I’ve driven through Kansas twice before. I don’t remember much from those drives, except wanting to get through the state much faster than the speed limit allowed. Both times, I considered visiting the Worlds Largest Ball of Twine, to break up the straight, flat, one might say “boring” views.
2.9 million people live in Kansas. Clearly, I’ve missed some highlights of this state in my last travels through. This time around, I decided it was time to make amends with Kansas.
I found a giant sunflower farm in Lawrence, my first stop in Kansas. Grinter Farm plants 40 acres sunflowers each year. Literally, one million sunflowers are planted, probably more. Every stalk in that field seemed about to burst in to splay of petals. As I write this, a few days after my visit, the flowers are now in full bloom, and based on the farm's Facebook page - the crowds are filling their pasture, just to get a glimpse of the acres of flowers that they have grown.
Kansas University is also in Lawrence, and my map showed the Kansas River running through town, as well as some parks. It seemed a good place to settle in before the last leg to Colorado. Lawrence also has had a farmers market since the 1970s, which I thought I could check out before heading west.
William Bouroughs wrote, “Lawrence was like on the Oregon trail for hippies.” Lawrence was located at just the right distance between Greenwich Village and Haight Ashbury. And it just happened to make a pretty good stopping place for me too.
Although I could have stayed in a motel that looked like a tipi, I got really lucky with the sweetest little Airbnb ever. It seemed that the owner knew me, with retro décor and coffee table books that were right up my alley. It is a perfect little studio-sized house and a refreshing road trip break.
The little house had a former life as a bakery for the Community Mercantile in the 1970s. The converted little house is tucked in the historic Lawrence neighborhood. …part of me was ready to just move in indefinitely.
Based on the city layout that I could see on a map, I had hoped that it might be relatively bike friendly. Sure enough, this town is riddled with bike lanes and being Kansas, it is also friendly to the new cyclist, who does not yet embrace major incline crawls.
Leaving Lawrence, and heading West, I stopped at Prairie Lavender Farm in Bennington – about 10 miles off of the highway, in a little rural community. This little farm grows 3000 lavender plants (including 12 different varieties.) They are certified "bee friendly." Most of the flowers had already bloomed, but walking through the rows of lavender mounds was still aromatic and lovely.
I drove on, staring at miles of wind turbines, and vast grazing land. I was very tempted to stop at a store in Salina, claiming to be “The 2nd Friendliest Yarn Store in the Universe," but opted to wait for the 1st.
Next stop westward was Castle Rock, near Quinter, Kansas. Located about 15 miles off the highway, I anticipated a fairly quick detour off my route to Colorado with this stop.
As soon as I hit a bumpy, unpaved road and realized I had 13 miles of this, it became a bit more exciting. The only other vehicles I saw on this drive were 3 very large trucks and a tractor. My little car, with bicycle attached to the back, definitely was out of place.
As I turned down another even rockier road, passed over a cattle guard, I was immediately greeted a herd of cattle whom I drove (very slowly) amongst. I continued between some old, but currently functioning oil wells, down an even bumpier road that strongly challenged the smallness of my car. But, I made it to the Castle Rock. Wandering around the bluffs overlooking this iconic formation, my jaw dropped when I spotted the Kansas Badlands.
These ancient chalk beds, have eroded to form some specular formations.
I would have explored the Kansas Badlands a bit longer, but was determined to get to my friends’ house in Colorado that evening. I still had about 5 hours left to drive that day, on top of the 15 miles of fairly rough rock road I had to cover in order to reach highway.
After a day of exploring the state, I'm cool with Kansas. I've also gained an appreciation for those who find ways to work with the land they've got.