Fort Scott Kansas Tuesday March 7
America encompasses many types of scenery. A simplistic fact but important here. We drove through the Flint Hills of Kansas today, on purpose, to see portions of the Tallgrass Prairie and the Flint Hills. For some people this type of scenery would be boring. Relatively flat land, small streams, no mountains, no dramatic rock formations, no waterfalls, few trees. And we did not see it at its best, when wildflowers of all colors populate the fields.
Yet the starkness and openness has a beauty also. Today we heard birds chirping. The wind (strong) rustles the grasses. The deep blue sky contrasts nicely with the undulating hills of brown grasses. No, it is not our favorite scenery in the country, I am still partial to waterfalls. But we are glad we made the effort to get off the interstates and drive the two lane roads through the area.
When we left Topeka, we took the Native Stone Scenic Byway. The brochure says: “Take a drive down the Native Stone Scenic Byway and you will see miles of stone fences made from the native limestone found in that area. Well, we drove 50 miles of the byway and did not see any along the route. We did see one or two short sections of re-constructed stone walls. It was not until we arrived at the Tallgrass Praire Natoinal Preserve, probably 30 miles past the turnoff from the Native Stone Scenic Byway, we did see some old stone walls. I would call that a case of over-hype by someone in an office who has not driven the route. We still enjoyed the drive, but not for the original reason.
Our first stop was the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in Strong City, KS. In the U.S. there are three types of prairie; tallgrass in the eastern portion of the plains, shortgrass in the western portion of the plains closest to the Rockies, and mixed grass prairie which is in between the two. This preserve is tallgrass. The height of the prairie grass has everything to do with rainfall.
The Tallgrass Prairie preserve was originally an 11,000 acre ranch with home, barn, and one-room school house. The ranch demonstrates life on the prairie but for us the main attraction was the prairie itself. We walked out along the hills and trails and marveled at the vista. I can imagine that it might be cold and lonely here in a blizzard however.
After the Preserve, we drove a few miles and had lunch in Cottonwood Falls (population 874) at the Grand Central Hotel. It was a pleasant meal at probably the only restaurant in town. At the end of Main Street is the Chase County Courthouse, an imposing structure completed in 1873 and the oldest operating courthouse in the state of Kansas.
A local art gallery in Cottonwood Falls was host to a traveling exhibit on the Chisholm Trail, that route used by cattle drovers from 1866 to 1887 to drive Texas Longhorn cattle to railheads near Abilene Kansas and other towns to ship their cattle to eastern markets. We may see more about this when we get to Texas.
Ed and Chris