100 Things to Do in Kansas Before You Die
By Roxie Yonkey
Reviewed by Betty Ann Dean
As a native Kansan, I was eager to review this book! My childhood was filled with many moments of seeing sunflowers everywhere, watching combines harvest acres of wheat fields, and traveling along those seemingly endless Flint Hills that my mother insisted were so beautiful. I did my share of visiting the landmarks too–the Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene, the State Capitol building, Boot Hill in Dodge City, and the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson. Growing up in Winfield, I took countless field trips to the Crayola manufacturing plant (although those pretty crayons are now only made in Pennsylvania and the plant has been taken over by Gott Rubbermaid), visited the string of antique shops along Main Street, and attended the world-renowned Walnut Valley Festival, home to many well-known bluegrass musical artists.
Roxie Yonkey has taken her self-described job as “Chief Exploration Officer” throughout the state seriously and is the author of this book as well as a blog called RoxieontheRoad.com. She has been a Kansas resident for more than thirty years and has traveled extensively throughout the state. This guidebook is filled with activities for everyone to enjoy–food and drink, music, entertainment, history, sports and recreation–even fashion and shopping hot spots. She’s done a very thorough job–if you visited every attraction listed in the book, you would see 421 locations in 76 of Kansas’s 105 counties.
You likely already know that Kansas is known as “The Sunflower State”, “The Wheat State”, and “The Breadbasket of the World”. But did you know that besides former President of the United States Dwight Eisenhower, Kansas is also home to Amelia Earhart, George Washington Carver, Melissa Etheridge, Martina McBride, the Buffalo Soldiers, Buffalo Bill Cody, Walter P. Chrysler, Gordon Parks, Hattie McDaniel, and James Naismith?
I had certainly never thought of Kansas as a mining state. But in fact, Kansas mined coal, lead, and zinc. Hutchinson still mines salt. In Hutchinson, you can visit The Underground Salt Museum, and descend 650 feet into a salt mine. The mine’s security and controlled temperatures provide the perfect environment for storage. In West Mineral you can climb into Big Brutus’s cab to feel the power of strip mining. The gashes in the land that Brutus created are now a wildlife area.
What does mining have to do with fried chicken? Find out in Pittsburg, where fried chicken is king. A mining accident disabled Annie Pichler’s husband and she began serving fried chicken dinners to support the family. Soon Mary Zerngast’s husband suffered the same fate, and Zerngast followed Pichler’s example. The restaurants are almost side by side in Pittsburg. Crawford County (the southeast county in which Pittsburg is located) is home to many chicken restaurants. What a great opportunity for a taste-testing road trip!
Of course, we in Kansas City are well familiar with barbecue and the numerous places to get a great plate of burnt ends. But did you know that Kansas City is also famous for tacos? The KCK Taco Trail, where 50-plus taquerias serve every kind of taco imaginable is a must on your culinary journey.
Great food also demands great beverage pairings. From 1881 to 1948, Kansas was officially a dry state. Bootleggers skirted the law, including the owner of the North Star Steakhouse in Topeka. He hid his booze in a treehouse and was never caught by Topeka police. Eventually, Kansas City cops did catch him, and he was the last person they arrested for bootlegging.
Free State Brewing Co. opened in Lawrence one hundred eight years after Kansas went dry. It was the first legal brewery in Kansas since 1880. One of Free State’s brews, Ad Astra Ale, gets its name from the state’s motto, Ad Astra per Aspera (meaning “to the stars through difficulties”). Kansas now has over 60 breweries, around 40 wineries, and several distilleries–definitely no longer dry!
One of those wineries, located in Wamego, is the Oz Winery. When Dorothy returned to Kansas, her house landed in Liberal, where you can tour it and see Oz artifacts. Oz memorabilia are located all around the state–you can walk the Yellow Brick Road, find the Wicked Witch on her bike, and visit the Oz Museum in Wamego.
A tornado whisked Dorothy safely to the Land of Oz, although being in the center of a twister is generally not a great experience. Tornadoes visited the tiny town of Codell on the same day for three consecutive years on May 20–in 1916, 1917, and 1918. In 2007, a tornado leveled the town of Greensburg. This tornado was the first one measured on the Enhanced Fujita scale–an EF-5. You can visit the Big Well Museum to see artifacts from the storm.
How many times have you heard that Kansas is flat? Don’t believe it. The trail summits at the Konza Prairie Natural Area in Manhattan boast a 360-degree view of the Flint Hills. West of Salina, the northernmost of seven sandstone bluffs arise. The southernmost bluff is called Coronado Heights. Coronado probably climbed this bluff to search for the Seven Cities of Gold (which didn’t exist). Unusual rock formations are located near the Smoky Hill River in western Kansas.
The Santa Fe Trail celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2021. Five hundred of its 900 miles crossed Kansas. Mahaffie Stage Stop and Farm in Olathe still offers stagecoach rides and other living history activities. You can ride the trail on the Flint Hills Trail State Park, a 117-mile rail-to-trail project.
Kansas was an important part of the country’s history. Kansas Territory suffered the Civil War’s prelude, Bleeding Kansas.The battle between those who wanted the state to be free and those who wanted to allow slaveholding spawned the conflict that split the nation. John Brown earned fame for defending Osawatomie. Kansas territory had a succession of capitals, some supported by free state settlers, and some by slave state settlers. After the Southern senators left Washington when their states seceded, Kansas became a state on January 29, 1861, with Topeka as its capital.
Another piece of history has its roots in Kansas. Linda Brown’s father Oliver tried to enroll her in Sumner Elementary. When the principal denied her enrollment, the Browns joined a lawsuit. Oliver Brown became the lead plaintiff in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court overturned segregation. That elementary school, Monroe Elementary, is now the Brown v. Board National Historic Site.
Finally, I would be remiss to leave out Kansas basketball history as March Madness is about to begin! James Naismith invented basketball in Springfield, Massachusetts, but came to the University of Kansas to coach the sport in 1898. He was a resident of Lawrence until he passed away in 1938. He lived long enough to pass out medals at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, where the United States won gold. Ironically, Naismith is the only KU coach to have a losing record, 55-60. The program he founded has won twelve national titles. In 2010, David Booth bought the Original Rules of Basketball. He donated them to his alma mater, and they are now enshrined at KU.
Even though I’m a Kansas native and have seen and done many of these activities, I am making a new list of day trips and attractions to visit that I haven’t explored. This guidebook is well worth investigating if you’re interested in visiting some of these unique sites also.
As Yonkey says,
“Kansas is subtle. The Sunflower State doesn’t overwhelm visitors with its mountains or its oceans. We have neither. Instead, Kansas sneaks up on its guests, and, before they realize it, they’ve fallen in love with the state, its friendly people, fascinating history, beauty, and fun activities.”
Betty Ann Dean, R.N., B.S.N., has worked in various settings as a registered nurse. In 2008 she began to explore energy medicine as taught by Donna Eden as a way of healing the body in addition to traditional medicine. She is certified as a practitioner of Bowenwork, a hands-on healing therapy, and brings a rich background of corrective exercise to her healing modalities as a result of her 10 years of experience as a personal trainer. In 2020, Betty Ann was certified at the Masters level as a medical intuitive and continues to study with her mentor, Tina Zion.
Her practice, Vibrant Bodyworks, is located in Liberty, MO, and Parkville, MO. www.vibrantbodyworks.com