Tuesday, February 9, 2010

2009 - Kansas Journey Highlights

Yes, it's been a long time since my previous post - September 24th in fact. After a profusion of entries mid-year, I ran out of gas. Maybe I should just say I took a sabbatical. Before catching up on some of my Kansas travel posts, I'll take a brief look back at some 2009 highlights.  

~~~Unique opportunity: Some friends asked me to lead them on a tour of some of the interesting off-the-interstate places they had seen in my photos and heard me talk about.  The resulting two-day Kansas trip introduced them to the art and culture of Lindsborg (Little Sweden), Mushroom Rock State Park (shown in photo above), Wilson (Czech Capital of Kansas), the grassroots arts of Lucas, and the Post Rock Scenic Byway. It was a great time of discovery and fellowship. We look forward to a similar trip this spring, setting our sights on the central region of the Flint Hills.

~~~Speaking of the Flint Hills: I was able to enjoy more of the Flint Hills this year than ever before, from the northern reaches in Marshall County to the Chautauqua Hills region near the Oklahoma border. It would be difficult to list one site or one drive in the region above the others.

Since childhood, I've had a special affinity for the hills of Chautauqua, Elk, and eastern Cowley Counties, where my dad grew up, and where our family would camp and fish along the Caney River and Otter Creek. It was good to nostalgically view the site of some of those memorable outings along Otter Creek (right).
Another highlight was a day spent on the Native Stone Scenic Byway and in its vicinity. In addition to the stone fences, the area is dotted with limestone barns, farmhouses, churches and schools, and punctuated with an abundance of native wildflowers. (right)

~~~Wildflowers: Generous rains created a showing  of wildflowers throughout the state that even the oldest of old-timers found incomparable. Nowhere were they more spectacular and memorable than in the Flint Hills.  Seen here is a an autumn view of the flora surrounding Teter's Rock, one of the state's more remote and least known treasures. It is east of Cassody, reachable via gravel road and pasture path. The spectacular vista from this high point on the prairie makes this site worth a visit, even if there were no rock monument.

 ~~~Festival Highlights: I'll make special note of two first-timers (for me) and a perennial favorite.

I have blogged on Salina's Smoky Hill River previously at ftkansasjourney.blogspot.com/2009/06/smoky-hill-river-fes... Briefly for this posting, I will report that Nancy and I had heard mention of the Smoky Hill River Festival in Salina, but hadn't made any effort to check it out. It was her suggestion we do that this past June. I'm certain we will return in the future. It's a great festival in a picturesque venue, and extremely well attended. There are activities for folks of all ages, a wide variety of top-drawer musical groups performing, and any kind of festival food you would ever have a craving for - from funnel cakes to bierocks to Indian tacos to ice cream made on the premises.  My personal highlight - the fine arts area. I was impressed at the quality of art work on display and for sale.

I have also reported here on Yoder Heritage Day: ftkansasjourney.blogspot.com/2009/08/heritage-day-yoder-k.... There is so much to see and do at this event - a parade, contests, an auction including fine Amish craft work, and delicious, wholesome food, but my favorite had to be the buggy races!    
I would guess that Winfield's Walnut Valley Festival is the state's largest and best-known festival aside from the state fair. Whether that be the case or not, it's one we eagerly anticipate attending annually, and book our lodging years in advance. In truth, it is one of my travel highlights every year. I've only become a fan of bluegrass, roots music, Americana, Celtic in the last decade or so, but to a large degree that has been a result of exposure to those genre at Winfield.

So what makes this festival such a big draw? The music? Of course that is a big part of it - the musical offerings at Walnut Valley Festival are a unique combination of outstanding performers representing a variety of acoustic styles. The camping experience (with all-night jam sessions)? Certainly. The attendees? Definitely. For one week you can be a member of a society with no distinctions of economic class, age, or race.

Most of all, it is an annual homecoming, a reunion for musicians and attendees alike, a gathering of old friends, a place where there are no strangers, just friends you haven't met yet.  Or, in the parlance of the 60s and 70s, it is a HAPPENING!

~~~Kansas People: The temptation here is to start naming names. Not a good idea; as with award winners on Oscars night, my list is too long, and I would come up short. Some are fellow photographers, some fellow bloggers, some Facebook friends.  I've met lots of great folks through Kansas Explorers Club/Kansas Sampler Foundation, at Kansas 150 meetings, with the Great Plains Nature Photographers, at cafes and filling stations. Gosh - I can't even bring to mind all the places, let alone the names. I'll just sum it up by saying they are some of the kindest and most interesting folks I've ever met!

~~~Lowlights? Not many; after all, the worst day of travel is better than the best 9 to 5 caged up in an office cubicle. Regrets? A few - I didn't make it everywhere I wanted to go, but hey, I'm still young!

~~~Looking Ahead: My bucket list seems to get longer by the year, not shorter. In 2010, I'm hoping to do a better job of getting off the blacktops and onto the gravel and dirt, and to do more nature and landscape photography on some of the state's hiking trails, notably at Kanopolis and Elk City Lake State Parks, and to spend some quality time in the Red/Gyp Hills. I'm almost embarrassed to confess that I have not yet been to a Kansas Sampler Festival, but promise to remedy that shortcoming this spring. (See link below).

Finally, Nancy and I are planning a long excursion to far, far, far eastern Kansas, where the towns have names like Milano, Siena, Firenza, Venezia, Asisi, etc. I guess I'll have to start a different blog for that.

Links of Interest:
Kansas Sampler Festival: www.kansassampler.org/festival
Walnut Valley Festival: www.wvfest.com
Smoky Hill River Festival: www.riverfestival.com/salina/
Kansas Scenic Byways: www.ksbyways.org
Yoder Heritage Day: http://www.yoderkansas.com/heritage_day_2008.htm

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