08 Nov I-70’s Quirky Kansas: An unusual, off the beaten path tour of America’s Heartland
When my husband Ron and I travel, we tend to write about museums, historical buildings, or the latest trendy restaurants. Occasionally, however, we come across something so quirky or unusual that it doesn’t quite fit into any of those categories. Here, then, is the best of uncategorizable Kansas from our 5 days/5 cities tour along Interstate 70.
In the city of Goodland, there is a large, open, grassy field where a giant grasshopper resides. Sculptor Lloyd Harden welded metal scraps together and painted them a bright kelly green, resulting in a nine by five-foot grasshopper. Placed nearby, a metal palm tree beckons tourists for a photo op. Locals frequently use the sculpture as a landmark: We’re just two miles north of the grasshopper!
Rod Cooper’s meticulously restored White Eagle Gas Station is complete with original gasoline pumps and signage, and visitors can peer into the window of the small office displaying original oil cans, maps, an old-time cash register, and a station attendant mannequin. One can just imagine a Model T pulling through for a fill-up.
Among the pioneer artifacts at the High Plains Museum is The Kansas Flying Machine, a replica of America’s first patented helicopter. Witnesses said of its first flight that it flew with the grace of a crippled praying mantis before it crashed.
The City of Goodland is proud of artist Cameron Cross’s reproduction of Van Gogh’s Three Sunflowers in a Vase. The painting and easel rise 80 feet, and the canvas is 24 x 32 feet— a challenge to capture on your smartphone.
Moving westward along Interstate 70, we veered off the highway to Oakley. Sculptor Ernest Moore Viquesney’s The Spirit of the American Doughboy is a memorial sculpture in a corner of a small park and is a tribute to soldiers who fought and died in World War I. Identical casts of Doughboy reside in 39 states, all with the incorrect engraved ending of WWI as 1920 instead of 1918.
Fick Fossil Museum was established to showcase the fossils and artwork of Ernest and Vi Fick. The couple found thousands of fossils in the vicinity of their homestead, and Mrs. Fick used shells and shark teeth to create peculiar art paintings. Some were given to her friends, and many of them now hang in the art gallery of the museum.
Outside of Oakley, a 30-minute drive on gravel roads leads to Monument Rocks, a freakish act of nature. In the middle of vast flat plains, a natural formation of chalk rock rises up, similar to Stonehenge. The white rock structure reflects various colors and is quite a beautiful scene depending on the light from the sky and sun.
From the city of Russell, a drive north along Post Rock Scenic Byway offers visitors lovely views of Wilson Lake and Wilson State Park as well as strange looking fence posts that dot the route. The resourceful pioneers of the 1800s found a landscape with no trees so they used the abundant limestone (called post rocks) for buildings and fence posts.
An afternoon spent in the small town of Lucas located in Russell County will leave you a bit perplexed. Lucas is home to the second place winner of America’s best restrooms. The Bowl Plaza draws hundreds of visitors each year and is an amazing work of mosaic art that resembles a giant toilet covered with bling inside and out. Toys, dishes, game pieces, photos, pens, jewelry, and hundreds of odds and ends decorate the walls.
Around the corner, visit the Garden of Eden, an oddity of an attraction since 1907. Samuel P. Dinsmoor, a self-taught concrete artist, converted his home into a garden of 150 sculptures, some of which are 3 stories high, that incorporate his personal political statements. Mr. Dinsmoor and his first wife are buried on the property in a mausoleum, and visitors can view the eccentric artist under glass.
Located in the Garden of Eden is Miller’s Park, a rest stop attraction for weary travelers created by Ray and Clara Miller. The tiny town contains miniature homes, historic buildings, and mountains, all made from limestone rocks and shells.
A drive south of Russell through the rural countryside leads you to Granny Mae’s enormous pumpkin patch. This seasonal attraction sits on property that’s been in the family since 1942. Visitors can pick a pumpkin from a large field, ride a miniature train, stroll through the scary corn maze, roast s’mores over a campfire, and eat baked pumpkin goodies.
Locals eat a hearty breakfast at Lady Bird Diner, and the proprietors are quite proud of their line of donuts with witty names. The tasty Garden Party donuts are made with lemon, lavender, and chamomile.
We just had to visit Love Garden Sounds (on Massachusetts Street) with their two resident shop cats, Stuffing and Chardonnay, who welcome lots of attention. This unique shop has been in town for 28 years, and their inventory consists of hundreds of 33s and 45s from the past. They also carry the latest stereo equipment for audio enthusiasts.
Waxman Candles is owned by the family of Bob and Deb Werts, who have been making candles since 1970. Over 300 high quality oils are used in their various fragrance candles, and specialty seasonal candles are a favorite. It takes precise craftsmanship and years of experience to create these lovely candles, and the retail room is a delight through which to meander.
Wonder Fair is an unusual shop filled with whimsical art created by individual artists from the community. Take your time perusing the handmade hanging artwork, greeting cards, and gifts because this is a fun place where some creations will give you a hearty laugh.
A short 10-minute drive from Kansas City will bring you to the three-block town of Bonner Springs. This quaint little hamlet is worth a visit because of a couple of quirky things to see and do. Over at the zip line park, Zip KC, one can fly through the air at 50 mph above and through a forest canopy. Make a date night by taking the Romantic Sunset Zip Tour and perhaps go one step further with the ultimate Glow in the Dark tour.
Moon Marble Company delights visitors of all ages from around the world. View a short video of how marbles are made or watch a hands-on demonstration. Unique marbles from collectors are on display, and a vast number of whimsical toys from bygone days are available for purchase.
This area of Kansas, from Goodland to Bonner Springs, offers some of the best in roadside whimsy that is just too good to miss. If you plan on traversing Interstate 70, take the time to visit these amazingly quirky and fun attractions in the Heartland of America.
FTC Disclosure: This was a sponsored visit; however, all opinions herein are the authors.
Where to Stay:
Goodland: Super 8
Oakley- Sleep Inn & Suites
Russell- Fossil Creek Hotel & Suites
Lawrence- Hampton Inn
Bonner Springs- Back in Thyme Bed & Breakfast