was going to have to wait. For now, Pittsburgh would be our unscheduled
stop. Our emergency landing overloaded the gate with over 150 passengers
trying to rebook flights. Thank heavens I used a travel agent, I thought,
as I called my agent's hotline number to make arrangements for my
Flying to Kansas was literally taking my breath
away. Little did I realize that after I eventually landed in Kansas
City, after several convoluted connections, the breathlessness would
stay with me — but in a much more positive sense. Kansas proved
to have many surprises in store for me — many that continue
to take my breath away.
Heading for the Hills
I collect my luggage and pick-up my rental
car. For the next three days, my Kansas road trip will include cowboys,
crops, and dinosaurs — and a whole lot more. First stop is
Lawrence, a 45-minute drive west of Kansas City. With a population
of 80,000, Lawrence is home to two universities, a lively performing
arts district, and outstanding restaurants. Originally founded in
1854 as a way to keep the Kansas territory free from slavery, today
Lawrence pays tribute to its legacy as the “Free State.”
After a dinner stop in Lawrence at the eclectic
and wonderful Freestate Brewery, I head for the hills, to the northeast
of Kansas, where the Kansas prairie gently gives way to rolling
hills of green and gold dotted with occasional stands of oak trees.
I’ll be staying at the Circle S Ranch & Country Inn, a
seductively secluded ranch with stunning vistas of native grasslands,
wildflowers, and wildlife.
Only 15 minutes drive from the college town
and cultural center of Lawrence, Circle S Ranch has earned a reputation
for being one of the best getaways in the Midwest. The 10,000 square
foot inn blends with the countryside, and at first blush, looks
like an old Kansas barn. However, once inside, guests are greeted
with spacious luxury that includes a great double fireplace, a dining
room, conference room, and wrap-around porch that reminds you that
it is time to slow down ... and watch the buffalo roam.
A 3000 square foot party barn on the property
is ideal for weddings, retreats, and reunions; and it is able to
host up to 200 guests for seated receptions. The traditional silo
is in actual fact a first-class spa with a spa menu that includes
treatments such as “Gravel Road Deep Tissue Massage,”
“Babbling Brook Hot Stone Massage,” and a “Nowhere
Near the Sea Salt Scrub.” If I ever get married again, this
is where I’m heading to exchange vows. There is nothing quite
Day 1: Scenic Byways and Towns that
Time Forgot, Morris and Chase Counties, and the Flint Hills
After a delicious breakfast of local fruits,
homemade breads, and frittata, I leave Lawrence, drive through Topeka,
and continue to Highway 99, exit #328. My first stop is Alma Creamery,
where the famous Alma cheese is handmade. Today, they sell over
20 varieties of cheeses and I try at least six of their best sellers
and want more. I watch them package a cranberry-infused cheese for
Christmas, and wonder about its taste. I’ll have to wait.
Next, I drive down the Native Stone Scenic
Byway, through Alta Vista to Council Grove. Arriving at Council
Grove, once a major stop on the Santa Fe Trail, I reach for my camera.
This is one of those can't miss photo ops; to photograph the Hays
House, a restaurant and tavern built by Daniel Boone’s great-grandson
in 1857. (Kansas has its fair share of superlatives; and the Hays
House is no exception, billing itself as the oldest continuously
operated restaurant west of the Mississippi.)
Within moments I’m asked by a local
if there is anything I need help with. Indicative of small-town
hospitality, the person offering his assistance is none other than
the mayor. “Council Grove exists pretty much as it did in
the past,” says Mayor Dick Montgomery. “It was a way
station and crossroads, a place where people liked to congregate.”
The Flint Hills
Taking the Flint Hills Scenic Byway (Route
177), I drive slowly so as to fully take in my surroundings: undulating
waves of prairie grass anchored by bluffs of the all-pervasive flint
and limestone. Unlike the grandeur of western landscapes, this is
a subtler, almost sweeter type of terrain, a mellow type of beauty
that honors simplicity, grace, and charm. The Flint Hills contains
the largest remnant of native tall grass prairie in the world. Most
has never been tilled and remains pristine due to an abundance of
flint that caused many farmers to move on in search of less rocky
To see the native tall grass prairie is one
of those experiences that should be on everyone’s list of
“100 Things to See and Do Before You Die.” Sweeping
vistas of golden native grasses extend as far as the eye can see,
acting as camouflage and cover to a wonderful collage of wildflowers
and wildlife. The Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve — our
nation’s newest, and Kansas’ first — National
Park, is the last remaining remnant of the prairie grass ecosystem.
Considering that less than four per cent currently exists of a range
that once extended over most of the middle North American continent,
the tall grass prairie landscape can be considered one of the most
endangered and fragmented ecosystems today.
Also known as the Z Bar/Spring Hill Ranch,
the park contains the 1880’s ranch stead buildings, including
an 11-room stone house built in the “Second Empire”
style. Over 11,000 pristine acres of prairie are the heart of the
Continuing south along the Scenic Byway,
I head toward Cottonwood Falls and its legendary courthouse. Built
n 1873, the regal Chase County Courthouse was constructed with native,
hand-cut limestone and walnut trees from the Cottonwood River. It
is the oldest working courthouse west of the Mississippi River;
arguably, it is one of the most beautiful. On the National Historic
Register, the courthouse is a masterpiece of the French Renaissance
style of architecture, with a distinctive red mansard roof, cupola,
balustrade, and spiral staircase. Lacking any visible means of central
support, the walnut staircase is the subject of architecturally
intrigue for visitors from around the world and remains a modern
day mystery. An old jail which was in use until the 1970s, is located
at the rear of the courthouse. Take time to read some of the inscriptions
left behind by prisoners.
After touring the courthouse, I head down
Broadway Street to the Grand Central Hotel & Grill, the only
AAA Four Diamond hotel in the state. Built in 1884 and then renovated
in 1995, the hotel exudes elegance with a western flair, offering
10 spacious rooms with cowboy branding. The restaurant has a well-deserved
reputation for some of the best beef in the state, along with professional
and friendly service. For lighter appetites, order the steak salad,
a delicious and satisfying combination of crunch and chew. That
should save room for their signature dessert, crème brûlée.
As the Grand Central is conveniently located,
proprietor Suzan Barnes can arrange customized tours and activities
for just about anything, from horseback riding in the Flint Hills,
fishing, nature hiking, to a sunset ride on the Prairie Drifter,
a 1958 wheat truck. Just ask.
I opt for a sunset trail ride in the Flint
Hills, at the Flying W Ranch. This is all about experiencing cowboy
culture on a 10,000-acre working cattle ranch. My guide is Newt,
a working cowboy with quiet good manners and charm. As we ride our
horses in the hills, by the river and through the woodlands —
all of which are basking in a warm sunset glow — I wish it
could last longer. Other activities you can choose include camping
out on the prairie, chuck wagon cooking, and cowboy lessons. I vow
to come back.
Day 2: Agritourism in Ottawa and Franklin
Only 22 miles from Lawrence and 53 miles
from Kansas City, Missouri, is the City of Ottawa — a page
from the book of living history. With a population of 12,330, it
has small town charm along with diversified agritourism, historic
attractions, and amazing architecture. After a brief stop at the
Victorian-inspired Travel Information Center on K-68, I set out
for a day of agritourism.
The Kansas Alpaca Company provides travelers
with an opportunity to see an alpaca farm first-hand. Prized for
the fiber it sells, the farm offers visitors a chance to buy the
silky yarn as well as alpaca wool products made from the sheared
coats of their alpacas.
And then there are the bison. The North American
Buffalo (bison) once roamed the plains by the millions. By 1900
fewer than 500 survived. However, thanks to a fast-growing and thriving
agricultural enterprise in buffalo meat, there are over 250,000
buffalo today in Kansas. Shadeland Stock Farm Bison Ranch, located
northwest of Ottawa, is home to roaming herds of bison, affording
a wonderful opportunity to witness these giant prairie dwellers
by way of wagon ride. Owner Jack Beauchamp tells me about how his
bison are all natural, grass-grown, and fattened without grain,
hormones, or antibiotics. Buffalo meat and products are sold at
an on-site gift shop. For a really unusual gift, be sure to ask
about the buffalo cane — a guaranteed conversation piece at
There is nothing as nostalgic as having lunch
at an old-fashioned soda fountain. Allegre Pharmacy is as famous
for its hamburgers as it is for its small-town friendliness; and
for its inexpensive prices. Servings are ample so unfortunately
I have no room for the peanut butter pie.
Pome on the Range Orchard and Winery, a family-owned
orchard, is an example of crop diversity and quality at its finest.
You know the place is great when you see the locals shopping for
their produce here. Seasonal fruits and vegetables are available
year-round, including nectarines, cherries, blackberries, strawberries,
asparagus, squash, sweet corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, and pumpkins.
Try the “white” nectarine when in season, the sweetest
and juiciest I’ve ever eaten. Pome is also home to one of
the newest wineries in Kansas, with 20 wines that focus on fruit
favorites such as apple and elderberry.
I drive to Topeka for dinner at Boss Hawg’s
Barbeque & Catering, famous for slow-smoked barbeque over select
native hardwoods. In fact, Maximum Golf Magazine listed them as
one of the top ten barbeque restaurants in the country. Then I check
in for the night at the newly renovated and spacious Topeka Ramada.
Day 3: The Kansas Capital, More Crops,
Topeka, the capital of Kansas, is home to
one of the most beautiful Capitol buildings in the United States.
An historic French Renaissance-style building, the Kansas State
Capitol contains colorful murals that depict dramatic moments in
Kansas history. Most well-known are the Curry Murals on the second
floor, in particular the one of John Brown in the mural Tragic Prelude.
Don’t miss the recently restored House of Representatives
Chamber and the renovated Senate Chamber.
After viewing the Capitol itself, it’s
time for me to explore Kansas crops, with my first stop at a lavender
farm. But wait, this is Kansas and you can’t grow lavender
here. Nevertheless, 12 varieties of lavender are grown at Kansas
Lavender, just west of Topeka. However, it is the Grosso and Provence
lavenders that are used for their farm-produced gifts for sale.
Lavender gifts include sachets, dream pillows, and lavender infused
Next stop is Pendleton’s Country Market.
Though they sustained heavy damage from a March micro burst, they
are open and brimming with fresh-cut flowers and every type of seasonal
Admittedly, Kansas is not a place where I
expect to find fine wines, however after a visit to Davenport Orchard,
Vineyard &Winery, I am humming a different tune. Using Kansas
grown fruits and vines with a philosophy of minimal intervention,
Greg Shipe and his wife Charlee have crafted several first-rate
wines. My favorites include the 2003 Norton, a dry red that is aged
in barrels for 15 months and the Davenport, an innovative dessert
wine with a port-like taste. These wines are sophisticated, complex,
and show much promise.
My next stop is the 172-acre complex that
honors our agricultural heritage, the National Agricultural Center
and Hall of Fame. Dedicated to our nation’s food producers,
the center is a tribute and celebration of the tools and trade of
rural America. Be sure to save at least an hour for a trip through
Farm Town, a replicated country village from the late 1800 to early
The final leg of my Kansas road journey takes
me to an exciting new 20,000 square foot restaurant/retail/entertainment
complex at the Legends Mall in Kansas City, Kansas. Here I will
have dinner with the dinosaurs. The restaurant is TRex — a
concept developed by the founder and creator of the Rainforest Café,
Steven Schussler. The first of its kind, this “other world”
dining adventure successfully integrates great food with the Paleo
Zone — the ultimate journey through the prehistoric past.
to Roy's recent interview with Steven Schussler on Talking Travel.
For dinner I order the Mammoth Mushroom Raviolis,
simmered in a rich lobster sauce and garnished with Roma tomatoes
and fresh spinach. The taste is surprisingly great, a dish I would
order again and again. Just for fun, whether you have kids or not,
try the Paint-A-Dino for dessert. In the classic tradition of marshmallows,
rice crispies, and chocolate, this dessert comes shaped as a dinosaur
and challenges you to bring out your creative side by brushing colored
sauces and placing colored pieces of chocolate on a customized “dino.”
Kids love this place because of the Discovery
Dig, a Mining Mania, and Paleo screen that interactively test their
knowledge of the dinosaur era. They also love the Build-A-Dino™,
Where Best Friendosaurs Are Made™, where they can choose outfits
and accessories to dress their prehistoric dinosaur. And adults
love it because the food is great, the environment is entertaining,
and it’s just plain fun. I leave mesmerized by my experience,
transported back to a world out of time.
With an overnight at the convenient Holiday
Inn Express, I depart early the next morning for Kansas City airport.
On my way, I quietly reflect on the subtle beauty and diversity
of northeast Kansas.
I have encountered delightful surprises at
every turn; and friendly people at every bend. Kansas left me breathless!
view a slide show of Karin Leperi's Photographic Moments in Kansas,
by Karin Leperi