After a great late-April morning at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge in the dead center of Kansas, I found my way back to pavement and headed east. Many folks have the perception of Kansas being totally flat and boring – miles of endless cornfields. Large swaths of central and western Kansas (particularly along I-70) are indeed just that. But, getting off the Interstate, and exploring eastern Kansas reveals many beautiful vistas and hidden treasures…
I took a quick spin through downtown Hutchinson, KS. I’d not been there since I was about 4 years old when my grandmother took me on the train from Kansas City to visit her sister for the weekend. The train station was probably about the same as it was before, but it now only serves 2 Amtrak trains, both of which stop here in the weary middle of the night.
Hutchinson (population 41,000) is a relatively large town for these parts and it hosts the Kansas State Fair every year. The downtown looks a bit like small-town Kansas on steroids with quaint older buildings that are a bit taller and more numerous than other Main streets. If I weren’t driving an RV and pulling a toad, I would have stopped for a stroll.
After a couple hours of driving east, I made my way to Kansas Highway 177, the Flint Hills Scenic Byway, that runs through the beautiful green, rolling Flint Hills of southeastern Kansas. When my aunt and uncle moved from Hutchinson to El Dorado, our family made many trips passing through these hills to visit them. Gorgeous, wide open cow pastures, particularly in Spring when the fields are bright, vivid green!
As I made my way north along Hwy 177, I passed through the adorable historic town of Cottonwood Falls with its impressive courthouse. It really does pay to explore the back roads—you rarely find these little gems along the Interstate!
A bit further north, I finally arrived at my next park destination—the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, a joint partnership between the Nature Conservancy and the National Park Service. In late April, the prairie plants were just starting to emerge from their Winter hibernation. By Summer, these fields will be waving with waist-high prairie flowers and grasses!
A small herd of bison were recently reintroduced to this prairie, but on this afternoon, I only saw this lone Western Meadowlark posing nicely and serenading me as I walked the fields.
The park lands also feature a historic old ranch house and this old stone, one-room Lower Fox Creek Schoolhouse built in 1882. My grandmother used to teach in one of these old prairie schoolhouses about a 100 miles south of here back in the 1930’s. What an experience that must have been!
As I made my way over to Emporia, KS for the night, I passed this small fire on the prairie, no doubt helping the prairie plants and grasslands regenerate and thrive for another new season.
After a peaceful night at the Emporia Flying J truck stop, I decided to take a new route home rather than pass through Kansas City for the one-millionth time (I do love KC, though—it’s where I was born!). Today, I would head north through Topeka and cross into Missouri at St. Joseph. There were a few National Wildlife Refuges I wanted to visit in that area.
My first morning stop was a very unexpected treat-- the Visitor’s Center & Train Museum in Atchison, KS. As I crawled in and out of the historic train engine and cars of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad, I couldn’t help but hum the 1940’s Johnnie Mercer song of the same name!
Another claim to fame for the town that I’d not realized earlier was that it’s the birthplace of Amelia Earhart. Even though driving an RV into the historic, very hilly side of town overlooking the Missouri river seemed like a pretty stupid idea, I’ve long admired Amelia Earhart and just had to go see where she was born!
Many of the historic homes of Atchison are beautifully restored--
After climbing a very steep hill, I arrived at the little white house on a high river bluff where Amelia Earhart was born on July 24, 1897. The home belonged to her grandparents and was built around 1860.
Check out that nice Winnie & Tracker parked along the side yard!
Amelia had quite a view of the river and Missouri’s hills from her front porch. No wonder she couldn’t wait to jump from this perch and fly!
As I crossed the Amelia Earhart memorial bridge across the Missouri river, I regretted not being able to explore the area longer (or visit some nearby friends). I’ll come back and stay longer next time—I promise!