Marion County, Kansas
|an old fashioned slide in Hillsboro Kansas|
Campground: see previous report
I had just arrived for the Labor Day weekend as I was wrapping up my last report. As I checked into the Hillsboro Cove campground I was handed a “Welcome Package”. It contained a couple magazines on Marion County, a magnet and button advertising the local animal shelter, a small package from the local hospital with ban aids and ointment and of course info in the location of the hospital in case of emergency. There was even a neat baseball cap advertising a local company that makes them for sale. What a smart thing for the local community to do, to let we vacationers know about the local area and greet us this way.
One of the things I discovered by checking out those brochures was that the Marion County Park and Lake has an enclosed heated fishing dock. It’s open year round, with comfortable benches waiting for the angler who wants to fish year round, even in freezing or inclement weather. I’ve never seen such a thing. Bet that would be popular in Northern Michigan where I grew up where fisherman would haul a shack out onto the frozen ice for ice fishing.
Over in the town of Florence Kansas is the first Harvey House and Hotel called the Clifton Hotel. It was actually the second Harvey House but the first that had a hotel attached. The Santa Fe railroad would send dinner requests ahead of arriving. The passengers would get off the train and quickly enjoy a top notch dinner for 75 cents. The train crew were only charged 25 cents. Guests were required to say “thank you” and “please” when addressing the waitresses. This was after-all the wild-wild west in the late 1800’s.
|Labor day, a go-cart race and town garage sale|
Back at the campground I’ve met some really nice folks. Lots of good storytelling and fish stories trying to catch some big ole carp. Later in the evening we had a big storm come through that lasted all night. A bit of hail, some good winds blowing everything around and rain. In the morning on my walk around the park I saw what looked like tennis balls. Some a little flattened and after asking the locals, found out they were in fact Hedge Apples also called Osage oranges. They were planted as a wind break on farms and for fence posts and farmers would make hedges out the them that cattle couldn‘t penetrate. That was before barbed wire was invented. Cattle will eat Osage oranges but can also choke on them and die. Squirrels will eat the fruit. They are non-toxic but humans don’t eat them. The hedge apple is supposed to repel insects. The wood is very hard and dense and makes great bows for bow and arrows.
|Hedge apple or Osage Orange|
|squished, the inside is quite fibrous|
The campground has emptied out as the unofficial end of summer comes to an end. The next day, even though it’s very overcast, I decide to drive over to the Tall Grass Prairie. It was a nice drive through some stunning grass lands even with the blanket of clouds so low in the sky. At the National Preserve, created in 1996, all was pretty quiet after the Holiday weekend. To the point that the Park Ranger said about 10 words to me as I asked about information on the park. Pointed at a brochure and said go enjoy the park. Well, ok…. Watched the movie that most all National parks have and then went to explore the original farm buildings. The large barn was the only building open. The farm house which looked really cool was locked up as well as the other out buildings. So no touring those buildings. Not really being overly prepared for a long hike, I took a few short walks around, trying to grasp the beauty of the prairie landscape. They have many miles of trails by the way and I noticed two tour busses on sight, but obviously no tours were available. I understand one of the pastures contains bison and has walking trails running through it. Unfortunately I didn’t see any of the bison. I guess they figure folks will be smart enough to keep their distance from the bison.
|Farm house was closed|
|ball of barbed wire|
|One of the paths leading through the tall grass prairie|
About an hours drive down the road is the town of Hutchinson Kansas and it has a few attractions for we tourists. A Cosmo dome which features a number of artifacts from the quest to go into space, a state fair about to open in a couple of days and the other really big attraction is underground. It’s called the "Strataca" which in itself is a strange name as it’s really a big underground salt mine. It’s a Kansas State museum, an active salt mine and a storage facility all underground. Now I've been to some pretty neat caves, a couple of copper and silver mines in Michigan and Colorado but never a salt mine.
|Underground Salt Mine Museum/tour|
|entering the elevator|
|650 feet below|
|pure rock salt, 250 million years old|
|everything brought into the mine, remains there|
|follow the spotlights to the next attraction|
|history of mines being used for storage of valuables|
|even Wonka chocolate bars are stored down here|
|museum gift shop down in the mine|
|our tram ride|
|many important movie costumes stored down here|
|historic original films stored underground|
Needless to say, it was on my list of places to visit. Hutchinson Kansas must also be a major center for the collection of farm grains etc. because the skyline is dotted with many large grain elevators. I mean really big grain elevators, lining the railroad tracks that pass through this prairie town. Getting back to the underground tour, I signed up for the deluxe tour, $17. Which included the self guided tour through the grand concourse with many mining displays, the “Salt Mine Express” train tour and “The Dark Tour” via a tram ride. It’s a great way to learn about the salt mining business as we descended in the metal cage elevator 650 below the earths surface. Once at the bottom we were directed to walk down the grand hallway and learn about the creation of this salt mine over 275,000,000 years ago. After picking up a bit of knowledge on my own, I then took the guided train tour and tram tour. Both of which took us deeper in the many corridors of the mine. Overall it was a really fun tour oh and learning experience too. Like seeing first hand a chunk of rock salt with a moving bubble inside. Indicating that there is water and the bubble inside that piece of rock salt. Scientists believe they have found life forms over 150 million years old inside these time capsules of rock salt. Now that’s a big wow. We got a chance to collect a sample piece of rock salt but I wasn’t fortunate enough to get one with the water and bubble inside.
- Formed over 275 million years ago
- One of the largest deposits of rock salt in the world
- Created from a large inland sea when Kansas was underwater
- The mine started operation in 1920
- Of the 14 salt mines in the U.S. it is the only one accessible to the public
- 980 acres underground all at one level.
- 67 miles of mined caverns
- Current mining operations continue to this day
- The Museum is underground
- Secure storage facilities used for records and movie/film material
If you plan on going, I recommend getting the full tour package but be aware you will spend about two and a half hours going through it all. Though I can tell you it seemed like much less time than that and is time well spent.
Back in the little town of Hillsboro Kansas, I stopped in the local Subway shop for breakfast today. A young gal waited on me, and after receiving my morning breakfast flatbread sandwich and coffee, we started up a conversation. She had moved from Dallas Tx to attend the four year college Tabor college on a soccer scholarship. After completing college, she was offered the job as manager of the Subway shop. Cost of living in the Dallas area is too high, so for now she remains in this small community.
|Marion County Courthouse still used today|
|The Santa Fe railroad depot, now a Library|
I stopped in the small town of Marion, also the county seat and went into the local thrift shop. Love getting all those bargains especially in these small town thrift stores. One of the retired volunteers in the shop was eager to talk about living in small towns. He grew up 10 miles from here in Florence. Back then it had 4 gas stations, a dime store and much more, but he said it was also a pretty rowdy bunch back then. He and his friends used to play snooker from the time he could reach over the top of the table. The locals didn’t mind kids in the bar back then. A woman ran out in the street one day and shot her husband. Another man got his rifle and started to shoot into his own house at his wife. He was taken to jail, but a shot time later his wife came and got him out. He loves exploring all parts of Kansas and he and his wife now take little trips all around the state exploring these small towns and hidden gems. Kansas, like many states puts out a monthly magazine exploring every little town throughout the state and he uses that as his guide sometimes.
At the local farmers bake shop and coffee, I met a number of locals. They were all talking about the big auction in town this weekend. Seems a retired Navy guy, who had traveled all over the world, collecting everything you could think of along the way had died suddenly. After 22 years in the service, he had been doing all that collecting with the intent of opening an antique store. Some friends were having an auction and he decided to fly his ultra-light plane to the auction site not more than a couple miles away and put it up for sale. As he started his accent into the air, one of the wings clipped a tree branch. It flipped the plane and killed him. With no wife or kids, all his estate went to his 7 siblings who are now having the huge auction. I had to go just to see what was there. I didn’t like the way they were conducting the auction, as the items were on flatbed wagons, with the auctioneer standing on top and pointing to the various lots. If you weren’t a lucky one right up next to the wagon, you couldn’t see a thing. Not that I was going to buy anything, but one never knows. I met one of the dead guys sisters who told me a bit about his life in the Navy and how he had invited her to live in his house in California while he was on assignment overseas. She has lived in California ever since. She had no idea, as most of his siblings didn’t either, know anything about his huge collection of “stuff”. He had a couple of Salvador Dali’s signed prints and even had a picture of him watching Dali as he signed one of the prints. Who would have thought I’d be in a small rural farming community in Kansas that has a connection to the famous artist Dali? There were some really great bargains there and if I had the room in my camper, I’m sure I would have come away with something. Still, it was fun going to a local event, one that doesn’t happen all that often. Meeting the locals, people watching and all, it was a fun morning.
|the auction begins|
|model toys still in the boxes|
|from furniture to dishes|
|the Navy man on right watching as Dali signs his prints|
|one of Dali's signed prints|
|from his trips overseas|
|3 future antiques|
|that's a beard|
|I wanted this|