If spring has you wanting to load up the car and venture to points unknown, the Big Kansas Road Trip might just be what you're looking for.
Three Kansas counties — Kiowa, Comanche and Barber — will host an open house of sorts the first weekend in May. There will be special events in each of the counties and towns, opportunities to meet Kansas authors and artists, eat pie, ride a carousel, have cookies with Carry Nation, visit buffalo, walk in a meteorite field, sit in a round barn and kick back and watch the sun set in one of the most scenic regions of Kansas.
You don't need a ticket or a schedule.
You just get on the road and go. The counties are west and south of Wichita, about 90 to 140 minutes away, depending on where you want to go.
Participants in the Big Kansas Road Trip can choose what they want to do, when and where on the weekend of May 3-6. Go to http://kansassampler.org/bigkansasroadtrip/index.php, click on the list of events and scroll to the bottom of the screen for a brochure that features activities and fun things to do that weekend.
The Big Kansas Road Trip takes the place of the Kansas Sampler Festival, which traveled every two years to a different location in the state. Both are all about what Kansans and their friends can see, do, hear, taste, buy and learn in Kansas.
"So the idea is instead of everybody coming together to go booth to booth, they will be eating at cafes, shopping in stores and driving the scenic roads," said Marci Penner, executive director of the the Kansas Sampler Foundation near Inman, which has overseen both events.
There will be opportunities to see buffalo from the red dirt roads in Barber County and view cotton and canola as well as wheat fields.
Visitors will drive over cattle guards and see open range territory where cattle and cowboys have the right of way.
"After all those years of having the festival in larger communities and advertising all the attractions in Kansas, this is a chance for Kansans to get out and see some of the unique attractions," said Dave Webb of Protection, one of the coordinators of the weekend.
His hometown will highlight how it made national news in 1957 when it became the first community in the nation to protect its 500-plus residents against polio. It will also showcase its most famous artist, Stan Herd, who is known for his murals and crop art. The town has produced 30 metal signs that will adorn Broadway Avenue, each commemorating some of Herd's best-known works. And visitors on the Big Kansas Road Trip are encouraged to eat a slice of pie in Don's Cafe.
"Will Don's run out of pie? We don't know," Penner said. "If they run out, they run out. We have no idea how many will attend. We have just asked restaurants to to make as much food as they want."
The town of Wilmore, in Comanche County on the Kansas-Oklahoma line, is best known for its big ranches and hunting. The town, population 53, has one of the best features of the weekend: an Italianate carousel that Ernie Griffin bought online in 2013 and has since put together.
In Kiowa County, people can view the sunrise from the Round Barn in Mullinville, tour M.T. Liggett's quirky art work, eat dragon nachos, tour the Kiowa County Courthouse and see how Greensburg is rebuilding. Mullinville will host a quilt show.
In Barber County, highlights include touring the Carry Nation house in Medicine Lodge, seeing buffalo at the Z-Bar Ranch west of town, and driving across open range.
"People can find out about all the events and places by going to the Kansas Sampler website or picking up a guide at any number of businesses in the three-county area," Webb said. "They can then see what the schedule is each of those days. You can also look in each of the towns for the BKRT yard signs that will be in front of the businesses and other places that are sponsoring activities for the day."
Penner said she is hoping the trip will help build bridges between urban and rural Kansans.
"I think we are providing an easy pathway for people who haven't been to this area to get to know the land and people," Penner said. "As we have prepared for this weekend, the charm of the people who live here has me all excited, especially with the things they are willing to do to lay out the red carpet. This truly is an open house in three counties. "