Sunday, December 5, 2010

Labette County Roaming

At the end of the Thanksgiving weekend, Karen and I had a chance to to some exploring in Labette County in southeast Kansas.

We visited some rural areas of the county as well as towns of Angola, Chetopa, Dennis, Mound Valley, Oswego, Parsons and Valeda.

Oakwood Cemetery - Anteitam Circle
In Parsons we looked over some of the impressive architecture downtown, including churches and the city building. Also in Parsons is the beautiful Oakwood Cemetery with it's Antietam Circle with Civil War Veterans graves.

Osage Indian Village Mural - Oswego
Oswego has a group of nice murals downtown with the highlight being the Osage Indian village mural. The farm scene mural in the Post Office and the railroad mural on a private shed were also beautiful. Also, Riverside Park at the north end of town offers an impressive view of the Neosho River below.

Sinclair Service Station - Chetopa
In Chetopa, we admired the architecture of the old mill at the east edge of town, and the beautiful Sinclair Service Station. The city building downtown has some elegant stained glass in the windows. Also, while in Chetopa, we found a flea market open on the holiday weekend and did some shopping.

In smaller towns, Mound Valley has their old brick city jail out for display and the flagpole at the middle of the downtown intersection. I was also impressed with the decaying abandoned school in Valeda. It must have been quite a building in it's heydey.

Pumpkin Creek Pony Truss Bridge- ca 1932
As always, when exploring rural areas, I try and get a sampling of some historic bridges, and Labette County does have some memorable ones. There is quite a selection of concrete arch bridges dating back as far as about 1915. There is also a few iron pony truss bridges left, with the most impressive one we saw over Pumpkin Creek just west of Angola.

Finally, we had an unexpected surprise when visiting the Mt Zion Community Church west of Big Hill Lake. We pulled up to admire this old wood country church, and found the pastor Marty Warren there, and he gave us a tour and told us about the recent renovation of this church. When I hear about rural Kansas people getting together to save and restore something important to their lives, it makes you proud to be a Kansan!

To see more of the photos Karen and I took while in Labette County visit our Smugmug photo gallery:   Labette County Photos

For more information see the following:

City of Parsons:

City of Oswego:

City of Chetopa:

Blue Skyways Labette County:

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Birds and Chocolate

Oct 30 dawned a clear day with crisp fall temps. Karen and I left Wichita well before sunrise and headed northwest to Quivira National Wildlife refuge in eastern Stafford County. Quivira and it's neighbor Cheyenne Bottoms further north are important for migrating water birds on their long journeys throughout the Western Hemisphere.

Sunrise over Little Salt Marsh
We arrived at the Little Salt Marsh area just before sunrise and went to the observation platform there. We were told by a couple of other visitors that we had missed an adult and juvenile Whooping Crane by just less than 10 min. The sun came up with it's brilliant yellow hues and I caught it just above the horizon.

Pelicans flying over Little Salt Marsh
Karen was watching the birds with binoculars while I was snapping photos as best I could. I don't have a long zoom suitable for wildlife, so most of my photos were more wide angle shots. I did capture a photo of pelicans flying over the platform.

Next, we walked the short Birdhouse Boulevard nature trail near the visitor center before driving north for a quick view of more birds in flight at the observation pullout for the Big Salt Marsh. We didn't have time to take the drive around the Big Salt Marsh on this trip.

Quivira is open daily from dawn to dusk. See the US Fish and Wildlife page at the following address:

Also, visit my photo gallery of Quivira at the following address:

Larry Hornbaker's Quivira Gallery

After leaving Quivira, we took a short drive to Stafford to attend the 2nd Annual Chocolate Sampler Affair, sponsored by the Stafford Chamber of Commerce, Stafford Main Street Association and held on the grounds of the Henderson Inn and Retreat Center at 201 N Green Street.

Chocolate Treats
Karen and I met my sister and her husband there and we found the chocolate sampling tent, with many goodies to try, including chocolate chili. We also saw exhibitors from the area including Stafford and Barton counties.

We observed a bon bon cooking demonstration, participated in a cake walk and watched a pie eating contest. This event also features the nearby Wetlands and Wildlife Scenic Byway through the Quivira and Cheyenne Bottoms areas.

See more about the Chocolate Affair at the following web address:

Chocolate Affair

Also visit the web site of the Henderson House Inn and Retreat center, a member of the Kansas Bed and Breakfast Association:

Henderson House

My photo gallery of the Chocolate Affair can be found at the following address:

Larry Hornbaker's Chocolate Affair Gallery

Jigsaw Puzzles at Curtis Cafe
Leaving the chocolate festival around noon, our group headed to downtown Stafford for a meal at the Curtis Cafe, which is known for the hundreds of assembled jigsaw puzzles on the walls. We had a good meal here before heading back home.

What a great day to be out Exploring Kansas!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

McPherson Scottish Festival

On Saturday, Sep 25, my wife Karen and I made a trip to McPherson, KS to attend the 17th Annual Scottish Festival. Karen has Scottish heritage in her family and has seen festivals in several states.

We arrived before noon and were able to see the midday ceremony and welcome. All the bands marched in seperately, along with dancers, and clans. There was a welcome from the mayor of McPherson, then a performance by the massed bands, and a Highland Fling dance.

After this, Karen and I went to the food area and did sample some ethnic food. I had a cottage pie, which is basically a beef stew inside a flaky pastry shell. It was hearty and very good. Karen had a scone with strawberries and cream which was also good.

Next, we went to listen to Alex Beaton, a well known Scottish Folk Singer, who performed some of his songs under a tent. Just as his set was finishing, the heavens opened up and we got a thunderstorm with heavy downpours. Everyone scurried under cover for 20 - 30 minutes.

Then, Karen and I watched some of the athletic competition, including the women's caber toss. We also had the chance to see the sheep herding demonstration.

Finally, we watched some of the bands perform in competition in front of some judges. Below is a video Karen shot of one of the bands.

To see some photos of the festival, follow this link to our photo gallery:

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Kansas Cottonwood Trees

I enjoy seeing Cottonwood trees around Kansas. Since I travel so many rural roads, I have seen many stately cottonwood trees, which are found mainly around and along streams and rivers.

The early settlers of Kansas prized finding cottonwood trees on the plains, because they knew there might be water nearby. Many of these trees were used as landmarks on the early trails.
See some facts about cottonwood trees at the following page from the Great Plains Nature Center web pages:

Eastern Cottonwood near Studley
I have visited both of the largest known cottonwood trees in Kansas. The largest Eastern Cottonwood is near Studley in eastern Sheridan County in northwest Kansas. According to the Kansas Forest Service, this tree is over 35 ft in circumference (measured 4.5 ft off the ground), is 96 ft tall, and has a spread of 127 ft at the crown.

The largest Plains Cottonwood tree in Kansas is off West 4th Avenue on Avery Rd in western Reno County. I actually think this tree is more massive on it's trunk since is is tighter packed. I have visited this tree several times. It is almost 31 ft in circumference, 90 ft tall, and has a spread of 98 ft. Notice the size of the trunk in the photo below compared to me with outstretched arms. Note: the Poison Ivy did not seem to bother me.

Plains Cottonwood trunk with me in front

Female cottonwood trees produce the fluffy white seeds in the spring to early summer that gives the tree it's name. See the photo below which shows a cottonwood seed shower I was in near Arlington, KS.

Cottonwood Seed Shower
 I also enjoy traveling down lanes with cottonwood trees lining both sides. A good example of this is a stretch of Herren Rd south of Greenfield Rd in Reno County, KS.

Herren Road Cottonwoods

Also, another custom that attracts people to cottonwood trees is to attach something to the tree. There is a cottonwood tree near Wetmore in northeast Kansas, that people have been nailing shoes to for over 20 years. See the article about this tree at the following address on the Kansas Sampler Foundation's web pages:

This tree inspired another. On a large cottonwood tree on his farm near Partridge, Jay Yoder has started a tree with license plates (tags). Nails and a hammer are provided so you can put your license plate on the tree facing towards your home. Karen and I visited this tree this past weekend and put her Indiana license on the tree facing northeast - See the photo below.

Jay Yoder's license plate Cottonwood
In conclusion, it's no wonder that the cottonwood tree has been named the official Kansas state tree.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Ready to Explore Again

I have not been able to explore much this past summer due to a change in my life. On Aug 14, Karen and I were married in Fort Wayne, IN.

Since then, we have been arranging our house in Wichita, and have made a couple of short trips in this area.

Karen has not been to Kansas, except for one brief trip many years ago and she is looking forward to exploring the state with me. I'm excited that she and I can explore together, and we will continue to work on my "Dare to Do Dirt" quest together, along with taking other trips to introduce her to Kansas.

More very soon.....

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Leavenworth County "Dare to do Dirt"

While in Leavenworth for the Kansas Sampler Festival during the weekend of May 1-2, 2010, I had the opportunity to travel around Leavenworth County for my quest of doing at least 25 miles of unpaved roads in each county of Kansas. I have now finished 80 of the 105 counties in Kansas.

This is a map of the area showing my GPS track laid out on the Leavenworth County area. I travelled about 135 miles in the county, and of course it was not all unpaved roads. For a guy from the flatland area of Kansas, it was especially nice to take some up and down roads in this the Glacial Hills region of the state.

On Saturday, May 1, I left the city of Leavenworth and headed north. A pleasant surprise for me was the area around the settlement of Kickapoo, in far northeast Leavenworth County. I visited the town memorial cemetery, then stopped at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church. At this site in 1836, the first Catholic Church in Kansas was built of logs for the Kickapoo Indians then in this area.

From Kickapoo, I travelled across the hills near the northern border of Leavenworth County, first passing over a bridge over Little Plum Creek in an especially scenic area, and then found an abandoned iron through truss bridge over Stranger Creek in the northwest corner of the county. This bridge was abandoned in place and a new concrete bridge was built nearby over the creek.
I then ended up in the town of Easton, where I admired the several old limestone buildings in town and found another small abandoned truss bridge behind the former school at the northwest corner of town.

From Easton, I headed south across rural areas of the county with many great views of hills, streams and barns. I drove through the Jarbalo area, then headed to the Tonganoxie area. I found Camp Mt Hermon, just west of Tonganoxie, which is a Church of the Brethren camp. Then, I headed into Tonganoxie for dinner.

I had a fantastic KC Strip steak dinner at Bichelmeyer's Steakhouse in Tonganoxie. It was served with cottage fries which were crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside. The steak was cooked medium just as I ordered, and was so good with a great flavor and quite tender. I enjoyed the atmosphere and the serving staff was constantly tending to me. All in all, a great experience and I would recommend Bichelmeyer's to anyone.

For more information about Bichelmeyer's see their web page:

From Tonganoxie, I headed east and north back to Leavenworth across rural areas, but stopped to look at the Fairmount area along the way.

On Sunday, May 2, I left Leavenworth, and after escaping a thunderstorm, I took a drive across the southern part of Leavenworth County.

I visited Stranger Creek Cemetery northeast of Linwood, then went into Linwood for a visit. I noticed a beautiful brick Basehor / Linwood middle school building, and old cemetery in town and an iron truss railroad bridge over Stranger Creek just southeast of town.

After leaving Linwood, I continued west near the Kansas River, and drove down to the Union Pacific railroad tracks in the Fall Leaf area. Then continuing on west I stopped to view the road and railroad bridges over Mud Creek in the far southwest part of Leavenworth County.

I left Leavenworth County, headed into Lawrence, and headed on home. It was a nice 2 day journey around Leavenworth County.

For a group of photos around Leavenworth County, visit my gallery at the following link:

Friday, May 7, 2010

2010 Kansas Sampler Festival

I had the opportunity to attend both days of the 2010 Kansas Sampler Festival, held May 1 - 2, 2010 in Ray Miller Park in Leavenworth.

This year, I attended the opening ceremonies for the first time. I enjoyed the parade of flags, welcome speeches by the Leavenworth organizers and Marci Penner, the performance by the Leavenworth High School Honor Guard, the national anthem performance by Allison Sowle and Theresa Hernandez. The highlight for me however, was young Paige Padgett portraying Dorothy and singing "Somewhere over the Rainbow".

I was able to meet many of my Kansas Explorer friends and other friends from around Kansas during my visits. All the volunteers at the community exhibits were friendly and helpful as always is the case.

Sunday morning was the annual Kansas Explorers Club meeting. This meeting is sort of the un-official start to the spring, summer and fall exploring season. It's always a good time to get energized and hear what other explorers are doing and planning.

Finally, there is much good Kansas made and produced food. This year I sampled a pulled pork sandwich from Pachta Pork of Belleville, a bierock from Becky's Bierocks of St Francis, a German Sausage from Krehbiel's Meats of McPherson, a brisket sandwich meal from Big Dog BBQ of Paola, some cinnamon pecans from Nuts 4 Us of Lenexa, a cherry limeade from Fun Time Confections of Wichita and beef jerky from Ranchers Best Beef of Grenola.

For more information about the festival including it's purpose and history, see the following link from the Kansas Sampler Foundation:

For a gallery of my photos taken during the festival see the following link:

The festival will be held again in Leavenworth on May 7-8, 2011. Come join the fun!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Quick Trip to South Sumner County

Yesterday was a nice sunny spring day, and I decided late in the afternoon that it was time for a short trip.

I made a quick dash to southern Sumner County near the Oklahoma border. First stop was the Rose Hill Cemetery, just east of the town of South Haven. I found a cemetery still active and growing spread out over a fairly large area. In the back of the cemetery is a flag pole with a veteran's memorial, and just in front of that is a memorial to Rex Wise, a Navy veteran who was on the USS Oklahoma, and was killed in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec 7, 1941.

I next headed down to Hunnewell for a visit. I stopped to again read the memorial to Hunnewell and the Real Cherokee Strip at Main St and US 177 highway, then drove back into town for a look. The community windmill and water pump is still there, even more encased with vines since the last time I saw it.

I had heard of an abandoned truss bridge over Shoo-Fly Creek just east of Hunnewell, so I started out on 200th Street (the Kansas/Oklahoma border) to find it. I could not get through yesterday though, due to a very muddy rutty road. Will have to try again some other time.

After a quick trip east to the town of Ashton, I then headed to Wellington for dinner at Fabiola's Mexican Restaurant. I ordered tacos de carne asada, which were very good. The grilled steak was very tender and they brought a plate with chopped tomatoes, chopped onion and cilantro, lettuce, and shredded cheese to add to the tacos. This seemed even fresher that the pico de galle I usually get with this dish at other restaurants.

Fabiola's is open Tuesday thru Friday for lunch, closed afternoons and open again for dinner. They are open Saturday and Sunday from 11 AM to 9 PM. Closed Mondays. Phone 620-326-6554 for more information.

All in all, I had a great 5 hour trip.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Some Time in Newton and a Wichita Restaurant Tradition

It had been a number of weeks since I had the chance to go out on a day trip due to the weather and other commitments. When the sun came out this past Saturday afternoon, I made a sudden decision to head out.

I didn't get too far from Wichita, and ended up at Newton for several hours. First, I had to make a stop at The Breadbasket. While it wasn't the time to enjoy a German meal, I did pick up some baked goods, namely some coffee cake and cinnamon rolls. The Breadbasket is open daily. See more at:

Then, I went on to the beautiful Newton train station. I did not have the opportunity to go inside, but spent some time admiring the beauty of the architecture. This building is on the National Register of Historic Places. I marveled at the multi-colored bricks. Not only were the bricks several colors, but each brick itself was sometimes 2 or 3 colors.

Next, it was an old favorite of mine, the 1880 Santa Fe steam locomotive at Military Park at 7th and Oak. I enjoy the nostalgia associated with steam trains, and have visited this example a number of times. It's amazing all the interconnected parts work to propel these beasts at high speed. I took a number of photos of the parts of this locomotive.

Also, I went to Centennial Park at 12th and Kansas to see the Blue Sky Sculpture, which I hadn't seen before. This is an amazing free standing tile sculpture which blends in with the Kansas sky. What an impressive work by Phil Epp and others! I also noticed this theme on paintings on the water tower and some businesses downtown.

Next, I went to North Newton to visit the campus of Bethel College. I parked my vehicle and walked a bit along the sidewalks marvelling at the beautiful brick and limestone architecture. See my photo gallery link (below) for some the the views I noticed here.

I finished my journey to Newton by visiting the Chisholm Trail monument downtown and the Mennonite Farmer statue in Athletic Park, before heading back to Wichita.

I met some of my family for dinner at Savute's Italian Restaurant on north Broadway in Wichita. None of us had yet been to this institution which dates back to 1944. We all found the food to be excellent, the service very friendly and helpful, and had a great experience. My lasagna had plenty of melted cheese with great pasta and sweet Italian sausage. All of us agreed we would be back soon.

Savute's is open daily for dinner from 4:30 to 11:30 PM. Learn more about Savute's at the 360 Wichita page:

To see some of my favorite images from around Newton that I've taken on numerous visits, see my photo gallery:

Larry Hornbaker's Newton photo gallery