Ode To Kansas

Big Basin D.O.G.

Big Basin D.O.G.

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.

One of the many ruins along the back roads in Kansas.

The Dog & Cow House: One of the many ruins along the back roads in 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 free Cimarron site. I loved listening to that windmill all night!

My free Cimarron site. I loved listening to that windmill all night!

My Free Big Basin Campsite

My free Big Basin campsite. What a view! Oh, the stars!

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?!

On the Edge of the Bg Basin. We're heading down to that windmill and corral below. The Teardrop is on the far left.

Shadow Shot On the Edge of the Big Basin. We’re heading down to that windmill and corral below on the left.

Hopping Fences

Hopping Fences

Working Windmill! Windmills are the Oases of the Plains: the wind-turned blade turns a crank that runs a pump that brings up water from deep underground.

Working Windmill! Windmills are the Oases of the Plains: the wind-turned blade turns a crank that runs a pump that brings up water from deep underground.

Cattle Chutes. This is not a happy place.

Big basin Cattle Chutes. This is not a happy place.

Cattle Chutes II

Biga Basin Cattle Chutes II

Treasure! This is the first intact cow skull I've ever found. The rest of him was scattered in a draw a half-mile from the chutes.

Treasure! This is the first intact cow skull I’ve ever found. The rest of him was scattered in a draw a half-mile from the chutes.

The skull stank wayyy to much to keep so I stashed it up on a bluff far from a path, where I might revisit it someday.

The skull stank wayyy to much to keep so I stashed it up on a bluff far from a path, where I might revisit it someday.

Big Basin D.O.G. Desert dog Dio was so thrilled to be back in open space! Me too, Dio, me too.

Big Basin D.O.G. Desert dog Dio was so thrilled to be back in open space! Me too, Dio, me too.

About theblondecoyote

Mary Caperton Morton is a freelance science and travel writer with degrees in biology and geology and a master’s in science writing. A regular contributor to EARTH magazine, where her favorite beat is the Travels in Geology column, she has also written for the anthologies Best Women's Travel Writing 2010 and Best Travel Writing 2011. Mary is currently based in Big Sky, Montana. When she’s not at the computer she can usually be found outside -- hiking, skiing, climbing mountains and taking photographs. Visit her website at www.marycapertonmorton.com.
This entry was posted in Bowie & D.O.G., Hiking!, Photography, Road tripping!, Teardrop Trailer, Vagabonding 101. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Ode To Kansas

  1. corbin8r says:

    Awesome pictures! Having grown up in Oklahoma, I have similar feelings about the beauty of that kind of landscape. I used to love being able to watch storms roll in from half-way across the state. Thanks for sharing this!

  2. Michael says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more; Kansas is beautiful! I’ve made a few trips across Kansas on my way to and from Colorado. I always avoid I-70 like the plague. Living in Indiana, I always feel boxed in by not being able a distant horizon. It is magical to watch a distant thunderstorm roll across the plains. I have always found good places to camp for free at state or national properties. I also have a love affair with the high plains of eastern Colorado for the same reasons. Keep burning up the back roads and sharing your adventures with us.

  3. Tina says:

    Great post Mary, I have ordered the Blue Highways book and look forward to finding lots of treasured places to check out along the road. Looks like a beautiful place will have to check out one day. Amazing pictures!

    Take care,

    Tina

  4. cozygirl says:

    Just stunning….you showed a whole new look for Kansas. Had to share with my friend Rob who too is a fan of Kansas. I’ll be sure to take the 2 lane route for sure!

  5. Gunta says:

    Thanks to the Interstate Highway System, it is now possible to travel from coast to coast without seeing anything. -Charles Kuralt
    😀

  6. I’ve never been to Kansas, but when I am there, I will try to see it as you do. Carol

  7. forkinriver says:

    “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.”…this is why I love your blog. It’s fun to hear about your adventures, but your thoughtfulness and detail are truly the icing on the cake.

  8. David Greybeard says:

    You’re right about about Kanopolis being for the fisherman, but towards the north end of the lake is Horsethief Canyon with an excellent hiking/ equestrian trail. If you are persistent and sneaky, you can find the old Native petroglyphs carved into the sandstone walls. The best campsite on the lake, on a little hill looking over almost the entire lake, was changed to a day-use only area. One of my favorite places in my home state.

  9. Pingback: Not All Blogs That Wander Are Lost | Travels with the Blonde Coyote

  10. azsoap says:

    Reblogged this on AZ SOAP and commented:
    For my roadtrip to Kansas.

  11. azsoap says:

    This month, our book club read “Hard Times” by Studs Terkel and “The Worst Hard Time” by Timothy Egan…coincidentally this group of musicians The 198 String Band came to Mesa with their Depression Era music and media show, please check them out, The are living history. http://www.musicfromthedepression.com/The%20198%20String%20Band.html

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s