Saturday, August 20, 2011

A Day Visiting Historic Places

My wife Karen and I are doing several quests around Kansas now. This year, we have been wanting to find 150 historic sites, buildings, places, signs, etc within a 150 mile radius of our home in Wichita. This is the 150th anniversary year of Kansas statehood, so we call this quest 150 times 3 (150X3).

Due to work schedules and some health issues, we have not been able to do as much towards this quest as I would have liked to this point in the year. Recently, on July 31, we headed out on a day trip south and east of Wichita to add some sites to our completed list.

Tornado memorial in Udall
We began by stopping at the city park in Udall to see the memorial to the people who lost their lives in the massive tornado on May 25, 1955. The tornado struck with almost no warning and killed 87, and injured another 200. Out of this destruction and loss of life came much work towards improving severe storm forecasts and warnings.

We traveled on southeast to the junction of US-166 and K-15 south of Dexter to view the Kansas Historic sign about the discovery of helium in Dexter in 1903. When the town tried to light the natural gas well that were drilled, the flames went out each time. It was discovered the natural gas contained 2% Helium. Helium was first used in balloons in World War I, but many industrial uses were developed also. There was a commercial plant producing helium in Dexter for a number of years.

Hewins Park Pavilion interior view - Cedar Vale
Our next stop as in Cedar Vale in southwest Chautauqua County. We went to Hewins Park at the southeast corner of town to visit the Pavilion there, built in 1913. I found this to be an impressive wood framed building, that the town uses for large group events. It has great ventilation since it is open on 3 sides. A semi-circular stage is at the south end. The concrete floor was added in 1946. The photo shown here is of the impressive arch wood construction of the interior.

Swinging Suspension Bridge in Moline
Our next historic site was in Moline, in Elk County. Here is the oldest swinging pedestrian suspension bridge in Kansas. It was built in 1904. Even though it was a very hot day, we got out and walked across the bridge with our dogs. The creek underneath was completely dry due to the extended drought in Kansas this year.

Grenola Monument
Continuing west on US-160, we pulled into the small town of Grenola in western Elk County. Heading downtown along the railroad track we found a limestone marker with the following statement:



Also nearby, is a nice mural depicting the cattle drives, and a nice gazeebo. Across the street is the town museum, unique in the fact that it is housed in the old grain elevator. This museum is open Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

Grand Summit Railroad siding
Heading on west on US-160 into Cowley County, we pulled off north to a spot that intrigues me, the Grand Summit railroad siding. This station was active from about 1880 into at least the 1930's, but nothing remains except for a 2 track siding. I've read stories of many cattle being loaded onto rail cars here from the numerous ranches in the area during that time. Now, the area has only a few farms and ranches left. Just east of the station, the railroad crests the summit of the Flint Hills in this area and goes through a rock cut that has yielded fossils. The photo shows the lonely siding.

We were able to visit 6 historic sites during a good day of exploring.

See more of my photos of our 150X3 quest at the following address:

150X3 Quest Photos

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Doing Dirt in Norton County

During a recent trip out of Kansas, Karen and I were able to explore some rural areas of southern and western Norton County in northwest Kansas.

Hills in Southern Norton County
Rummage Sale in Edmond
We came into the county from the south and drove a few miles through the hills east of US-283 till we arrived at the small town of Edmond. Here we found an old wood frame abandoned church, a brick United Methodist church, the remains of an old brick hotel and a store front which seemed to be used for a rummage sale / flea market.

Former Church in Densmore
Then, we traveled east to Densmore where sadly we found a town which has lost its businesses, schools and churches. We noticed the brick school building was being demolished and some abandoned buildings downtown, along with a limestone church. We did notice a few houses where people were still living in town.

Barbeau House in Lenora
After roaming on some dirt roads north of K-9 highway, we ended up at the town of Lenora. Here, we noticed an active downtown business district, a couple of schools, and the beautiful Queen Anne Victorian Barbeau House bed and breakfast.

St Joseph Catholic Church in New Almelo
Next, we drove west to New Almelo, where still stands the beautiful limestone St Joseph Catholic Church, built in 1900. It is an imposing structure which can be seen from quite a distance.

Finally, we drove north through rural areas of the western part of Norton County before taking the highway to the town of Norton for the night. I would still like to explore some of the northern half of the county, so we will likely be back to Norton County again before long.

Rocky outcropping - western Norton County

See more of our photos of Norton County at the following link:

Monday, January 17, 2011

New Year's Day in the Gyp HIlls

One of Kansas's best treasures is the Red Hills physiographic region, which spans parts of up to 7 counties in South Central and South West Kansas. The heart of this area, also known as the Gypsum (or Gyp) Hills is in Barber and Comanche Counties between the towns of Medicine Lodge and Coldwater.

My wife Karen, has wanted to take a trip to this area since she moved to Kansas. When we saw clear sunny weather in the forecast on New Year's Day, we decided to take a day trip to this area. I have been to this area a number of times, but always enjoy going back, especially in different seasons.

On the way to Medicine Lodge, we made stops in Harper and Anthony to observe some murals, the old Runnymede Church, the 9-11 memorial and the Harper County Courthouse in Anthony. Karen has just begun a quest to photograph all the Kansas Courthouses. This will be an ongoing quest as we travel Kansas.

See Karen's Kansas Courthouses photo gallery at:

We left Medicine Lodge heading west on US-160 and turned south onto the 22 mile long Gyp Hills Scenic Drive, which travels through some of the most scenic areas of the Red Hills. Heading south, then west, then back north to US-160, this drive is suitable for all vehicles in good weather, and offers great views all along it's length. Below is a small sampling of photos of this area, taken during my journeys along this road.

Gyp Hills Scenic Drive (Karen's Photo)

Gyp Hills Scenic Drive (Karen's Photo)
Flower Pot Mound (Larry's Photo)
Gyp Hills Scenic Drive (Larry's Photo)
For more information about the Gyp Hills Scenic Drive and related Gypsum Hills Scenic Byway, which together are a winner in the 8 Wonders of Kansas Geography, see the Kansas Sampler Foundation's page at:

Dog Creek area - Lake City Road (Karen's Photo)
 Leaving the Gyp Hills Scenic Drive at US-160, we headed north on Lake City Road and viewed some of the ruins in Lake City.

From there, we headed east on River Road before turning north on another favorite road, Mingona Road towards the Elm Mills area in northern Barber County.

Approaching thunderstorm on Mingona Rd (Larry's Photo)

We had seen the Flat Ridge Windfarm windmills from Mingona Road, so we backtracked south on US-281, then east and north on Isabel Road to view them up close. By now it was dusk, so we headed north to US-54/400 and back east to Wichita.

To view more photos that Karen and I have taken in the Gyp Hills, see our photo gallery at:

What a great way to start a new year with a trip to a beautiful area of Kansas!