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This is an extract of what to see in this state, with small photos. You will find the full description, history and full-sized photos, in my e-book View America: North West - Part 2
In the travel series View America, North West - Part 2 covers Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska. It is not a traditional travelogue, but a non-commercial and more or less objective chronicle of an in-depth exploration of these states. Each state is described with its own brief historical background and its main sights, tourist attractions and points of interest.
My book does not describe lodgings, restaurants or entertainment, except where these may interact with the narrative. It is illustrated with more than 150 full-sized photos.
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KANSAS is also known as the Sunflower State after the many sunflowers, the Wheat State, and the Bread Basket of the Nation, because it is the largest wheat producer in the U.S. However, cattle raising is more important than the wheat agriculture. Kansas is also called the Jayhawk State, but the origin of this word is unclear. It was used in Kansas to indicate the guerrilla forces at the beginning of the Civil War. Later, this name was taken over by the official troops and eventually it became a nickname for Kansas residents.
The name Kansas comes from the Kansas River, which in turn was named for the Kansa Indians, who were named "people of the south". Before Alaska and Hawaii joined in 1959, the geographical center of the U.S. was located in Lebanon, Kansas. Afterwards it moved to North Dakota, but Kansas is still considered to be the center of the US. The geodesic center, taking into account the curvature of the earth's surface, is in the triangulation station Meades Ranch in northern Kansas, and since 1913 it serves as a reference point for American maps.
In 1861 Kansas joined the US as the 34th state. Topeka is the capital, and the largest city is Wichita. The state's surface is approximately 213,000 km2, of which 3 % is forested, whereas it used to be completely covered by grassland. The state is drained into the Mississippi and Missouri rivers by the Kansas and Arkansas river.
The population is approximately 2.7 million inhabitants, with a density of 13 per km2. The metropolitan area Kansas City, that lies half in Kansas and half in Missouri, by itself counts 1.7 million inhabitants. Kansas is the U.S. leading wheat, corn and feed-grain producer. It is also a major producer of natural gas, and has large stocks of coal. The manufacture of aircraft components in Wichita is a major industry.
Points of interest are the cities of Leavenworth (a large prison), Abilene (formerly an important city for transport of livestock, and also the birthplace of President Dwight D. Eisenhower), and the famous Old West town of Dodge City.
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THINGS TO SEE
The Dodge City Trolley Tour offers a one-hour ride with full comments about all the sights. The sculpture of the bull El Capitan was erected in memory of the many Longhorn cattle that were brought in over the Santa Fe Trail from Texas. The Longhorn bull is a close relative of the Spanish fighting bull, and longhorns were actually imported from Mexico by Coronado's Conquistadors in 1541. Mexico was still Spanish at that time, and Coronado followed his quest for Quivira, the legendary City of Gold.
The sixteen miles of brick streets were a very progressive pavement in the period of 1912 to 1925. The tour leads past several churches and then shifts to the city's outer area, where the massive seeds are located. These are the places where thousands of cattle are fattened, just before they are slaughtered. The tour ends with a view of the remains of Fort Dodge, which has become a village for veterans.
The world-famous Boot Hill Museum is undoubtedly the city's main attraction. This museum is quite large and exhibits a series of exquisitely restored homes, the equally famous Boot Hill Cemetery, and of course the inevitable souvenir shop. The cemetery received its strange name during a period of wild debauchery, whereby so many cowboys were killed that many of them were buried with their boots on. "Ordinary" Dodge City citizens were usually buried in the Fort Dodge cemetery.
The museum contains a plethora of exhibits, and extensive explanations are provided. It is pleasant to stroll through the homes, and several old professions and their attributes can be admired. In the afternoon and evening there are gunfight shows, and though some scenes may appear somewhat amateurishly executed, the actors certainly put in a lot of good enthusiasm. A visit to this museum is certainly most interesting and worthwhile!
The old city center has several interesting sights. There is for instance the beautiful Presbyterian church, built in 1925, and the 1916 Sacred Heart Cathedral, built in Spanish Mission style. In the cathedral various interesting wall paintings can be admired.
The Home of Stone was built in 1881 by the wealthy immigrant Müller, a German shoe manufacturer and successful farmer. This man had an incredible run of bad luck! In 1886 he lost 75,000 heads of cattle in one day, in a terrible snow storm. He fell back on his shoe manufacturing, but two years later his two factories were destroyed in a city fire. After this, the entire family moved to New York.
The Tall Grass Prairie National Preserve offers a magnificent one-hour guided tour on the prairie. But if there are not too many tourists, the tour usually grows out with unending documentation to last nearly two hours. Our guide had a seemingly inexhaustible knowledge about all things in nature, and meticulously explained the local flora and fauna. A simply brilliant and unforgettable experience !
** Read my article on the Tall Grass Prairie.
Past Wichita, highway 50 leads through flat fields, occasionally interrupted by a few meadows. The view is nice and green, and the landscape resembles northern France. Fifty miles past Wichita the highway shrinks from four to two lanes, but the pavement remains impeccable.
The relatively large city of Pratt is open and pleasant, and route 281 goes on to Medicine Lodge, a small and almost deserted village, where the landscape becomes more hilly. The land seems to be iron-based, because the color shifts from predominantly light brown to red. The views remain limited to pastures and large herds of cows, but no houses or farms, just many oil pumps...
From there route 160 continues west, and it is the start of a forty-mile long Scenic Byway along the Gypsum Hills. The views are most attractive, and the hills gradually climb some 650 feet (200 m). Actually the road runs parallel with the Oklahoma border, which is just twenty miles away!
Though the Kansas Gypsum Hills may be far smaller than the spectacular White Gypsum dunes in New Mexico, they are green, and the truncated peaks seem to stand guard in the eroded landscape. The panorama of the entire landscape is striking, even though photographs cannot really do justice to it.
The Scenic Byway ends in Coldwater, and twenty miles further north lies the town of Greensburg. This is a tiny town, but nevertheless it has its own world record, by having the world's deepest hand-dug well...
Coffeyville sports a most interesting attraction, the Dalton Defenders Museum. This museum was erected in memory of the Coffeyville residents, who on 05 October 1892 protected their two local banks against a robbery by the gang of the notorious Dalton brothers.
The Dalton brothers actually lived in Coffeyville, and so they knew the banks well. After a few reckless train and bank robberies, they were being chased by a persistent U.S. Marshall. Their plan was to strike it big one last time, and also to top the exploits of Jesse James by raiding two banks at the same time! Their group consisted of three Dalton brothers, reinforced by two "part-time workers"...
But just before they moved into the bank, they were recognized. The citizens immediately grabbed their own weapons, and by the time the Daltons left the bank they were treated to a genuine barrage of gunfire. In the ensuing gunfight, four civilians and four of the five gangsters were killed. Their bodies were exuberantly exhibited for all to see, and the gunfight grew into a real national heritage.
One Dalton brother, Emmett, was severely wounded but he recovered. He was sentenced to life, but after fourteen years he was pardoned by the governor, and after his release he moved to California. You may not believe it, but there he managed to build up a career in real estate...
The museum exhibits several old weapons and very old photographs of the city as it was built. Unfortunately it also proudly presents just about anything that could be even remotely associated with this particular robbery, up to the point of absurdity. For instance, you can admire the nails that were used to build the house of the mother of one of the civilian casualties...
The museum also presents a movie about the robbery, but though the actors perform decently, the documentary in itself is rather tedious and spun out second per second ad nauseam, with many comments in between the passages.
Other points of interest in Coffeyville are the Colton Bank and the jail, where the bodies of the gangsters were exhibited. An interesting visit !
Between Louisburg and Ottawa, Interstate 35 leads through some very rural landscapes. Construction is relatively dense, with many houses and small farms, and a few larger buildings. The metropolitan area of Kansas City is just forty miles away. Past Ottawa the interstate continues to Emporia over a toll-interstate stretch, called the Kansas Turnpike. The landscape changes completely, and the Great Plains can be seen in all their glory.
The number of trees diminishes rapidly and the panorama only shows vast seas of green fields, as far as the eye can see, in a relatively flat topography. Cattle are grazing everywhere, but these surfaces seem so incredibly vast, that the farmers probably need a helicopter to keep an eye on their cows...
On the outskirts of Wichita tower seven huge concrete grain silos, called Grain Elevators, a proof of the massive wheat and cereal production of this agricultural state. The local Visitor Center, located in a Service Plaza on Interstate 35, offers a lot of documentation and a nice documentary about the state.
The Old Cow Town Museum is located at one end of the city, and it was established to show the visitors what the original Wichita was like between 1865 and 1880. Amazingly, and depending on the source of the documentation, this museum either covers a surface of 17 or 25 acres, and it contains either 26 or 45 old buildings...
The museum does have an old station, a working blacksmith shop, a garage, hotel, doctor and dentist office, pharmacy, saloon, shops and several houses. Guides walk around in contemporary clothing and provide all sorts of explanations. These showgrounds allow many interesting pictures and souvenirs.
The All Indian Center museum is located a few miles ahead, along the river. The exhibition mainly offers pictures of Indians who tell their life story, a few beautiful examples of traditional Indian costumes (maybe not always authentic), a few pieces of Indian pottery, some paintings, and of course the inevitable totem pole.
There is also some limited but interesting information about the daily life in the various Indian tribes. The one bit of information that is completely missing is any historical reference to the development of Indian history in Kansas.
Kansas City lies partly in the State of Kansas, but most of it lies in the state of Missouri. At the time of our visit we could not locate any Visitor Center either in Kansas or in Missouri to obtain tourist information.
According to our documentation the Kansas City museum is housed in a glorious old mansion with fifty rooms. It includes an interesting Hall of Natural History, that covers 7,500 years of Kansas history. This sounded most interesting, except for the fact that it was closed at the time of our visit, as a complete renovation of the roof and the interior was going on. It might be a good idea to document such facts, to avoid unnecessary trips.
But instead, the city of Kansas seemed to have another surprise in store for us. The sky gradually darkened, until it became almost pitch dark. In the next hour and half we experienced a violent good old Kansas thunderstorm with thunder and lightning, buckets of rain and winds exceeding 65 mph, that rocked our vehicle back and forth. Kansas is notorious for its violent storms!