(My friend April and I spent a June weekend exploring central and western Kansas. This post is a story from our trip.)
April and I planned our route to include four different scenic byways. A National Scenic Byway is defined as “a road recognized by the United States Department of Transportation for one or more of six “intrinsic qualities”: archeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational, and scenic” (Wikipedia). We saw several of those characteristics on our travels.
From I-70, travelers can access the Native Stone Scenic Byway by catching Highway 4 west of Topeka. The byway officially starts in the tiny town of Dover, where an information kiosk helped us understand what we were about to see. Native stone refers to the limestone fences built by settlers to comply with the 1867 law that abolished the open range.
Dover is a leafy crossroads, featuring a beautiful former stagecoach stop and inn (now a private residence) and a promising-looking café.
Dover stood in strong contrast to the bleak main street of Eskridge, our next stop on the byway.
From Eskridge to Alma we could have stopped a dozen times to take pictures, and Alma is a tidy little town with much to offer. Next time, I will start the tour in Alma, drive south to Lake Wabaunsee, and return to Alma, confident that I’ve seen the best that byway has to offer.
From Alma, I-70 took us west to the Wilson exit, where we caught the Post Rock Scenic Byway north. Almost immediately we found scenic Lake Wilson—great for small-mouth bass fishing—and another educational kiosk. The abundance of limestone took the settlers along this route in a different creative direction. Instead of stacked stone fences, they cut the limestone into posts, and strung wire from post to post to comply with the same 1867 law. When limestone became too expensive for the market, farmers substituted logs, cut any which way, which gave the fences a rough-and-ready appearance.
We picked up the Western Vistas Historic Byway in Oakley on the second day of our trip, and it made me wish for a more sophisticated camera. The breathtaking views of pasture land dotted with rocky outcroppings stretched for miles in every direction. Was it flat? Yes, I suppose so.But that happened to be its charm.
I was most familiar with the Flint Hills Scenic Byway, which carried us homeward on the last day of our trip. Always a good drive, the rolling Flint Hills were lush with recent rains, the roadside ditches dotted with purple mallow and orange butterfly milkweed. Our stop at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, run by the National Parks System, gave us a better understanding of the tallgrass prairie ecosystem. It also serves as the trailhead for miles of well-kept hiking trails, and maintains the Spring Hill Ranch farmstead, home to this beautiful stone barn.