September 12, 2012

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Below are the diary entries for September 12, 2012, with the newest entries added at the bottom. Also, check out today’s photos.

Eric Prairie Trail and Abilene
Eric (September 12, 2012)

Last modified: September 12, 2012 at 22:21:37

We had a great night's sleep at the motel in Council Grove and when we woke up we first went for a run - 20 minutes this time, which is better than what we did on Monday. Over breakfast (in the room, the hotel did provide breakfast but for an additional $5 per person and we were of course too cheap for that) we checked out the brochures that we got at the welcome center yesterday for the area we're in and decided to drive the "Prairie Trail" today. But since that gets us 50 miles beyond Abilene, we'll have to backtrack on the Interstate to the Eisenhower memorial.

Early in the morning the sky looks threatening but it clears up later. The landscape is varying and beautiful. In the town of Canton we run into a lot of statues of bison, not sure what's up with that. Around lunch time, we get to a dirt road into the Maxwell Wildlife Refuge, where we head to the observation tower. You have a wonderful view of the landscape from on top of that tower! Some examples below; when I get back, I have to stitch the 25 shots I took into a 360-degrees panorama...

After the wildlife refuge we pass through the town of Lindsborg and outside of that town visit the Coronado Heights, a hill where, according to Wikipedia, "Francisco Vasquez de Coronado gave up his search for the 'seven cities of gold' and turned to return to Mexico." In 1936 the WPA built a shelter there in the form of an old fort, which is what you see when you drive up.

We continue our tour of the trail through the Kansas landscape. I said it yesterday and I say it again: I don't understand why people say Kansas is boring. It is beautiful here!

After finishing the Prairie Trail we head back to Abilene, to visit the Eisenhower museum and boyhood home. We get timed tickets for a tour of the home and then head into the museum, but only get halfway through the museum when it closes. We'll have to get back tomorrow!

With the museum closed, we have to find a place to eat, and decide to go to "Mr. K's Farmhouse Restaurant," a place where Eisenhower supposedly went as well. We were there right when it opened and seem to have been the only guest while we were there, but the food was good and Nicoline loved the ice-cold beer!

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Nicoline Kansas
Nicoline (September 12, 2012)

Last modified: September 12, 2012 at 23:10:16

Today was Wednesday, so we started out with a 30 minute run through Council Grove. It’s a nice town, even if the locals looked rather surprised to see people out for a jog. After breakfast - which we had luckily brought with us, down to an orange to stand in for orange juice - we took the time to go through the materials we had picked up at the information center in Lawrence the day before.

One of the flyers was hardly even a flyer, but more like thin book of beautiful pictures and descriptions of scenic drives available around I-70 called “Scenic Byways of Kansas.” Since we happened to notice a sign pointing to U.S. 56 on our run, we decided to start with the Prairie Trail. It did not disappoint. We drove down state route 77 to get to Canton and while that wasn’t part of the scenic route per se, it was a beautiful drive all the same, especially, since the sky was darkening with rain. Canto is near the old Santa Fe and Chisholm Trails, and for a while we followed the Santa Fe Trail signs.

Near Roxbury we stopped for a while at the observation tower at the Maxwell Wildlife Refuge. It’s a nature reserve begun by the brother John Gault and Henry Irving (the information kiosk at the observation tower apparently misspells his name) Maxwell. According to the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, it all started in “...1859 when Henry Gault Maxwell drove a small herd of bison to the area and established a homestead.” Mr. Maxwell was either already married and brought his wife with him to Kansas, or married after settling there. At any rate, he had two sons, John, Jr. and Henry. “After the elder Maxwell’s death, his two sons became successful businessmen and never forgot their father’s dream. The last surviving son, Henry Irving Maxwell, crafted his will to fulfill his father’s vision. In 1943, Henry Irving Maxwell’s estate began purchasing land to create a wildlife refuge. In 1944, 2,560 acres were deeded to what is now the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP), which created the refuge.” In addition to buffalo there are supposed to be elk, but we didn’t see the latter. We spend a good twenty minutes looking all around us from the tower and then came down to have a picnic lunch in the shade of the kiosk. Even with the strong wind, it was hot enough to make us seek shade.

After lunch we drove on to Lindsborg, a town that is known as “Little Sweden U.S.A.” according to the scenic byways brochure. We didn’t stop in town, because we wanted to get to Coronado Heights, which marks the northernmost point that Spanish explorer Francisco Vásquez de Coronado y Luján (1510-1554) is thought to have achieved in 1541. Coronado Park was constructed under the Works Progress Administration in 1936, so almost 400 years after Coronado’s journey. I don’t know if they planted the grasses and other vegetation to bring to mind the southwest and Spanish conquistadores and all that or whether they grow there naturally, but both Eric and I were strongly reminded of New Mexico and Arizona, which we visited in 2007. It must be because we’re traveling in the off-season, but Coronado Park is such a beautiful spot that we simply couldn’t understand why it there wasn’t a crowd of people!

The next time anybody tells me “Meh, Kansas. It’s all flat, nothing to see, boring!” I’ll point them to just these two spots to show them they’re dead wrong. And even if you’re just driving from point to point, the landscape chances continually and it’s never in the least boring. The only thing you could possibly describe that way is that some landowners in the area hang old tires on their fences saying “Keep Out” as though you’d even want to come in over barbed wire.

From Coronado Park we drove on via state routes 141 and 140, because we cheated a little. Instead of heading west on I-70 we headed east, to get back to Abilene. It’s the hometown of President Eisenhower, so we wanted to visit the presidential library and museum. We started with a 24-minute movie in the visitors’ center, which was so condensed that it left out Ike’s command of Allied force that landed in North-Africa in 1942. Then we took a tour of his boyhood home. The guide, who had clearly conducted this tour about 9 million times and could recite it in his sleep, said that everything that was in the house was there when Mrs. Ida Eisenhower, Ike’s mother, died in 1946. I was looking at the book case in the parlor and noticed a New Testament in Syriac (presumably one in Syriac with an English translation next to it, or I wouldn’t have been able to read the title), so I asked who read that. It’s not a language that one expects to find in Abilene. As it turns out, both Ike’s parents were educated and later married at Lane University, a Church of the United Brethren in Christ school (some Mennonite faction, I presume) in Lecompton. According to Wikipedia, Lane University merged with Campbell University in 1902 to form Campbell College.

After the house tour we moved on to the museum and got as far as the D-Day landings in 1944, but the lady at the front desk was kind enough to mark our tickets for admission tomorrow, so we’ll complete the rest of the museum tomorrow. It did include a very beautiful display of textile art by a Korean artist. I found his depiction of the division of the two Koreas the most moving.

Eric’s research had given him the information that Mrs. K’s Farmhouse Restaurant just outside of Abilene was his favorite establishment, so we decided to have an early dinner there in honor of the 34th president so we could get to a motel with internet early and work on two days’ worth of diary entries, not to mention facebook and other sites that badly need our attention :-)

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