State 35: Kansas - March 25, 2018
“The real things haven’t changed. It is still best to be honest and truthful;
to make the most of what we have; to be happy with
simple pleasures; and have courage when things go wrong.”
Laura Ingalls Wilder
After departing Fort Smith AR, we spent a day driving through the Northeastern corner of Oklahoma on route to the 35th state on our cross country journey to discover America and find a new state to call home; Kansas: "As big as you think". I have absolute no idea what this slogan means, and I could not find any rational online explanation for its origin. What I did discover, were plenty of Kansans who were as confused as I about the motto’s meaning, and below are a few of their comments:
“I don’t understand what message they are trying to send. It’s basically saying it’s
as desolate and widespread as you think, and maybe more so.”
Ryan Scarro; Kansas University Senior
“I’m delighted to get rid of anything associated with Oz. I think we
should be more specific about what we have to offer to inspire people to visit here.”
Ellen Taylor; Assistant District Attorney
“I think it’s a little corny. It definitely isn’t worth the money they are putting into it.”
Matt Henry; E-commerce Associate
Unless someone has a preconceived notion of the size of the state, then this slogan says absolutely nothing at all! If you’re from Rhode Island, Kansas may appear big, but if you are from Alaska, then Kansas may seem small. Nevertheless, do you think anyone who visits Kansas actually says to themselves in a moment of self-reflection, “Wow! Kansas actually was as big as I thought!”. This is one of the stupidest state slogans I have encountered on my cross country trip. Since I don’t like to offer critique without offering a possible solution, I took it upon myself to come up with a new slogan for Kansas. Since Kansas is the largest producer of wheat in the US, how about; Kansas: Nurturing our Nation. Hey Kansas! Why not give that one a whirl! Will the sheer size of Kansas inspire the Cross Country Couple to call the state our new home? We can’t wait to begin our week of exploration of Kansas.
Tornado Alley consists of an unofficial geographical location of Northern Texas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Kansas, and in the aforementioned areas, tornado season runs from April to July respectfully. Just to recap, we are driving into the heart of tornado alley in the middle of tornado season!!! EEEKKK!!! According to the NOAA, from the time a “Tornado Warning” is issued to the time it is predicted to hit your area, YOU HAVE ONLY 13 MINUTES TO SEEK SHELTER!!! EEEKKK!!! If you live stationary, then your risk of being hit by a tornado is a matter of statistical probability. However, we are spending the next week driving all across Kansas, which drastically increases the likelihood of encountering a tornado!!! EEEKKK!!! We clearly need to ensure we have the most advance notice of an impending tornado! Before departing for the day, we stopped at a Walmart to purchase a weather radio, which broadcasts on a specific frequency from the National Weather Service. With a weather radio in hand, and a prayer in our hearts for our safety, we began our week long exploration of Kansas.
Our first task of the day was to drive to Independence, KS for the Cross Country Couple's "Roadside Attraction" for Kansas; The Little House on the Prairie Museum. Laura Ingalls Wilder was an American author best known for her series of 9 Children Books based on her childhood in her nomadic pioneer family entitled “Little House on the Prairie”. Wilder’s books tell of the adventures of her family as they traveled across the country in covered wagons as 19th century pioneers. Wilder’s books served as the basis for the hit television series Little House on the Prairie, and ran for 10 seasons from 1974 until 1983. The Little House on the Prairie Museum preserves the former Wilder Ingalls homestead, educates the public about Laura Ingalls Wilder, and promotes and children’s literacy through the Little House books series.
Below is the story of the Ingalls family time in Kansas. In 1869, 2-year-old Laura and her family moved to Kansas, and settled near the town of Independence. It was here in a one room log cabin Laura's younger sister Carrie was born in August of 1870. Her father had moved the family to Kansas after being told the area would soon be open to white settlers. Unfortunately, the aforementioned information was misguided, and the Ingalls homestead was actually on the Osage Indian Reservation. Since they had no legal right to occupy the land, the family moved in the Spring of 1871. Although Laura’s time is Kansas was brief, the memories of her experience there later provided the inspiration for the Little House on the Prairie book series.
Growing up, I religiously watched Little House on the Prairie to the point where I felt as if Ma, Pa, Carrie, Mary, and Laura were a part of my own family! I was 8 years old when the show started and 17 years old when the final season aired. I think I had seen every episode! The museum included a barn, farmhouse, post office, church, and a log cabin undergoing restoration. None of the buildings were original, but all are period appropriate. Visiting the exact site of the Ingalls' family former homestead was quite nostalgic. I could almost see the 3 girls running through the tall grass prairie with hand sewn dresses, and hair blowing in the breeze. I can even hear the theme song playing in my head. Please see the pictures below of our visit to The Little House on the Prairie Museum.
After departing the Little House on the Prairie Museum, we drove 132 miles Northwest to the national park depicted on the reverse of the Kansas National Quarter; Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. Established on November 12, 1996 and named as “one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas” Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve protects the largest surviving example of the tallgrass prairie ecosystem in the world. The preserve features over 40 miles of hiking trails throughout the tallgrass prairie, and narrated bus tours during the summer months.
Second only to the rainforest, tallgrass prairies are the most diverse ecosystems in the world, and are home to; over 500 species of plants, over 150 species of birds, 39 species of reptiles and amphibians, and 31 species of mammals. In 2009, a small herd of genetically pure bison was reintroduced into Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, and today their numbers are estimated to be over 100! At one time, 400,000 square miles of tallgrass prairie covered central North America from Canada to Texas, but the vast majority were commercially developed and plowed under for agriculture over the past 150 years. Today, less than 4% of the tallgrass prairies exist making it the most endangered ecosystem in the world! This is where the tallgrass makes its last stand!!!
I expected to view a seemingly endless sea of 6-foot-tall grass blowing gently in the breeze across the Kansas prairie. I was looking forward to running through the tall grass reproducing the opening scene from Little House on the Prairie. However, below is what I saw upon my arrival.
Geeze, what a disappointment! With a name like Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, I don’t think my expectations were unreasonable! As it turns out, the tallgrass does not reach its full height until late fall, and our visit in early spring was the beginning of the grasses growing cycle. Inside the visitor center they had a sample of the tallgrass on display. Nate is 6 feet tall, so I had him stand next to the grass for perspective. To make matters more disheartening, the tour bus through the park was not running the day of our visit, and personal vehicles are not permitted to drive on the prairie. Furthermore, it was raining heavily during our visit! There was absolutely no way I was hiking in the rain and through an open field with the possibility of lightning strikes and tornados. N-O! S-I-R-E-E! B-O-B! Not going to happen! I may be adventurous, but I am not crazy!
Nonetheless, I did see the beauty in the prairie, and understood the necessity for its preservation. It seems I just happened to visit the preserve during the wrong season and on a day of bad weather. I would love to one day return in the summer or fall to see the grass blowing in the wind, and the bison roaming wild and free in America’s largest surviving tallgrass prairie.
After departing the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, we drove 23 miles East to Emporia where we found a Walmart to spend the night.