Friday, February 27, 2009

Road Trip Reflections - Exploring Kansas

Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Itinerary: Garnett, Scipio, Harris, Greeley, Lane, Richmond, Princeton

Wednesday was the kind of day that hinted the coming of spring, and the eventual end of the monotonous brown season. I had been considering on a Kansas day trip, and desperately needed some quiet, back-roads time. Unfortunately, I had a mid-morning appointment for some lab work, and my trusty doctor had advised me to avoid strenuous activities for awhile, so the original plans for a day-long excursion for some serious hiking were scrapped. Nonetheless, with Melody Dog by my side, camera gear loaded, and my well-worn Kansas Guidebook for Explorers and DeLorme Kansas Atlas in hand, I hit the road with no set itinerary.

Kansas Explorer - Melody

My last-minute destination became Garnett, Kansas, with unplanned stops made in Princeton, Richmond, Harris, Scipio, Greeley, and Lane. A couple of these little burgs have been added to my (private, not-to-be published) Ghost Towns Watch List. Alas, rural decay may make for some incredible shooting opportunities for those of us who consider ourselves to be serious photographers, but to others, it is just plain ugly and/or depressing. I witnessed lots of that.

Kansas Abandonment

On the other hand, I also saw some beautiful countryside, even in those dreary shades of winter browns and grays, and on several occasions thought that would be an ideal location to have a rustic cabin in the woods - a great place to get away from it all as long as one could have broadband
internet, high def cable, and get a good latté.

Garnett is a town has a number of architectural treasures, beginning with the Anderson County Court House.

Anderson County Court House - Garnett, KansasAnderson County Court House - Garnett, Kansas

Almost one-fourth of the court houses in Kansas were designed by George
Washburn, and the Garnett structure is one of my personal favorites, along with those at Troy and Ottawa. A court house addition is being built adjacent to the old one, but thankfully it appears to in no way detract from the magnificence of the existing building. Many of the buildings on the town square date to the 1880s, with the resulting "gingerbread"-type architectural ornamentation. Really charming details, colorfully painted, and very photogenic. Fortunately, only a few of the existing structures bear traces of that abominable 1950s-60s trend to cover the charming and historic original store fronts with faux-contemporary fibre glass or aluminum facades.

On the Court House Square - Garnett, Kansas
Denise's Country Cafe

I had lunch at Denise's Country Cafe, located in one of the 1885 buildings. Denise sports an all-you-can eat lunch buffet, fried chicken, roast beef, etc., and those who chose to sit at the counter get a buck discount. I had a pork tenderloin sandwich, my weakness. Elsewhere in town are a couple of charming Victorian homes (the Kirk House and the Harris House), as well as other houses (some for sale) with lots of potential if renovated. Another highlight, which I passed up on this trip but have visited previously, is a surprising little art gallery located within the public library.

I drove west on K-31 through the near-ghost town of Harris (where I stopped to take a number of images of crumbling vacant homes) to view the Emerald Church, so named because of the number of Irish

Emerald Church

settlers in the vicinity. It was further out in the country than I had figured on, and once there, found the steeple or dome missing. Not much to look at or photograph without that. And of course the church was locked so I could not view the Virgin Mary given to the congregation by Bing Crosby. But -- on a beautiful sunny day like this, and with a magnificent view of the countryside from the hilltop, who could possibly complain? Certainly not Melody, for she found some soft grass and a shady spot in which to chill out.

On a whim, I decided to take a county road through unincorporated Scipio. Not much there of course - a couple of old country school buildings, one of which is now a portrait photographer's studio, a still-active St. Boniface Church with gymnasium and school. Adjacent to the church grounds was a nicely maintained farm home and outbuildings, with one of the finest and largest old barns I have seen. The barn had a date (1902) on its doors. Tempted as I was to trespass into the pasture to photograph the barn in proper lighting conditions, I reluctantly took a pass. Spotting a sign to the parish cemetery, I followed the dirt road, and soon found myself going over a rise to discover a wonderful panoramic view of the Pottawatomie Creek valley. On the side of the hill in the foreground was a beautiful, peaceful, and most photogenic cemetery scene. An unexpected Aaaaah! moment for sure, even in the barrenness of late winter.

St Boniface Cemetery

I briefly stopped in Greeley to view the 1856 Gerth log cabin, transplanted from its original location to a wooded spot in town along Pottawatomie Creek. The site has received a number of awards, deservedly, for its renovation and maintenance of this historic cabin.

1856 Gerth Cabin - Greeley, Kansas

Finally - Lane, named after James Lane, a Jayhawk abolitionist leader, and one of the first senators from Kansas. An interesting stop. To begin with, the hilly and winding road I took into town was a pleasant drive, with wooded Ozark-like views. I could spend more time here. One of my first views in town was a lady tieing her horse to a hitching post alongside another already there, then going into a tavern for a couple of beers - not exactly a daily scene in the sprawling, characterless suburb in which I live. I later learned the second beer was for her husband, not her horse. Hubby, a calf roping contestant in ranch rodeos, was headed to town with the horse trailer.

Time for a Cool One - Lane, Kansas


The photos shown in this blog, and others as I finish the process of editing them, may be seen in larger sizes on my photostream (gallery) at Or - click on any of the photos any the blog to be taken to that photo's page on flickr.