Travel parts of Kansas and there is sublime beauty in exploring the rolling hills and valleys, in seeing the sun and clouds cast shadows across the horizon.
There is hardly a patch in Kansas more known than the Flint Hills.
Horned larks flit alongside trails. The wind is so blustery at times, it makes the meadowlarks fly sideways and the prairie wildflowers dance.
The Flint Hills Scenic Byway is 48 miles on K-177 and is considered the gateway to the tallgrass prairie.
Years ago when Kansas tourism officials started looking for scenic highways, this two-lane blacktop that runs from Cassoday to Council Grove was quickly listed among the top “must-go” places.
Tiny towns along the way have barely changed through the decades.
Although it’s not on the byway, head north to the $24 million Flint Hills Discovery Center, 315 South 3rd Street, Manhattan. The center, which explores the mystery of the Flint Hills, is open 363 days a year. Admission is $9 for adults, $4 for youth. For more information, www.flinthillsdiscovery.org, 785-587-2726.
The Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, 2 miles north of Strong City on K-177, is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily, and offers a one-room school house, hiking trails and an historic ranch. At 11 a.m. Saturday and Sundays from April through the October, 90-minute prairie bus tours are scheduled. Because of federal budget cuts, call ahead for tour status, 620-273-8494.
Pioneer Bluffs, a historic ranch in Chase County, recreates life in 1916. The ranch, supported by a nonprofit foundation, is 1 mile north of Matfield Green on K-177 and is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays through Mondays. 620-753-3484.
Cottonwood Falls boasts one of the most photographed courthouses in Kansas. The Chase County Historical Society Museum, 301 Broadway, tells much of the history of the area including when Notre Dame coaching legend Knute Rockne’s plane crashed in 1931 near Matfield Green, and Native American and ranching stories of the county. Admission is free.
In Council Grove, the Kaw Mission, 500 North Mission, showcases the heritage of the Kaw Indians, the Santa Fe Trail and early Council Grove. It’s open Wednesday through Saturday. Admission is $3 for adults, 620-767-5410. If you’re hungry, have a meal at the Hays House, 112 W. Main, Council Grove, which was built in 1857 and is said to be the oldest continuously operating restaurant west of the Mississippi.
For more information, go to: http://byways.org/explore/byways/2095
Gypsum or Red Hills
Take a drive out on U.S. 160 a few miles west of Medicine Lodge. View the rugged red terrain of hills, valleys and cedars, and you can see that Kansas is anything but flat.
The area is known for its stunning rust-red buttes and mesas capped by layers of sparkling white gypsum.
The Gypsum Hills Scenic Byway is 42 miles that stretch from the western limits of Medicine Lodge to the junction of U.S. 160 and U.S. 183 at Coldwater.
It is beautiful, breathtaking country anytime of the year. Explore the back roads. Take a side trip to Sun City and spend some time at Buster’s, an honest-to-gosh saloon that’s become a Mecca for area ranchers, oilmen, birders and bikers.For more information, go to: http://www.naturalkansas.org/gypsum.htm
In White Cloud, the Four-State Lookout offers a view of Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa from a viewing platform. Views include glacial hills and the Missouri River.
The Native American Heritage Museum, 1737 Elgin Road in Highland, exhibits information and items of the Iowa Tribe. Admission is $3 for adults. 785-442-3304.
Amelia Earhart’s birthplace, 223 N Terrace St., Atchison is relatively unchanged from the time she was a small child as are the historic older homes that grace the tree-lined streets where she was known as a tomboy. Her birthplace has undergone an extensive restoration and is now a museum. The requested donation for admission to the museum is $5 for adults and $1 for children. The annual Amelia Earhart Festival, celebrating the life of the aviation pioneer, is July 19 and 20.
For more information, go to http://www.naturalkansas.org/glacial.htm
The 77-mile Wetlands and Wildlife National Scenic Byway along K-156 connects two wetlands — Cheyenne Bottoms near Great Bend and Quivira National Wildlife Refuge near Stafford in central Kansas. During the spring and fall migrations, the areas are stopping grounds for whooping cranes, sandhill cranes, pelicans and other shore birds. Due to the drought, check the websites for marsh conditions and a list of species that have recently been spotted.
Look for large prairie dog towns along the roads. There’s one just north of St. John on the west side of K-281 and one on the south side of K-19, just east of K-281.
If you’re in the area, stop by the Wheatland Cafe, 112 Main St., in Hudson, which is only open 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays. Expect a wait. Diners often line up for more than a block for the fried chicken. For more information, go to http://www.travelks.com/ksbyways.