My sister-in-law was in town over the 4th of July holiday, and we wanted her to enjoy something uniquely Kansas. We decided on a drive down the Flint Hills National Scenic Byway.Like most people my age, I grew up playing the Oregon Trail, and I’m still completely obsessed with this historical journey. The Flint Hills Byway follows the Santa Fé trail, the Oregon Trail’s slightly less famous, but still interesting Southern cousin.
Our first stop was in Council Grove, which was where wagons gathered before they started their journey. Council Grove has a few historical attractions, including the Santa Fé Rail Jail, where ruffians were imprisoned (and then often hanged, apparently). The historical marker outside the rail jail cracks me up.
A bad man, you say? Did the bad man punt Baxter?
Council Grove is also home to the Madonna of the Trail, a statue commemorating the women who ventured West.
Next stop, the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, which on the site of a former ranch. This home was built in 1881, by the Jones family. The house is made out of local limestone.
Using my imagination, I walked through the historical home pretending that I was a moody, unhappy girl from out East, and that I had been sent to live with my practical prairie relatives. Maybe because I had acted scandalously and shamed my uppity family. Out on the prairie, I learned the value of hard work, freedom, and perseverance, and became a happier individual. I survived a tornado or two. I also eventually married a hot farm hand and refused to return to my former city life, even thought that meant I forfeited my considerable inheritance. Don’t judge my imagination.
After we toured the house, we took the bus tour out to the middle of the prairie. Our guide was very knowledgeable. He told us the names of many of the different plants, and even talked about their medicinal and culinary uses. Apparently, there is a herd of bison that have been reintroduced to the prairie, but we didn’t see them. We did see a coyote, off in the distance.
Visiting the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve was completely free, which was awesome because I am even poorer than usual right now. We didn’t even have to pay to take the bus tour out into the middle of the prairie. Federal funding FTW.
Even though the scenic drive continues, we ended our trip in Cottonwood Falls, home of the historic Chase County Courthouse. (Which was built to replace the Pioneer Cowboy Jail.)