see other Pony Express sites on our trip west.
While in Marysville, we drove back south about nine miles on a dusty gravel road, then hiked about ½ mile in 95 degree heat to visit historic Alcove Springs. Pioneers on the Oregon Trail would stop here; many carved their names and dates into the soft limestone walls around the springs, including the ill-fated Donner party. The names and dates are very worn and hard to read. Although the spring has never dried up, it was very small and a little disappointing. We didn’t stay long.
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