Essential Kansas RV Blog:
Experiencing the Inherent Tranquility
of the Sunflower State
by Suzanne Wright
Monster 1970s symphonic rock band, Kansas, scored a huge hit with Dust in the Wind, featuring the lyric “nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky.” Smack in the geographical center of the U.S., that sentiment rings timeless and true. In fact, the state’s very name is taken from a Sioux word meaning “people of the wind.” The expanses of the Sunflower State, set on the eastern edge of the Great Plains, hold both obvious and hidden beauty. Thanks to a network of scenic and lesser-traveled byways, you can slowly travel through farmland and wheat fields, falling under the hypnotic spell of Kansas. At the end of the road, sweet, smoky BBQ and small-town hospitality await you.
Kansas City, Topeka, and Northeast Kansas
Kansans are modest people—except when it comes to smoked meat. Slow-cooked meats (and chicken and sometimes fish) may have originated just over the border in Missouri, but they’ve been perfected in Kansas. Kansas City metro alone is home to more than 100 BBQ restaurants. The late Anthony Bourdain gave a shout-out to Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que, and the burnt ends at Jack Stack are mouthwatering. In the 1940s and 1950s, Kansas City was the epicenter of jazz and blues, and the birthplace of greats Count Basie, Charlie Parker, and Big Joe Turner. The Blue Room, located inside the American Jazz Museum, offers swing and Latin jazz performances. Adrenaline junkies can get in on the action of The NASCAR Racing Experience and the Kenny Wallace Dirt Racing Experience. If you’ve got kids in tow, we’re partial to the turn-of-the-century Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead, home to more than 200 animals. The state capital, Topeka, has significant ties to the Civil Rights movement. The Brown v Board of Education National Historic Site illuminates a pivotal chapter in American history that ended segregation. And when you’re ready to shop and dine, Overland Park is brimming with options.
Where to Stay:
About 30 minutes from KC in Louisburg, quiet Rutlander Outpost RV Park has 83 sites with full hookups, plus a camp store selling Traeger Grills, meat and rubs, fishing bait, and Black Gold pet food. On Tuesday nights, there’s Cowboy Church. Worlds of Fun off of I-435, is walking distance to the amusement park, and offers back-in and pull-through concrete sites with full hookups, Wi-Fi, grills, and picnic tables, along with a pool and hot tub.
Wichita and South Central Kansas
Wichita, the state’s biggest city, has an eclectic mix of urban art. The Beachner Grain Elevator Mural pays homage to two underrepresented neighborhoods—the predominantly Latino NorthEnd and historically African American Northeast—which are separated by large grain elevators along the industrial corridor. The Keeper of the Plains is a unique, 44-foot tall art downtown installation created by Native American artist Blackbear Bosin located where the Big and Little Arkansas Rivers meet. The nightly Ring of Fire show lights up fire pots that encircle the sculpture. The sacred ceremony represents the relationship of earth, water, air, and fire. One of starchitect Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous prairie houses, the Allen House, offers intimate tours of his organically inspired design.
The red hills near Medicine Lodge conjure Southwestern mesas. The Gypsum Hills Scenic Byway is a marvelous 42-mile ride, especially when wildflowers brighten the land during spring and summer. Off the Prairie Scenic Byway, Kanopolis State Park in the Smoky Hill Wildlife area, affords visitors views of the rugged beauty of Dakota sandstone bluffs, and glimpses of bald eagles and ospreys in winter. The trails of Horsethief Canyon cut through the grasslands. Nearby Mushroom Rock State Park’s unusual rock formations, called “hoodoos,” have been shaped by erosion and weather, and were once a meeting place for Native Americans and pioneers.
Where to Stay:
Camp the Range, off Highway 96 in Wichita, has 79 full hookup sites, 68 of which are long pull-throughs, plus a 24-hour laundry room, shower facilities, and free Wi-Fi.
East Central Kansas
Perched in the Flint Hills near Emporia is the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. Before it was razed for farmland, this prairie ecosystem covered 170 million acres in North America. Less than 4 percent remains today; this is the most significant tract at nearly 11,000 acres. This is where the wide-open spaces of your Kansas imagination take hold as you observe bison and behold grasses glinting against sapphire skies in the late afternoon sun. It’s simply unforgettable.
Where to Stay:
At almost 1,000 acres, Fall River State Park is a unique combination of forested flood plains, blackjack oak savannas, and tallgrass prairie. An outstanding place to hike or canoe, it’s a naturalist’s dream, populated with dove, quail, turkey, and waterfowl. Orienteering courses are offered for those who want to gain more detailed knowledge. There are 45 electric and water sites.
Kansas has long been characterized as featureless and flat. But don’t believe it. This rugged region is bisected by captivating routes that reveal a bonanza of unexpected and dramatic sights. Western Vistas Historic Byway is a 102-mile route that begins on US-83 at Scott City and ends on US-40 at Sharon Springs. During the Cretaceous period Kansas was covered by an inland sea. The chalk deposits that formed Monument Rocks National Landmark rise up from the stark badlands as fantastical sphinxes and spires, while Little Jerusalem Badland State Park is a nesting habitat for ferruginous hawks. Travelers along the spectacular 88-mile Land and Sky Scenic Byway will travel along the Great Western Cattle Trail, scale the highest point in Kansas at Mount Sunflower, and explore the deep canyons of Arikakee Breaks. Fossil hunters can poke around and wildlife watchers can be on the lookout for buffalo, deer, prairie dogs, and pronghorn.
Where to Stay:
Cedar Bluff State Park is an excellent base camp. The reservoir draws boaters and jet skiers, offers a BMX track, and a youth and disabled fishing pond. There are 97 water and electric sites.
Want to walk the same streets as lawman Wyatt Earp? Make for Dodge City in the southwest corner. Known as the “Queen of the Cowtowns,” it was one of the most notorious frontier towns of the Wild West. The Boot Hill Museum stages gunfight reenactments. Hitch in your giddy-up? Hop aboard a trolley tour. Cimarron National Grassland is the largest public land in Kansas and it’s peppered with rock cliffs, cottonwood groves, grassy fields, yucca, and sage brush. The small community of Lindsborg, called “Little Sweden U.S.A.,” was founded by Nordic pioneers. Legend has it that conquistador Francisco Vasquez de Coronado gave up his search for the Seven Cities of Gold here. True or not, the Coronado Heights Castle, actually a small stone fort, was dedicated to him. You can also stroll the shady streets where early residences show German Medieval, Italianate, Neoclassical, Queen Anne, and German architectural influences. We like to caffeinate at the historic Blacksmith Coffee Shop & Roastery which sells some Swedish specialties. And get this: you’re actually encouraged to climb the 200 huge Dakota sandstone spheres—the largest concentration in the world—at neighboring Rock City.
Where to Stay:
The kinda kitschy, family-friendly Gunsmoke RV Park in Dodge City is open nine months of the year and fills up fast. It has full hookups, a pool, horseshoes, shower and laundry facilities, and vintage arcade games.
The Land of Oz
The Oz Museum in Wamego 40 miles west of Topeka displays 2,000 artifacts from L. Frank Baum’s famous book-turned-movie about the adventures of Kansas girl Dorothy and her dog Toto. Next door, Toto’s TacOZ! serves up tasty Emerald City street tacos, Tin Man burritos, and Dorothy’s quesadillas. Then head off to find the 15 Toto statues scattered around town. In Liberal, Dorothy’s House has been recreated with farmhouse furnishings. The beautiful Chautauqua Hills of south central Kansas are covered with blue-stem grass and referred to as the Kansas Ozarks. In downtown Sedan, 12,000 bricks—some sponsored by celebrities—form the longest Yellow Brick Road in the U.S.