Thursday, May 28, 2009

Three Days, Three Counties Explored

During the Memorial Day weekend, I had the opportunity to take "Dare to do Dirt" loops around three counties in southwest Kansas - Seward County, Stevens County, and the southern half of Haskell County.

Without a doubt, the highlight of the entire trip was getting to watch a UP train cross over the mighty Samson bridge over the Cimmaron River alongside US-54 just northeast of Liberal. This truss bridge, completed in 1939 was an engineering marvel of it's time. I was able to capture video and photos of a train crossing this bridge as well as numerous photos of the bridge itself. See the photo gallery links below.

Another regular component of my rural travels is visiting as many rural cemeteries as I can. Cemeteries give the traveler information about ethnicity of the people in the area, surname information and much more. I find cemeteries fascinating - so much so that I have visited at least 450 cemeteries in Kansas in the past 3 years. I visited 16 cemeteries total in these three counties ranging from the main county/township cemeteries to remote pioneer cemeteries. One interesting find was these unique wagon wheel markers in Dermot Cemetery in far northwest Stevens County.

These three counties are within the High Plains physiographic region of Kansas and have alternating patches of irrigated cropland with pasture land covered with grasses, yucca and other bushes. I found many area in the pasture land awash in yellow and orange wildflowers, including the orange Indian Blanket Flower. The terrain is sometimes broken by dry riverbed valleys, notably the Cimmaron River.
I encourage everyone to try getting off the paved roads once in a while, and explore some dirt or gravel roads. You will certainly see more of Rural Kansas!

My photo galleries:

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Mulkey Cemetery - Sedgwick County

This afternoon, I made a short loop on some unpaved roads into western Sedgwick County. It was there that I had one of those "Explorer" moments that are so special when I meet and listen to rural Kansans tell their stories.

There is a small pioneer cemetery on west 13th Street north of Garden Plain called Mulkey Cemetery. I had been by here before, but when I stopped this afternoon, the farmer living across the road came over and told me some history of this cemetery. He has lived in this area all his life.

He told me this cemetery was active from about 1879 thru 1897. It gradually went into disrepair, and was even used as a cattle pasture. Only one stone and the large cedar tree remain from the original plot. He remembers playing in the tree as a young man.

A while back, this gentleman and some others were interested in restoring the cemetery. Some money was found in the Sedgwick County budget, and research was done to identify most of the people buried here. Headstones were repaired when possible, and re-created when necessary, including several wood markers. A nice wood sign with history documents were posted near the entrance. New trees have been planted.

I found this cemetery to be in excellent condition and obviously maintained with great care by this gentleman. It is a joy to explore.

If you wish to visit this cemetery, travel 1/2 mile west of 295th Street West (paved road) on 13th Street North. Please be respectful of the private property surrounding the cemetery.

2009 Kansas Sampler Festival

On the weekend of May 2 and May 3, I had the opportunity to visit Concordia, KS for the 20th annual Kansas Sampler Festival.

I visited the Kansas Explorer's Club tent to buy some clothing, including a fleece vest and a couple of t-shirts. This year's slogan is "Relentless for Rural". On Sunday morning, the annual Kansas Explorers Club meeting was held. We learned of upcoming events and met the people from Leavenworth County who will be hosting the 2010 and 2011 festival.

Of course, I spent time roaming thru all the booths getting literature for towns and counties that I have yet to visit. This is the main purpose of the festival, to make it convenient to showcase what there is to see and do in Kansas. According to the Kansas Sampler Foundation, "135 Kansas communities were represented in 217 exhibits of Kansas day trips, products, art, books, music, historical performances, and free-standing exhibits. Over 5,000 attended."

The food at the festival is representative of Kansas. I sampled a chicken salad croissant from the Huckleberry Tea House from Concordia, pulled pork from Pachta Pork from Belleville, a bierock from Becky's Bierocks in St Francis, and a hot dog on a stick from Bossie's Best Organic Hot Dogs from Home.

Also, I got the opportunity to take a tour of the Nazareth house of the Sisters of St Joseph adjacent to the city park. The building is over 100 years old. We saw some of the historic rooms and chapel and also got to sample some of the sisters' hobbies, including some great artwork.

I enjoyed watching and listening to performances by both the historical performers, and musical performers. The historical performers entertain and teach of Kansas history and people. This year, I took time to enjoy musical performances by Ann Zimmerman and the Alfred Packer Memorial String Band.

Finally, on Saturday May 2, I went east to Clyde for a "Whole Hog Luau" sponsered by the VFW. The menu included pulled pork, beans, slaw, potato salad, fruit, and a special performance by Elvis. Clyde is a bustling community that is truly fun to visit.

Try attending the Kansas Sampler Festival! I promise, no matter how much you know about Kansas, you will learn many new things and come away with many day trip ideas.

For more information about the festival, see the following page from the Kansas Sampler Foundation:

To see my photo gallery of the 2009 Festival see:

Belleville, Scandia, and Concordia

On Friday May 1, 2009, I spent the day in north central Kansas in Republic and Cloud counties.

I spent the morning in Belleville, first exploring downtown around the beautiful WPA courthouse, built in 1939. I noticed the township names marked on the outside windows. After leaving downtown, I travelled out the the east edge of town to Rocky Pond, where the Rock Island Railroad used the water for steam engines.

I visited the city park in Belleville, with several WPA buildings, including the bandshell, then went to the fairgrounds, home of the historic Belleville High Banks 1/2 mile racetrack. Here are the WPA stone grandstand and the historic round wood Floral building.

Next, I went to the High Banks Museum on North US-81 in Belleville. Here, the volunteer was very helpful as he took me through the museum explaining all the exhibits and race cars associated with the High Banks racetrack, which will be 100 years old in 2010.

I went west to Scandia for a good lasagna lunch at Tag's Bar & Grill, then explored the downtown business district and the architecture there. I also went up the hill to Riverview Cemetery at the north edge of town, one of the hilliest cemeteries I've been to.

Then, I went back to Belleville for a visit to the Republic County Historical Museum. Some interesting displays here, including outside displays of a one room school, a church and blacksmith shop. Also here was perhaps the largest tool collection I've yet seen at any museum.

By mid-afternoon, I went south to Concordia for a visit to the National Orphan Train Museum complex. This museum chronicles a few of the approximately 250,000 orphans moved by train from New York City during the period of 1854 to 1929.

Finally, after dinner, I went to the historic Brown Grand Theater in Concordia for a performance by the Diamond W Wranglers, whose home base is Cowtown Museum in Wichita. This was my first chance to see them, and I very much enjoyed the performance.

Some links:
My photo galleries:
Republic County:
Cloud County:

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Concordia and Eastern Republic County

On Thursday April 30 I left Wichita and headed to north central Kansas for the weekend of the Kansas Sampler Festival, held this year in Concordia.

For lunch, I tried a new restaurant, Heavy's BBQ in Concordia. I was pleasantly surprised to find they were serving Knackie's sauces, made in Inman, one of my favorite brands of sauce. While in Concordia, I also stopped at the Cloud County Museum Annex to check on the progress of the raised relief 'Whole Wall Project", being assembled - it should be finished in a few weeks.

By mid-afternoon, I headed north into Republic County, where I made a loop to visit 3 small towns in the eastern part of this county: Cuba, Narka, and Munden.

In Cuba, I visited the downtown area, bought some canned goods in the Cash Store, then headed out southeast of town to visit the historic National Bohemian Cemetery. I was also fascinated that a city street passed right thru the bottom frame of the city water tower.

Then, I went north to Narka. This town has a very unique water tower which resembles a space ship. While downtown, I also noticed a nicely decorated small park, a multi-colored brick building, and an active COOP elevator.

I then travelled a few miles west and south to Munden. I noticed at least 3 churches around town. Downtown was a nice park, a bank, beauty salon, COOP and some other businesses. I also noticed some unique signs on the downtown poles with art on one side and quotations on the other.

I ended my day by heading back to Belleville for a good fish dinner at the Country Club.