Sunday, April 21, 2013

An Afternoon in Southeast Harvey County, Kansas

After having been committed to doing other responsibilities, it was nice to have an afternoon to get out and explore again, even though it was close to home and I only traveled 78 miles. There is always something new to see!

The streams seem to have some water flowing again after recent snows and rains this spring, so I have begun stopping and looking at them. I came to a bridge over West Wildcat Creek and walked over to look. I heard a rustling and a blue heron started splashing down the creek. I snapped a quick series of photos and captured this image of it's wings stretched. I apologize for the messy background, but had to shoot fast.

I always enjoy exploring cemeteries, and this afternoon I visited 2 Mennonite cemeteries, Grace Hill and Mission, as well as the Whitewater city cemetery. I noticed this beautiful stone fence at the Whitewater Cemetery.

Also, I notice familiar surnames in Mennonite cemeteries and look for unique stones and markers. This day, I noticed a frugal marking on several stones where someone nailed homemade letters for the names on a concrete stone. Here is one example.

Further, I noticed some child's markers at Mission Cemetery, one of which had this spinning whirligig.

I'm always on the lookout for fascinating rural architecture, and noticed some unique examples again this day. Mennonite farms were some of the first in this area of South Central Kansas and I came across a number of examples of homes and barns. One sad barn I noticed is this one back in the trees. Notice the farm had wagon wheels lining their driveway too. I wonder what stories could be told of what happened in this barn over the years!

It was so great to be out yesterday!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Try a Penny Tour

Karen and I live in Wichita, KS but attend church in Hutchinson, about 1 hour by highway to the northwest. Being avid explorers and photographers at heart, we can't stand to travel by the main highway (K-96), especially when we are ready to leave Hutch and head for home. We like to take time to explore.

We like to travel some dirt roads when heading back to Wichita. In the past 10 - 15 years, I have been on almost every rural road in the area bordered by Hutchinson, Newton, Kingman and Wichita, but still notice things I hadn't seen or noticed the last time I was on a particular road.

On Dec 30, 2012 we decided to try a "Penny Tour" as we left Hutchinson. We would flip a penny and whatever direction Abe Lincoln's head was pointing we would travel for 2 miles, then flip again and do the same. We did have a few restrictions - we would not backtrack on the same road, and as we got closer to Wichita, we preferred not to go north or west again.

This photo shows the track we followed as recorded by my handheld GPS:

If you can see this map clearly, you can see we were in eastern Reno County, southern Harvey County, and then travelled south to Wichita.

The normal trip back from Hutch via K-96 is about 50 miles and takes just about an hour. The route we travelled worked out to 74 miles, and took us 2 1/2 hours.

While in eastern Reno County, we noticed a snowman someone had fabricated from wheels with attached tires. He has a tin can hat with a metal pipe in his mouth and a spark plug as a nose. A fascinating piece of rural art.

We noticed that the farmers in the rural areas of western Harvey County seem to raise a good deal of cotton, especially in the sandy areas south and east of Burrton. We saw traces of cotton still left on the stalks remaining in the fields.

Our penny directed us into the small town of Halstead in Harvey County, which we have visited a number of times. We noticed some yard art and drove through downtown. I've heard good comments about the food and atmosphere at Kaleo's Cafe and Bakery and I stopped to admire the store front, mural and artwork at their facility. We intend to get here soon to try their cuisine.

4/25/13: Update - Kaleo's Cafe is now closed.

After leaving Halstead, we headed east, then south back home to Wichita.

Try something like a Penny Tour sometime, or at the very least, get off the main highways and visit the rural areas and small towns to see what rural Kansas truly has to offer. Take your time to see what's out there.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

An Afternoon at "The Arb"

It was a warm spring day recently when Karen and I visited the historic Bartlett Arboretum in Belle Plaine, Kansas.

"The Arb" as it is affectionately known was started in 1910 by Walter Bartlett, and developed into a tree lined park with a pond for waterfowl. Athletic facilities were also developed in the park.

After Walter's death in 1937, his son Glenn took over managing the arboretum. Glenn became a professional landscape architect and horticulturalist. Glenn and his wife Margaret planted flower gardens, more trees not indigenous to Kansas, and constructed bridges over the pond and creek.

After Glenn and Margaret's deaths, the third generation of Bartlet's decided to put the Arb up for sale, and in 1997, the current owner, Robin Macy bought the Arb while driving through the area, with no previous gardening or horticultural experience.

Robin is perhaps best known as a bluegrass singer and founding member of the Dixie Chicks, is a math teacher during the day and a steward of the Arboretum during almost all other times. She receives help from many local and regional volunteers.

Robin has opened the Arb to weddings and still performs regularly with friends there. It took a lot of work to clean up and refresh the grounds. See more information at the Arb website (link is at the end of this post).

Tree Peony (Karen's Photo)
Gazebo (Larry's Photo)
When Karen and I entered the grounds, we immediately saw the warm early spring had helped the gardens bloom early. There were thousands of tulips and other flowers in a number of gardens. Architectural elements add to the beauty and Karen and I immediately started composing photographs.

Footbridge (Larry's Photo)
Bridge & Tulips (Karen's Photo)
The water pond and creek are included in many of the photos we saved. There are three scenic bridges, a tree house, caretaker's house, and other elements that are also included in many of our photos. Between the two of us, we saved over 200 photos to our personal collections. (See the link to our favorite photos saved to our SmugMug gallery at the end of this post).

Lanterns in flower garden (Karen's Photo)

We also visited the back part of the grounds, where a number of large, well-established, stately trees are found. Varieties of Cypress, Maple, Redwood, Cottonwood, Birch, Oak, Elm, Sycamore, Magnolia, Pine and other mature trees are here. It is a fantastic collection of mature trees.

I wish to credit the Bartlett Arboretum's website for the history and information I've used in this blog.


Larry and Karen's photo gallery of the Bartlett Arboretum:

Bartlett Arboretum Photo Gallery

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Wichita Carthalite

Karen and I have been examining some of the architecture in Wichita that contains colored cast concrete elements called "Carthalite".

Carthalite was the trade name used by the Cement Stone & Supply Company to designate this unique cast stone. About 11 buildings still stand with these elements. All these structures were built between 1927 and 1940.

Colored elements were only used for surface structures, not any 3 dimensional elements. The color was obtained by adding mineral pigments to the concrete, and in a few instances colored crushed glass was also added to the concrete aggregate. The colored elements are usually surrounded by white or gray concrete.

There are even rumors that crushed Mentholatum jars were used in the mural on the old Wichita Municipal Airport building. The color was not just a surface treatment, but penetrated fully throughout the entire depth of the casting.

Carthalite seems to be unique to Wichita and possibly the entire US. Researchers are still looking to see if other examples exist.

Minisa Bridge

One of the most accessible examples of Carthalite is on the Minisa bridge over the Little Arkansas River on 13th St north near North High School. Here, Carthalite is used in the Buffalo and Native American images.

Dockum Drug Store

Also, there are many Carthalite elements on the 2 visible sides of the Dockum Drug store at Douglas Ave and Hillside St. Many pastel colored elements are placed over much of the walls.

For more information about Wichita Carthalite see the following:

Article about Wichita Carthalite in American Bungalow magazine written by Barbara Hammond of the City of Wichita Historic Preservation Office:

Kansas Sampler Foundation Eight Wonders of Kansas page for Wichita Carthalite:

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!