Ah, Kansas, that much maligned road tripping state. How many times have you heard somebody gripe about having to drive across Kansas? I’ve crossed Kansas at least five times and I’ll let you in on a secret: Kansas is one of my favorite states.
Part of my love for Kansas is nostalgic: this is where I first discovered “Blue Highways”. In 2005, on my very first cross-country road trip from Pennsylvania to Oregon via the Grand Canyon, we took I-70 all the way across the country until Kansas exit 238, where we detoured south to camp for the night at Kanopolis Lake State Park.
Kanopolis was a nice enough place, meant for fishermen. We took a nice stroll along the lakeshore and young Bowie got a swim. The next morning, we decided to head west on a small county road – a yellow road, on my Adventure Atlas, which actually shows Interstates in blue – to the Barbed Wire Museum in La Crosse, Kansas.
That drive changed my life. Until then I had believed what I had always been told: Kansas is flat and boring and best hurried through on your way to better places. The truth: Kansas is epically beautiful. The vistas are huge, the wildlife abundant, and wherever you hike or camp, you’re almost guaranteed to have the place to yourself. Along the way you pass through ramshackle small towns full of character and countless abandoned Little Houses on the Prairie, all with their own stories to tell. Best of all, on back roads in Kansas everybody waves. In my well-traveled opinion, (all 50 states, over a dozen cross-country trips) Kansas is one of the best road tripping states!
On this most recent drive across Kansas I camped at Elk City State Park, near Independence, at the Big Basin Prairie Preserve near Ashland and in Cimarron National Grassland, near Elkhart. With respects to the other two spots, which were both lovely, Big Basin might have been one of my all-time best campsites ever. Elk City cost me $15 for the night. The other two spots were free.
My morning and evening hikes at Big Basin were incredible: between the two I took over 300 photos! Big Basin is a giant mile-wide sinkhole, created when the underlying layers of gypsum and salt dissolved and collapsed into a 100-foot deep bowl. See? Who says Kansas is flat?!