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Kansas Camping: What You’ll Find Off The Main Road
By Barbara Oliver
Past Meets Present
The history of Kansas is a story of change. From a vast prehistoric sea to one of the most productive agricultural areas in the world, its rich heritage has much to offer the visitor. Whether you are heading east or west, the Visitor/Welcome Center should be your first stop. The folks there can inform you of all the things to see and do while you are traveling through Kansas.
In the northeast edge of Kansas you will find the Cosmopolitan Kansas City area, with bustling streets, many fine restaurants, boutiques, theaters, antique stores, malls and museums. At the Bonner Springs exit, you will find the National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame. Plan to spend at least several hours going through all the buildings filled with treasures relating to the farming industry, automobiles, trains and much more. Bonner Springs also hosts the annual Renaissance Festival, where more than 2000 characters re–enact life in a 16th–century village. Outdoor music is a treat for the concertgoers at the 18,000–seat Sandstone Amphitheater. And if you want to know how marbles are made, a stop at the Moon Marble Company is a must.
Approximately 11 miles north of Bonner Springs, on the Amelia Earhart Memorial Highway Number 7, is Historic Fort Leavenworth. It was established in 1827 as a part of the chain of forts designed to protect the frontier. It is one of the oldest Army forts in continuous existence west of the Mississippi. Aside from the many historical buildings, (the Rookery, built in 1832 is the oldest in the state), the Buffalo Soldier Monument, a memorial that honors the all–Black 9th and 10th Cavalries, the National Cemetery and the Frontier Army Museum are well worth a visit. The Kansas Museum of History (one of the finest in the country), and the Topeka Zoological Park, home of the world–famous Topeka Zoo are a few of the attractions that Topeka, the state capital, has to offer.
As you continue on I–70, take a side trip at exit 328, down Highway 99 about 10 miles north to the small rural community with the name of Wamego (why–me–go). It is a town with plenty of spirit and a lot to offer the traveler. Three times a year, Wamego sets aside its easy–going charm as thousands of visitors come to participate in its small–town celebrations. The annual Tulip Festival is held the third Saturday in April, and you will find thousand of Holland tulips in colorful bloom for the occasion. With the Old Dutch Mill (a reconstructed 1870's mill) as a background, the sight is breathtaking.
A Fourth of July celebration features a four–day carnival, the Walter P. Chrysler Antique and Classic Car Show, the Kaw Valley Antique Tractor and Steam Engine show and a wonderful display of fireworks. The last Saturday in September, the Fall Festival hosts historic exhibits, educational programs, entertainment, foods and crafts. Other attractions you won't want to miss are the Columbian Theatre Museum and Art Center, the Wamego Museum and the Leach House.
Limestone is found throughout Kansas. It was quarried by hand. Soil and other material covering the limestone was first removed by horse and plow and then swept clean. As you travel through Kansas, you might notice the grayish–white stone fence posts with brownish streaks, lining the roads or pastures. You have arrived in the "land of the post rock." Although soft enough to be easily notched or sawed when first quarried, the stone hardens into relatively weather–resistant rock after a prolonged exposure to the air. It became a widely used building material during early pioneer days.
Historic Fort Riley, home of the "Big Red One," is known for the long and proud heritage of the U.S. Cavalry. It was established in 1852 and named in honor of Bennet C. Riley, a Mexican War hero. Native limestone, used in the erection of the buildings, looks today as it did then. Two floors of exhibits at the U.S. Cavalry Museum help to tell the colorful history of the mounted soldiers. An exhibit relating the story of the history and heritage of The Big Red One is found at the 1st Infantry Division Museum. Driving through the fort grounds will take you past St. Mary's Chapel, Custer House, Ogden Monument, the buffalo corrals and the Old Trooper Monument, dedicated in 1961. It marks the gravesite of "Chief," the last cavalry mount registered on government rolls. Also located here, in Fort Riley, is the First Territorial Capitol State Historic Site, which focuses on the territorial period and Kansas statehood.
More Historic Stops
Abilene is known for its history, heroes and hospitality. It is the boyhood home of Dwight D. Eisenhower, our 34th President. One of your stops should be the Eisenhower Center, an impressive tribute to him. Other attractions are the Heritage Center and Museum of Independent Telephone, where you can witness the evolution of telephones through a decade–by–decade display; Old Abilene Town, once known as the wildest and wickedest town in the old West; and The Greyhound Hall of Fame, where a friendly, retired "racer" will greet you. Plan to spend more than a day here if you want to see it all.
Known as the "Crossroads," in the heart of Kansas, is the town of Salina. It played an important part in the early years of the cattle drives along the Oregon, Santa Fe and Chisholm Trails. It is also home to astronaut Steve Hawley.
With its twin towers soaring 140 feet above the surrounding plains, a magnificent Romanesque church will catch your eye as you approach the exit for the small town of Victoria. The remarkable Cathedral of the Plains, also known as St. Fidelis Church, was built from native limestone by German–Russian immigrants at the turn of the century. It is a spectacular example of architecture and a tribute to the pioneer ingenuity to work using limestone in place of wood, due to the lack of trees found on the plains. Victoria is located approximately 3 miles south of I–70 at exit 168.
Continuing along I–70 and south of Oakley, there is the Fick Fossil and History Museum. It sits in the midst of some of the richest marine fossil beds in Kansas. On display is a combination of geography plus artistic flair that forms an unusual collection of fossil artwork. At Goodland, a stop at the High Plains Museum, where you'll find a modern reconstruction of America's first patented helicopter, and a visit to the early pioneer–life village, is a must.
As you pass through Kansas, slow down and look closely. The state is a rich with national treasures. In addition to the points of interest mentioned, there are many beautiful lakes and state parks found both north and south of the interstate. Take the time to visit a few of them. Major motel chains and restaurants from the Kansas City to the Goodland areas can be found as well as many fine campgrounds. Check your Woodall's campground directory for the ones nearest the area you are visiting. Most of the well–maintained rest areas allow overnight camping and have dump stations available.
For more information on traveling through Kansas you can phone the Kansas Travel and Tourism Development Division at 800/2KANSAS (800/252–6727) or visit its Web site at
For More Information:
Kansas Travel and Tourism Development Division
1000 S.W. Jackson Street, Suite 100
Topeka, KS 66612
Lawrence/Kansas City KOA
1473 Hwy 40
Lawrence, KS 66044
Capital City KOA
1949 SW 49th St.
Topeka, KS 66609
Four Seasons RV Acres
2502 Mink Road
Abilene, KS 67410
Sundowner West RV Park
2745 N. Hedville Rd.
Salina, KS 67401