Homer's Travels: Kansas Roadtrip - Day One: The Center, Twine, History, And More

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Kansas Roadtrip - Day One: The Center, Twine, History, And More

We have been in need of getting away for a while and the Wife's winter break gave us the opportunity.  So, where did we go?  We went to the weird, wonderful, mostly snow free, and otherworldly state of Kansas.

Our first stop was just north of the small town of Lebanon, KS.  Here we found the geographic center of the lower 48.  The center is in a small park off a dirt road out in the middle of farmland.  At the center we found a stone pyramid (Why is it always a pyramid?) and a tiny chapel that seats eight.  There is also an old hotel that is now owned by some Texans who use it as a hunting lodge.  Now I can say that I've been to the center of the United States (pre-1959) and the center of the world, very cool.  One of the signs said that souvenirs could be found in Lebanon but, after cruising the town and scooping the loop, we found nothing that could remotely be called a gift shop unless you count the gun store. (Geographic Center pictures are here.)

We headed south towards our next destination.  On the way we stopped in the small town of Tipton to have lunch.  The restaurant had a cool mural of the town that had been painted by the brother of a previous owner. The food was typical, good small town fair.  We continued south until, in Hunter, KS, we realized that something was wrong.  Checking the map we realized that we had missed our turn some thirty miles back.  Those straight, flat roads and the wide open skies had just lulled me into a driving trance I guess.  It was our first wrong/missed turn and it would not be our last - roadtrips require a few wrong turns every now and then to keep things interesting.

We looped around and eventually made it to Cawker City, home the biggest ball of Sisal Twine.  Now, as in all records, this one is disputed.  I know this. You don't have to tell me (Ahem ... Best Man and GodSon) but frankly the ball was huge and very impressive to me despite the controversy.  We walked around the town looking for an open gift shop.  Apparently Cawker City is closed for business on Wednesdays.  Three places that we checked were not open and the main street was devoid of people except for a few people coming in and out of the bank.  (Ball Of Twine pictures are here.)

We left Cawker City empty handed and headed for the town that inspired this roadtrip - Nicodemus.  Nicodemus was one of the oldest African-American towns west of the Mississippi.  Currently it only has a couple dozen permanent residents but every July, during Heritage Days, the population expands to include family and descendants of the original Nicodemus settlers.  The National Park Service runs a museum that talks about the history of the small town and the harsh conditions that were endured by the settlers, and turned away many others.  The park ranger, a wonderful and I suspect very lonely, lady gave us a tour, answered questions, and showed us videos of the family gatherings.  After leaving we drove through the town looking at the historical hotel, churches, and school house.  This is a nice stop for anyone who's interested in history.  We also found our first magnet here ... finally. (Nicodemus pictures are here.)

We ended the day in Wakeeney, KS, the "Christmas City of the High Plains."  The city apparently decorates all in lights for Christmas but, at this time of year, the only evidence is a decorated park downtown and the occasional Christmas Tree in stores and restaurants.

This was a great first day.  I love traveling the two lane country roads, away from the interstates.  You see interesting small towns and do the hands on steering wheel wave at old farmers in pickups.  You also learn the unexpected stuff off the beaten path.  For example I never knew about northern Kansas Limestone.  It is so common that it's used as fence posts (There's even a post stone scenic byway in Kansas).  There are homes, businesses, and churches built of the yellow stone.

Some of you (cough ...Best Man ... cough) asked why I wasn't posting while on the trip.  I learned during our last vacation, when I posted on the road, that the evening hours, when you relax, wind down from the day, and reflect on what you saw and did that day, become stress filled when I felt obligated to edit pictures and write a post.  This time I decided that I would not do this.  I would save it for when I got home.  Did I feel a little guilty about being so selfish?  Nope.  Nothing a little hot tub time couldn't drown.

Next, Day Two, even more strange stuff in the heart of Kansas.


  1. Didn't Weird Al do a song about going to see the biggest ball of twine...?

    I love random history trips. One of the best reasons to stay off the interstates and stick to the back roads wherever possible.

  2. Yes! this is awesome. and good fo you for not posting. Vacationing is meant for vacating your everyday life and having adventures. It seems like you did just that!

  3. GH: Weird Al sang about a ball of twine in Minnesota.

    Miss McC: Thanks! We did!