Tuna of the Prairie

I had always imagined Flint Hills to be a rocky desert-like area in the Central-Eastern Kansas where one could walk up to the nearest cliff and chisel away a piece of flint big enough to make a tomahawk. I guess I’ll add this to the list of many other things that didn’t turn out the way I imagined. Driving the Flint Hills Scenic Byway was somewhere on my list of things to do and it turned out to be probably one of the best, most relaxing day-trips from Kansas City, filled with nature, views, history, vast spaces that make you feel small and roads reaching all the way to the horizon. It’s hard to imagine covering these hills on foot, living on remote ranches, surviving without all the conveniences of the modern age. It’s fun to think about things like these while flying at high speeds in a comfortable vehicle with the windows down and the radio up.
The South end of the Scenic Byway is at Cassoday, KS, population 130, with just about as many signs proclaiming it to be the Prairie Chicken Capital of the World.

Prairie Chicken, also known as the “Tuna of the Prairie” are nowhere to be seen, probably busy hiding from the 130 hungry Cassodayans. The signs are the most photographed object in Cassoday.

Other sightseeing includes a few old cars…

…a matching color building…

…a cafe that may or may not be open…

…and an antique store adorned with the sports jewels of Kansas and for some reason a jewel from Missouri.

A home-made firetruck is there just in case.

It’s hard to describe the size of this land. Huge? Enormous? Vast?

You almost need an object so a photograph can convey the never ending view.

The road leads to Cottonwood Falls, KS with its famous Chase County Courthouse.

The Courthouse was built in 1873 and is still in use (watch a video), it’s not as big as some of the other courthouses I’ve seen, but it’s definitely unique both in its history and architecture.

Some other interesting artifacts are the old signs…

…and the Cottonwood Falls or whatever this is.

One wrong turn and shortly you may end up in Elmdale, KS.

With its bank…

…and a City Hall.

Elmdale is boasting 50 residents, long ways from its former greatness.

This building was constructed in 1895.

This top of this building calls it an Auditorium.

I was surprised to see activity at the local church.

In Elmdale the black people still can be found on the other side of the tracks.

Back on the Scenic Highway 177 there is a National Tallgrass Prairie Preserve.

…where even an outhouse can be historic.

One room school was still open in 1930’s.

Scenic Byway ends in Council Grove, probably one of the best preserved small towns in this area, where all the historic sites are clearly marked with special signs.

A nice finishing touch to the trip is a meal at the Hays House Restaurant.

The restaurant is old enough to remember this bell ringing when Indians were attacking…

…and when the buffalo was more than a graffiti on the wall.

Not much is happening in Council Grove on a Sunday afternoon. There weren’t any shows at the Stella…

…and the split personality wall was probably remembering multiple tenants.

Only an occasional motorcycle breaks the quiet.

And this is how every New Yorker imagines Kansas.

Bonus video: Cottonwood Falls.

  • I have tried to talk Cliff into riding the motorcycle to Cassoday for a couple of years, ever since I read an article about it being “Little Sturgis”.

    http://www.cycleconnections.com/articledetail.asp?ID=164&TypeID=3

  • Meesha, I just love your day trips! Nicely done!

  • Lance

    Great photos and captions. Keep up the good work.

  • Cool.

  • SKC Observer

    That was excellent; thank you. Conveying what the plains are like to someone who has never seen them is very hard and this post does a good job.

  • Joe

    great post, one I poached from and linked to.

  • midtown miscreant

    you really do justice to these little towns in your day trips. One of my favorite things about your blog.