Last weekend I was sitting at home in Emporia, Kansas and trying to figure out what to do to celebrate the Sesquicentennial of Kansas. I didn’t want the day to go by and not observe it in some way. Ginger Lewman put the idea of seeing all 8 Wonders of Kansas in my mind. I went crazy and said YES, I’m gonna do it!
So this morning, January 29, 2011 (Kansas’s 150th birthday) I set out with my friend Ashley Warner. (Read her story on her blog) We set off to our first destination in Chase County.
We arrived outside of Strong City around 6:45 am. At first we both got onto our computers to check on Facebook, Plurk, and all other entities. It’s a little ironic how stepping back to the past we first pull out the present. I have an air-card, so I am able to get internet connection anywhere I have cell phone service and then share it out for Ashley to connect. After I checked in to let people know about the start of my trip, I stepped out of the car into the cool crisp air of the morning.
As I stood there looking toward the east that was slowly getting brighter, to the south with a tree, to the west where I saw the barn, and to the north where the house sat and thought. I thought about when the house was built and what it was like many years ago before the road was there, at how peaceful life was. The prairie was a vast open space that many didn’t know about. They were there exploring what was there and how the land could be used.
At one time, the tallgrass prairie covered about 170 million acres in North America. As time went on, the land was being used for crops. Now, less than 4% of that remains, much of it in the Flint Hills. (Kansas Sampler – Tallgrass Prairie)
We then got back into the car and travelled to the southwest 91 miles to Hutchinson, KS.
Wonder #2 – Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center, Hutchinson
Ashley and I have been here several times in our lives. As we pulled up to the Museum at 9am, we knew that we wouldn’t be here long. I remember going to the Museum for the first time in fourth grade. It has grown so much over the years! Each time is exciting to visit. The last time I was there I was able to ride on the multi-axis machine. This is such a wonderful place for students and adults to learn so much about space. It is a part of the Smithsonian Institute. They have many original artifacts. Today we found out that they are working on a new wing that will house items from the space shuttles that NASA is retiring.
After a short visit at the Cosmosphere, we drove across town.
Wonder #3 – Kansas Underground Salt Museum, Hutchinson
Walking up to the building, we saw the sign. 650′ under this building is one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas. We were excited to go in. There we met Gayle Ferrell, Director of Operations. She gave us the star treatment. We sat in the lobby and caught up on our locations online. We then met our tour guides Jenny Sullavan and Tobie Henline. Both of these ladies were wonderful and shared so much information about the mine and museum.
Before we went 650 feet below ground, we had to be briefed. First, NO FOOD at all down there. They don’t want potholes in the floor and they didnt’ want the salt to be taken off the walls. We also had to have breathing packs in case there was a fire down there and we needed air. Thankfully in the history of this mine, no one has ever had to use one. The ride down takes about 2 minutes and it’s pitch black as you go. I loved it!!!
Once down at the bottom, we were given a little more information, then were set free to explore the museum. Ashley and I went straight to the gift shop. (Just like little kids, right?) However, we went there because that is where the wifi is at. That’s right! Wifi 650 feet in the earth. I grabbed my iPod touch and found Amanda Merrinan in Australia and called her. She also had the chance to ask questions to the gift shop clerk, Brook Diel. It was a wonderful experience and I can’t wait for you to see it! The video of our conversation will be coming soon!
After coming back up, we had a chance to visit with Gayle some more. She was very informative about the museum. She told us that some days while in the mine she has to remind herself that she is at work. She feels that everyone should go down for a visit. Gayle also said that for those that are a little reluctant to go down, she personally will take them down there. She will then stay at the bottom as you step off and if you want to go back up, take you back up. However, she has never had to do that.
The museum 650 feet below ground is wonderful. I am going back soon to explore even more. Two hours was not enough time to spend there. After coming back into the sunlight, we travelled another 90 miles south west to Greensburg.
Wonder #4 – Big Well, Greensburg
Unfortunately Greensburg was hit by an EF4 tornado in May 2007. They have been rebuilding since. The Big Well Museum has not been rebuilt yet. So when we stopped we only got to look down a big hole. It is still very exciting to look down and I can’t wait until I can visit when they have it completed!!
Since we drove this far, we wanted to see some of the efforts that the city has done to rebuild it’s town. After the tornado, the town decided to grab ahold of the “green” name. They are building the town to be a leader in the country. We stopped at Kiowa County High School on the south end of town. While there Cassie Kirby gave us a wonderful tour of the school. They reuse rain water for watering the plants, have several windows to let light in, and have very few light switches because all lights are motion sensored. The school is beautiful and I encourage everyone to see the building and what we can hopefully see all over the world soon!
After leaving Greensburg we headed north 105 miles to the town of Victoria.
WOW! I was not expecting the size that this building is. I stood there in awe thinking about the work that it took to build this 100-104 years ago. The building is HUGE! We arrived there around 5:15 in the evening and the Saturday Mass started at 5:00. We were not able to go inside, so again, I will have to return to go in and look around. This town is centered around this building. It is large and beautiful and can be seen from miles around! You have to see this to really understand why this is a Wonder.
As you can see, we travelled over 300 miles today. We are staying the night in Hays, KS. We will be getting up early on Sunday morning to travel a little more west to the furthest west Wonder Castle Rock before making our way east to Cheyenne Bottoms and the Eisenhower Presidential Library. Today was a wonderful day and I am very excited about tomorrow! See you then.
I want to say a special thank you to the ladies, Angel and Amanda, of Semolino in downtown Hays for providing me a delicious Turtle coffee drink and a relaxing place to write this blog post.
“If you don’t try something once, you won’t know what you’re missing. You could be missing one of the best experiences of your life.” – – Gayle Ferrell, Director of Operations, Kansas Underground Salt Museum