Thursday, August 13, 2009

I'm Goin' for a Little Drive, Nancy...

Time for a road trip. It's been awhile, and I'm itching to go somewhere. I've been experimenting with new photo gear around the house, and I want to use it for real. "Nancy, I'm going for a little drive." I don't know where for sure, and forgetting my Guide for Kansas Explorers, my DeLorme atlas, a cooler and some bottled water, I get in the car and head out.
Photo-wise, it wasn't the greatest day ever. I got some good photos (a few very good in my opinion), but missed a lot more. Those photo ops were seen too late, and finding myself in no position to pull off the road or turn around, I reluctantly moved on down the road, assuming I would get back there or encounter a suitable substitute. It seems there's always a local in a hurry behind me, no shoulder to pull off on, and the rare pull-off obscured by weeds until I'm well beyond them. Even when I'm on obscure gravel roads that seems to happen to me. Sorry folks, I'm a back roads traveler, and I drive slowly so as to see as much as possible.

Basehor ~ My first stop is the Holy-Field Vineyards and Winery. There's nobody here yet, so I walked out into the vineyard a short distance, just enough to get a feeling of being completely surrounded by the vines. The warm early morning light reflecting on the ripening green grapes was a photogs' dream. What a view! This is a large operation that produces a number of varieties of wines, which requires a large vineyard. I was surprised and impressed at the size of the fields. (Reminder to self - the grape harvest might make for a nice photo shoot, if not here then one of the growing number of Kansas vineyards.)

Heading north out of Tongy (that's Tonganoxie for those unfamiliar with regional jargon) I noticed the Leavenworth County Fair in progress and was sorely tempted to spend a day there, as I did last summer. But, I had just recently done that at the Johnson County fair and wanted to shoot something different (even though the event at Tongy definitely has a more authentic "rural feel" to it).

En route to McLouth, an abandoned old Chevy pickup caught my eye. I don't know if it had been moved here for the purpose, or if it had graced the roadside for years, the old rust bucket has been turned into a directional sign for a nursery or garden center. Recycling comes in many guises, I guess.

McLouth has a unique feature - one I've visited and photographed before, but as the old saying goes, "when in McLouth..." I headed directly for Granite Street and the boulder embedded in the middle of the road. Too big and expensive for road crews to move decades ago, the big chunk of granite was simply left untouched for drivers to navigate around. Now days, travelers stop in town for the purpose of seeing that rock, so why should the city remove the town's most unique physical feature? There are no warning signs along the street, by the way. Wonder if anybody ever runs into that thing...

One more thought about the boulder - I haven't researched this, but I don't normally associate granite with Kansas. As the day went by I saw a couple more granite boulders laying about in fields. I am guessing that these were carried into the northeast corner of the state by the glaciers of long ago. Any geologists out there to confirm or debunk my supposition?

Most small towns in the state have one classic older building that has been given the a colorful, Victorian(?) paint job. I love it when these buildings are renovated in this manner. Whether or not the paint colors are authentically Victorian, they are, in my eyes, a thousand times more pleasing than the faux moderne facades thrown up in the 50s, 60s and 70s.

Oskaloosa If Tonganoxie goes by "Tongy," does Oskaloosa go by "Osky?" I don't know, just asking.

The business district centers on the town square built around the Jefferson County courthouse, a mid-20th century square building - no frills, no ornamentation. It's not nearly as hideous as a lot of government buildings from the era, but it's not exactly photogenic, either. Far more pleasing to the eye is an 1880s business building across the street to the south; in fact the entire block was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. The former bank building on the corner is shown below:

On the east side of the square was an old-fashioned hardware store in the midst of a retirement sale. They are closing down. Might there be any bargains I could not live without? No, but as I approached the store, I encountered a local couple and we immediately were engaged in conversation as if we had known each other for years. That lasted into the store and included the owners of the store and their family.

Too bad it wasn't time for lunch - I've got a hunch this hand-made sign might lead to an interesting place to eat, probably good food, too.

Parker's Drug, located on the other end of the historical block from the bank building, offers another big draw - a soda fountain. You think Sonic makes a good cherry limeade? Not compared to this lady! Here, too, I was drawn into a lengthy and interesting conversation. I am convinced one will not meet a stranger in Oskaloosa, just new best friends.

Lately I have been particularly aware of roadside wildflowers, so abundant this year due to the frequent rains. Different varieties were in evidence this trip, probably part of the natural annual succession of flowering plants. Seen most were bachelor buttons, compass plants, and the showy partridge pea, shown below.

Winchester ~ I don't believe I have ever been in this little town before. First thing I see is this classic white, clapboard church, like something in a Grant Woods or Normal Rockwell illustration. Congrats to the congregation of the Reformed Presbyterian Church for maintaining it so beautifully. If I had not been in too big a hurry earlier in the morning to pick my Explorer's Guide, I would have known that the grave site of John Steuart Curry, famed muralist (think John Brown in the state capitol building), was in the cemetery behind this church. Repeat after me: "Haste makes waste."

Greater downtown Winchester; can you say quaint, boys and girls?

Easton Once again, the first thing I notice upon pulling into town is an interesting church building, this an old stone structure. At least it looks old, and I could find no information about it. A new, vinyl-sided entryway has been added, and although I'm sure it is very practical, it detracts from the period charm. Maybe I watch too much Antiques Roadshow on PBS.

Easton's main drag is a dead give-away that this Leavenworth County community is not doing well. Sorry folks. Just stating the obvious. Scenes like the two below don't necessarily reflect well on the town, but speaking as a photographer, they make for interesting and evocative shots.

All this before lunch ~

Lunch you say? I had expected to find a place to eat in Easton, but the one eatery, a smoky bar, didn't appeal to me. Lunch finally happened in Leavenworth at the Pullman Place, downtown at 230 Cherokee. I highly recommend this family restaurant with a railroad theme. I enjoyed one of the best patty melts ever, with Swiss and cheddar cheeses, plus a slice of tomato.


  1. Those uses of recycling the old trucks are pretty cool!

  2. Did you know you can shorten your links with Shortest and make money from every visitor to your shortened urls.