Thursday, September 16, 2010

How KE #54 Sees Kansas

Gene Merry, KE #54, from Burlington, sent in this extensive Explorer Trackings. I enjoyed reading it so much and thought you might, too.

Written by Gene...

I started keeping track in 1997 of all the Kansas highways and byways I traveled. Recently, I completed the over 10,000-mile quest of traveling all state, U.S. and Interstate highways in Kansas, as well as many miles of dirt and gravel.

The highlights of 13 years of seeing every nook and cranny of Kansas are many. I visited all of the 8 Wonders of Kansas, a project of Kansas Sampler Foundation. The 8 Wonders include the Big Well, Greensburg; Cheyenne Bottoms/Quivira Natural Wildlife Reserve, Barton and Stafford Counties. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum, Abilene; Kansas Cosmosphere, Hutchinson; Kansas Underground Salt Museum, Hutchinson; Monument Rock/Castle Rock, Gove County; St. Fidelis Church, Victoria; and Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, Chase County. I also viewed the 16 finalists in the contest.

I stayed at 20 different bed and breakfasts, all members of the Kansas Bed & Breakfast Association, my favorite overnight arrangement.

I explored Kansas using a Kansas state map, the DeLorme Gazetteer and Kansas Sampler Foundation’s Kansas Guidebook for Explorers written by Marci Penner. Using the eight elements of exploring and following the Kansas Guidebook, you find that many of the cities have following 8 elements--art, architecture, commerce, customs, cuisine, geography, history and people.

Breaking out my favorites by element class is as follows:


My favorite art across Kansas is mural art. Many communities tell their story by painting a canvas displaying what they are proud of and what reflects favorably on their community. There are so many great murals across the state, it’s hard to pick a favorite, if you haven’t discovered murals in Kansas, start today.


My favorite is the Kansas Statehouse, its structure, art, and history. Many Kansas towns have great downtown buildings and great historical documentation including Coffeyville, Caldwell, Ness City, Atchison, Marysville and Council Grove.

The Catholic churches across Kansas are also my favorites. St. Fidelis Catholic Church (Cathedral of the Plains), has neat double towers and magnificent marble, at Victoria.

St. Bede Catholic Church in Kelly has the most unique lector stand or soloist stand, great leaded glass and its location on a hill makes it look a mile high and visible for miles.

St. Ann Catholic Church in Olmitz has four clocks for each direction and has an unbelievable view. St. Joseph Catholic Church in Damar has a unique Romanesque design with incredible blues in their leaded glass.

Kansas has very unique courthouses some of my favorites Yates Center, Ness City, Anthony, Lyons, Ottawa, Paola, Osborne (mystery symbols), Lincoln, Marion, Cottonwood Falls and Manhattan.

If you haven’t noticed, architecture is my favorite element.


A great revenue producer Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corporation production facility near Burlington is the cleanest and greenest power production facility in the state. W.C.N.O.C. also sports a great 5,000 acre fishing lake with all species, hosts a great environmental center with overview silo, so cool.

Other favorites in Commerce are small town grocery stores from McDonald to Riverton. They are usually my stop for mints, crackers/cheese and soft drinks. Caldwell has a neat grocery store with daily barbeque. We ate in the gazebo in a downtown park. Small town grocery stores are the heartbeat of the community.


My favorite custom involves attending the Kansas State Fair and seeing the fruits of Kansas producers. Another favorite is custom combining, especially wheat. What it does to the soul to see five combines in a field, wiping out another successful Kansas wheat crop. Growing up in the Flint Hills, the annual custom of turning cattle out to grass and returning them to a collection point or taking cattle from grass to the feedlots.


I really enjoy all types of food, but in Kansas you have so many choices that are truly great homemade meals. Favorites in chicken are the Olpe Chicken House, Chicken Mary’s and Chicken Annie’s in Crawford County. My favorite in the most unusual category, the menu changes daily at Teller Room Restaurant in Oberlin. They also have the best fruit (located in the first floor of the historic Bank of Oberlin). Tex-Mex favorite is Across the Borders in Burlington. El Salvadorian chef has the best cheese sauce and numerous tasty Mexican food entrees. The restaurant has the only Explorer dining room showcasing the 8 Elements of Coffey County.

My favorite travel food comes from Brants Meat Market in Lucas--love the sausage, crackers and root beer.

Chicken fried steak fixed the Explorer Way is a highlight along with prime rib at Trappers Bar and Grill in Simpson, Pinky’s Bar and Grill in Courtland, and on the widest street in America, Plains Tavern in Plains.

Just great down home food at Don’s Place in Protection, Hometown Café in Barnes, pan fried chicken Whiting Café, (tell Rosa hi), and Neighbors Cafe in McPherson. Chili, snack cheese, and hot pickles at C.W. Porubsky Grocery and meals, in the Little Russia neighborhood in Topeka. My favorite steak house is Jim’s Steak House and Lounge, Pittsburg.

My parents and I like pie so anytime passing through Emporia, I always bring back pie. My dads favorite is strawberry rhubarb from Galva’s Kountry Kafe (620.564.3500) and good food, too. I’ve been to the pie plant in Washington known as Marcon Pies. They sell in southern Nebraska and Kansas, wide variety, always great consistency and my favorite is blueberry. Rosa at Whiting Café makes great cream pies, candy and serves the largest ice cream sandwiches around.

Whiting Café has a special place in my heart as over 100 volunteers remodeled the cafe in 2009 in association with the Kansas Sampler Foundation.


My favorite geography areas are “The Breaks” near St. Francis, the Kansas Grand Canyon, Cimarron Grassland near Elkhart, especially in wet years, wildflowers are great. I grew up in the Flint Hills near Olpe, so my favorite of favorites would have to be the beauty of the Flint Hills, and the world class grass.


Kansas has so much history in trails, people, communities, agriculture and many more, take your pick, so much history so little time, to get all the stories.


My second favorite element is the people of Kansas, from the store owners at small grocery stores to the bed and breakfast owners across the state, to volunteers in museums, attractions and parks. We have the most friendly, informed (if they don’t know they’ll call a friend) and dedicated to their individual communities. People make Kansas the superior attraction it is. Take some time to sit down with the locals at their coffee shop and get to know what’s going on there and taste Kansas.

My plan for doing all the traveling was to prove to myself and others that vacationing in Kansas can be just as exciting as any other destination, because you do the same things. When you travel you eat, stay in hotels, motels or bed and breakfast establishments and you see the sights. The big difference is the midwest business persons are some of the most helpful people on earth. They are very proud and accommodating. They love to tell their story.

My wife Barb has traveled with me on numerous trips in Kansas and enjoys shopping at all kinds of quilting shops, gift shops and markets. She likes to make an economic impact.

To enjoy Kansas you have to be engaged in the history of Kansas communities.

Before you plan an expensive trip out of state, take some time to explore Kansas, enjoy a slower pace, try some great food, take advantage of bargain prices, and get to know the state and its people, like we have.

Thanks Gene. Certainly, one way to "Get Kansas" is to know Kansas!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Gene, this was great information! I would like to have it reprinted in our local newspaper!