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Did You Know…?
- Veterans Day, the successor to Armistice Day, originated in Emporia in 1953.
- Kansas typically produces 400 million bushels of wheat annually, or four loaves of bread per person worldwide.
- The real Boot Hill is in Dodge City.
- Fort Leavenworth is the oldest Army fort in continuous service west of the Mississippi.
- With $600 in borrowed funds, the Carney brothers opened the first Pizza Hut in Wichita in 1958.
It’s a peaceful place now, with its cities, farms, ranches and broad grasslands, but Kansas is associated with America’s turbulent settlement story.
The Lewis and Clark Expedition touched a corner of the state, as did the Pony Express, but the Santa Fe Trail was the path that brought the serious traffic — traffic in goods and human migrants. The state was called Bleeding Kansas for the fight over slavery, and it was home to characters and towns that seemed made for the movies.
Today, visitors see the old frontier towns, powwows, rodeos, cowboys, American bison, tallgrass prairie — and sunflowers. It’s the place Dorothy was happy to return to after a tumultuous visit to the Land of Oz because there’s no place like home. Down to earth, corny in August, these are attributes that Kansas represents to us now.
But it earned the Bleeding Kansas moniker. This prairie state was born in bloodshed as settlers and interlopers determined if it would be a slave state; then, the ensuing Civil War came to Kansas.
The state was also crisscrossed first by cattle trails, then by railroads. This brought commerce and outlaws. The names of cattle centers — Abilene, Coffeyville, Dodge City, Wichita — resonate with us, as do the names of men on both sides of the law: Buffalo Bill Cody, Wyatt Earp, Wild Bill Hickok, Doc Holliday, Bat Masterson, plus the doomed George Custer and the Dalton gang.
Then, there was Carrie Nation, the temperance crusader, who broke down saloon doors with her famous axe. Tourists can visit her home in Medicine Lodge.
For those who want to study the Wild West, Kansas is a good place to start. Dodge City is still a cattle center, and Kansas remains one of the leading producers of beef cattle. Also, plenty of wide open spaces remain, particularly the sprawling grasslands. The state boasts North America’s largest tract of unplowed tallgrass prairie, 3.5 million acres.
Things have changed, too: Some cowboys ride motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) rather than horses. Tourists can ride horses or the motorcycles and ATVs, as well as attend rodeos, powwows and other festivals that bespeak Kansas.
Things to do for Venturers
- Enter the Kansas River Gritty Fitty, a 50-mile canoe and kayak race, described as the world’s longest nonstop river race. Or, show your stuff in the multiday, 340-mile Missouri River 340 race.
- Jump in the saddle and join a trail ride.
- Walk into the world’s largest hand-dug well, 109 feet deep and 32 feet in diameter, at Greensburg. The Big Well was dug in 1887-1888 to provide water for steam locomotives. You may have an extra reason to visit this town: It deemed its near-total destruction in a 2007 tornado an opportunity to rebuild from the ground up in an environmentally sustainable way.
- Enter multisport events. They have names that reveal quite a bit: Midwest Mudder Off-Road Triathlon, Midwest Mayhem Triathlon and Midwest Meltdown.
- See where 19th century criminals holed up at the Dalton Gang Hideout Museum and Souvenir Shop in Meade. The restored 1887 home, with escape tunnel, belonged to a sister of the Dalton brothers. (Another house on the grounds was built from a Sears, Roebuck mail order kit in 1900.)
- If you are in this league, compete in the 14-day Great Santa Fe Trail Horse Race Endurance Ride. Or, you can follow the race as a camper or in an RV, taking part in activities along the way, too.
Things to do for Centrics
- Look for a Civil War reenactment such as the annual event at Fort Scott.
- Do your bird-watching at Cheyenne Bottoms, considered the largest marsh in the U.S. interior and the most important migration point for shore birds in North America.
- Drop in on one of the state’s festivals devoted to beef, or cowboys, or cow towns, then sit down to a big helping of Kansas steak.
- Sample the beer at Gella’s Diner and Liquid Bread Brewing Co. in Hays. Many nights, you can hear live music — jazz, samba, swing or the like — provided by local talent. If the timing is right, attend the Hays Oktoberfest, too.
- Attend rodeo events at the annual Dodge City Days events, or find another rodeo on your route. There are quite a few on the annual schedule.
- On select weekends, lend a hand at a working ranch, reflecting life from around 1880, at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in Manhattan. You may wind up helping churn butter, make lye soap, finish a quilt or any number of other tasks that were typical for men and women on a late 19th century ranch.
Things to do for Authentics
- Attend the International Pancake Race in Liberal (the other half occurs on the same day in Olney, England). Women race against a clock flipping pancakes. Stick around for a pancake feed and various eating and flipping contests.
- Board the tram for the Maxwell Wildlife Refuge and Buffalo Tour to see the state’s largest buffalo herd, plus elk and scores of bird species.
- Pursue milestones in African-American history, post-Civil War. Nicodemus, parts of which are now a National Historic Site, is a still-living community founded by former slaves in 1877.
- Be blown away amidst the 350 mechanical air movers at the Antique Fan Collectors Museum in Andover. Some are even coin operated. Or, see Hutchinson’s new Underground Salt Museum, located at the site of a working salt mine that produces 500,000 tons of rock salt a year.
- Attend the Spinach Festival in Lenexa if only to see the world’s largest spinach salad tossed with pitchforks in a plastic pool.
- Stay at Hedrick Bed and Breakfast in Nickerson, which is notable because it is an exotic animal farm, home to camels, giraffes, kangaroos, ostriches and zebras, among others. All guests get a tour and a chance to pet or even feed some of these animals.
For more information, consult Kansas Travel and Tourism at www.travelks.com