Kansas


Thanksgiving 2010

Forget the cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie for this year’s Thanksgiving. The only turkey we saw was one on a diner’s head in the Village Inn in Colby, Kansas.

Turkey Hat Front - B

Turkey Hat Profil - B

              Gobble, Gobble

The gentleman was proud to tell us he had enough similar hats to wear a different one every day of the month. Can you imagine? I think it’s fortunate there’s a holiday for him to feature Tom Turkey.

Bob and I plus my sister Judy spent the day driving east from Denver along I-70. With a promising weather forecast we decided to make a road trip to central Illinois for a special family event. Limited holiday dining options in western Kansas found us having a noontime breakfast at a Village Inn.

Bob and PIzza - BWe stopped for the night in Abilene, Kansas. The helpful desk clerk at our hotel made several calls trying to find an open restaurant – to no avail. After a drive through town we opted for a “To Go” pepperoni pizza from Casey’s General Store. Thankful and mighty glad to indulge in something hot.

With a desire to chalk up mileage we didn’t take time to stop for photographs but we’ll remember the day with mental images: an every increasing number and size of grain elevators plus covered mounds of additional grain awaiting sale or storage, fields girded with stone fence posts, a lone working aged windmill with hundreds of 21st-century wind turbines on the other side of the Interstate, tall church steeples raising above the plains, and a thousand birds rising as one from a barren cottonwood.

A very different, but pleasant Thanksgiving. We have just as much to be thankful for as if we had indulged in turkey with all the trimmings including pumpkin pie.

Hidden Gem in Garden City

Garden City Zoo - Entrance When we found ourselves spending the night in Garden City, Kansas I nosed through the local information to get a feel for the community. The first fact that jumped out at me was that Garden City, population around 28,500, had a zoo. I was intrigued. How large a zoo? What kinds of animals? How did this city in southwestern Kansas come to have a zoo?

Two weeks later we once again spent the night in Garden City on our return trip from Oklahoma. Before I left town I had to see the Lee Richardson Zoo for myself . After a early morning drive through I was even more impressed and intrigued. The story got more interesting with a bit of research.

Of the seven Kansas zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums Lee Richardson is the oldest; founded in 1927 as a joint effort between the city and the local chapter of Izaak Walton League. The original intent was to house species from the local area. Committee members were charged with finding animals to donate. The first to arrive were two skunks brought in by Lee Richardson.

Today the zoo is home to over 300 animals representing over 110 species from North and South America, Asia, Africa and Australia. Located in Finnup Park south of downtown, the zoo covers more than 50 acres which one can circle on a drive through or walk the many intertwining paths. Walk through admission is always free as is drive through before 10am. After 10am the fee is $3 for one zoo trip.

Garden City Zoo - Camel Because we wanted to get back to Denver before an impending snowstorm hit we didn’t have time to do the zoo justice. As we made our morning visit the only other people around were employees and construction crews working on new facilities. It would have been great to leisurely stroll the pathways. Instead, from the car we noted the majestic African Lion watching as we passed by. Jaguar, bison, red kangaroos, antelopes from Asia, Africa and North America, one and two hump camels (Dromedaries from North Africa, Bactrian from the Gobi Desert)  – even on a short visit we could see the wide range of the animal world represented.Garden City Zoo - Two-Hump Camel

Habitats looked well cared for, large trees provide summer shade and signage was attractive and informative. For instance, I learned that the Bactrian camels – the two hump variety – can withstand temperatures from –20 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. The humps store not water as commonly assumed by are fat reserves. To learn even more visitors can use the cell phone audio tour feature. At each location the blue cell phone emblem appears just dial up the number on the sign. The service is free. Want to try it from home? Dial 620-805-3002 and enter any number between 1-42 when prompted.

Garden City Zoo - Sign Nearly a quarter of a million people visit the Lee Richardson Zoo each year. Obviously I was the one in the dark; now, I know we have a definite reason to return.

When You Go: Visit the Lee Richardson Zoo – labeled the Oasis of the Plains – 7 days a week. The Zoo is open from 8am-6:30pm from April 1-Labor Day and from 8am-4:30pm from the day after Labor day to March 31.

Lee Richardson Zoo - Finnup Park, Garden City, Kansas
Lee Richardson Zoo – Finnup Park, Garden City, Kansas

When in Garden City:

We recommend the Holiday Inn Express for overnight lodging. Nothing extra fancy but everything worked plus the room and public areas were well maintained. Linens, bath amenities and complementary breakfast met or exceeded the company’s standard. Appreciated the warm cookies in the evening and the bowl of shiny crisp apples for road food.

Looking for local dining instead of the nationwide chains we were directed to Samy’s Spirits/Steakhouse in the Clarion Hotel. Since this is BEEF country we decided to go with the Monday night special – prime rib dinner for two. This included the soup and salad bar (Bob says the vegetable beef soup was the best part of the meal), choice of potato, veggie (asparagus that evening), warm bread and 10 ounce cut of prime rub per person. Bob requested an end piece and they were able to accommodate. Plus, for dessert one generous slice of Black Forest Torte was included. We took ours to go; couldn’t manage dessert until the next day.

Santa Fe Trail Guardian

Fort Larned National Historic Site

FLNHS - Post Hospital The year is 1868. Mail stages and wagon trains loaded with trade goods await military escort westward along the Santa Fe Trail. The tepees of a band of Cheyenne Indians stand just outside the fort expecting to receive their first rations as promised by the Medicine Lodge Treaty signed the previous year. A wounded 7th Cavalry soldier seeks warmth in a rocking chair near the stove in the post hospital. The place – Fort Larned in southwestern Kansas.

March 2010 – A 37-starred flag unfurls in the stiff Kansas wind over a quiet Fort Larned National Historic Site. From 1859–187FLNHS - Flag8 the Fort was an  important link along the Santa Fe Trail. Today nine of the original stone and timber buildings and the reconstructed Blockhouse echo with the history of the march to the American West. First established to protect traffic along the Santa Fe Trail, Fort Larned later served as an agency for the Indian Bureau and, after the Civil War, soldiers from he Fort protected Santa Fe Railroad construction.

Unfortunately, we didn’t arrive until late afternoon on our trek across Kansas and had less than an hour to explore Fort Larned. What we did see captured our interest and imagination. In the Visitor Center an informative receptionist set the stage for our visit. Her extensive knowledge and enthusiasm came through in each sentence. With our time limitations we skipped the orientation slide show and the museum deserved more attention than our quick walk through provided. We were eager to see some of the Fort’s refurbished buildings and snap a few photos.

FLNHS - Fire Buckets We noted walls that talk with century-old graffiti – names and dates etched in the soft stone building blocks. Stepping into the Company C Third U.S. Infantry Barracks we’re surprise at the detail of the furnishings – fire buckets to coffee grinders, uniforms and firearms. Imagine the level of activity when this building housed and fed 150 men. The east half of the barracks replicates the post hospital, again in fascinating detail – more than we can observe during one visit.

The Shops Building recalls the multitude of tasks  undertaken at the Fort – bread baking in the brick oven, blacksmithing, carpentry, tinsmithing, saddlery. We’ll have toFLHS - Uniforms return to further explore the New and Old Commissaries, Blockhouse, Quartermaster Storehouse, two Company Officer’s Quarters, and Commanding Officer’s Quarters. We only scratched the surface of Fort Larned. And, we did not scratch our names in stone.

During the summer season staff and volunteers serve as living historians. Dressed in period clothing they share details of Fort live. Special weekend events further replicate the 1860s era. Saturday, Sunday and Monday of Memorial Day weekend as many as 70 re-enactors bring the Fort to life in the time of the Indian Wars. Other special events include:

  • Labor Day Weekend – Indian Wars living history event
  • Candlelight Tour – 2nd Saturday of October – An evening walk through vignettes depicting the Fort’s history. Limited attendance, reservations open two weeks prior.
  • Christmas Past – 2nd Saturday of December, 6:30-9pm – Old fashioned Yuletide celebration with soldiers, hot apple cider, cookies, Santa and carols. Free.

FLNHS - Sign When You Go: Fort Larned National Historic Site is open daily 8:30-4:30 year round except for Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Years Day. Admission is FREE. The Fort is located 6 miles west of Larned, Kansas just south of KS156. Great Bend, Kansas is 27 miles to the northeast, Hays 63 miles north and Wichita 130 miles southeast.

Map picture

Also Visit The Santa Fe Trail Center – Museum and Library. The facility is located 2 miles west of Larned and 4 miles east of Fort Larned NHS. Indoor and outdoor exhibits interpret the importance of the Santa Fe Trail in the country’s push westward.

 

 Welcome to Oklahoma

March 12, 2010

DSCN8810 After being buffeted by March Kansas winds and a short stop in Dodge City we turned south towards Oklahoma. The constant wind force stands flags straight out in a horizontal sheet, tall grasses arc to touch heads to the ground in prayer and each passing cattle truck seems to draw the car with magnetic force. We’re reminded of the drought years of the 1930s when the region earned the moniker, “Dust Bowl”.

I’m currently reading The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan, the story of those who survived the Dust Bowl years. I truly can’t relate to experiencing the same winds carrying tons of top soil, blocking sunlight and thickening the air until one literally couldn’t see their hand in front of their face.

Today the land supports cattle ranches and acres of wheat fields in green springtime glory.

By late afternoon we’ve reached Oklahoma City and checked into the Staybridge Suites at Quail Springs. In the past year I’ve become a real fan of Staybridge. the separate bedroom is an asset when one person stays up later or is an early riser. the kitchen facilities prove an asset for late night snacks or early morning tea even though I’m not wanting to cook complete meals. I can imagine how much I would have enjoyed Staybridge Suites when we were traveling with young children.

We head to the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum for a special evening concert in conjunction with the temporary exhibition, Guitars – Art, Artists and Artisans. Oklahoma City’s own Edgar Cruz is playing this evening. The event is free with food and drink available for purchase. We’re exhilarated by the music and well fed with empanadas, pulled pork sliders and roasted potatoes. The evening is a great start for our Oklahoma City visit.

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