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This Notorious Flyover State Is So Weird It’s Worth Driving Through

Consider building sightseeing time into your next I-70 trip across Kansas.

There’s nothing quite like a cross-country road trip to clear your head and stimulate your senses. But if you only follow interstates, including I-70, you’re bound to miss out on some unexpected sights. That’s definitely true in Kansas. So consider building in sightseeing time on your next trip through the state. Kansas only ranks behind Colorado for hosting the longest stretch of this iconic road, which crosses 10 states. And there’s much more than a bunch of flat land in this Sunflower State. Kansas is full of unusual shops and museums as well as historic and natural wonders. So jog off I-70 for a quirky taste of this exceptionally wide and surprisingly diverse state.

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PHOTO: Courtesy of the Moon Marble Company
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Moon Marble Company

WHERE: Bonner Springs

Marble lovers rejoice! This approximately 20-year-old store sells every imaginable size and color of marble, from Bumble-Bees and Toebreakers to Shooters and Boulders. You’ll find dozens of marble containers in this jam-packed store. Buy a few to fill out your collection or purchase favorites by the pound. For an unusual experience watch as artisan and owner Bruce Breslow handcrafts new marbles before an appreciative audience (call for dates and times). Moon Marble offers bulk gemstones and glass pieces from artisans working throughout the United States, including birthstone holiday ornaments. Or pick up a classic wooden train whistle, old-fashioned paper dolls, die-cast cars, or log building sets. You’ll find Etch A Sketch and board games such as Monopoly, Clue, and Aggravation here, too.

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PHOTO: Courtesy of Shawnee County Parks & Recreation
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Potwin Drug Store and Old Prairie Town at Ward Meade Historic Site

WHERE: Topeka

At Potwin Drug Store, check out an enormous array of vintage candy. Then order a soda fountain treat amid 1890’s floor-to-ceiling walnut cabinetry that also displays antique pharmacy items. With a striking checkerboard floor, the pharmacy operates inside one of nearly a dozen buildings that crowd this intriguing historic site. Upstairs, catch a glimpse of an authentic antique dental office and a physician’s office, too. A boardwalk beside the drug store leads to a one-room schoolhouse, a 19th-century log cabin, and a train depot from the early 1900s, among others. Schedule a guided tour for a closer snapshot of Kansas history. During pleasant weather, you can also tour the adjacent Ward-Meade Botanical Garden full of seasonal blooms.

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PHOTO: Marissa Streeter Photography
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Oz Museum

WHERE: Wamego

Housing the world’s largest collection of Wizard of Oz memorabilia, the Oz Museum shows this iconic film continuously. The screening room sits amid posters, dolls, and photos autographed by actors who portrayed these beloved characters. But that’s only the beginning of this unusual collection, whose 2,000-plus artifacts span more than a century of Oz history. You’ll see ruby slippers, hand-painted character masks, and even an eight-foot-tall Tin Man. For a truly unique experience visit during Wamego’s annual OZtoberFEST, when the Columbian Theatre offers live performances of the play. Enter the Oz Costume Contest and watch the Toto look-a-like contest, then visit the indoor/outdoor Oz Market.

INSIDER TIPIf you’re a wine lover, allow some time to sip and appreciate wines offered at the nearby Oz Winery, with inventive names such as Flying Monkey and Emerald City Lights.

 

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PHOTO: agefotostock / Alamy Stock Photo
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Seelye Mansion, Gardens and Patent Medicine Museum

WHERE: Abilene

Built for $55,000, this 11,000-square-foot Georgian-style home showcases decor from the 1904 World’s Fair. It’s full of Edison lights with a Steinway piano in the music room. There’s a stunning Tiffany mosaic fireplace in the grand hall and 4,000 pieces of Haviland china on display. Tour 11 bedrooms, the kitchen, and even a basement bowling alley. A ballroom and gorgeous gardens are worth seeing, too. Beginning in 1890, Dr. A.B. Seelye created and sold more than a hundred medicinal and other products. Business peaked at 500 salesmen covering 14 states. Today museum artifacts include a print ad for “cure-all” medicine, Wasa Tusa, and a sign for Fro-Zona (precursor to mentholatum) plus equipment for measuring, mixing, and storing medicines.

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PHOTO: Danita Delimont / Alamy Stock Photo
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Rock City

WHERE: Minneapolis

The black color of enormous boulders at Rock City belies their underlying sandy origins. Spread across an area of more than two-and-a-half acres, these “concretions” emerged from Earth’s ancient Dakota Formation. During the Cretaceous Period, 100 million years ago, an inland sea covered most of what is now western Kansas. Sand deposited along its edge gradually transformed into solid rock as groundwater deposited cement-like material into the stone. After being deeply buried, what later emerged was approximately 200 concretions that typically range from 10 to 20 feet in diameter. Water currents also impacted the boulder surface, leaving striations in these rocks. There is a small admission charge to enter the park area, which is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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PHOTO: Robert D Brozek/Shutterstock
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Garden of Eden

WHERE: Lucas

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Garden of Eden represents the quirky artistry of Civil War veteran, Samuel P. Dinsmore. He lived in Ohio and Illinois before settling here with his second wife, in the late 1800s. What began as the town’s first home with indoor plumbing, eventually encompassed 150 unusual sculptures, from a concrete U.S. flag to concrete and wire cages that housed wild birds and animals. Crafted from more than 113 tons of cement, other sculptures depicted lofty trees, Adam and Eve, the devil, and even Dinsmore’s coffin. In 2012, Wisconsin’s art-focused Kohler Foundation assisted with a five-month effort to repair and rejuvenate this site. More than 10,000 people visit the unusual art destination annually.

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PHOTO: Courtesy of The Sternberg Museum of Natural History
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Sternberg Museum of Natural History

WHERE: Hays

Part research support facility, Fort Hays State University’s Sternberg Museum of Natural History displays plenty of Kansas minerals (including fluorescent) and meteorites among more than three million artifacts. The overall collection relates to geology, paleontology, paleobotany, and botany. Additional specimens reflect ichthyology (the study of fish), herpetology (regarding amphibians), entomology (insect studies), ornithology (regarding birds), and mammalogy. The Sternberg also features a mesmerizing room where full-sized animatronic dinosaurs move and roar across a faux landscape. If you’re traveling with kiddos, be aware these massive creatures may scare some young children. Nearby, the recently opened Dr. Howard Reynolds Nature Trails encompasses two miles of dirt path, introducing visitors to a slice of the Kansas prairie as it once was.

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PHOTO: My Travel Lessons/Shutterstock
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Castle Rock

WHERE: Quinter

A legendary spot amid the Kansas Badlands, Castle Rock was a landmark for travelers along the Smoky Hill Trail, which the Butterfield Overland Despatch once used as a stagecoach route. These massive limestone, chalk, and shale pillars also represent the last vestiges of the inland sea that once covered much of the current state. Likely 80 million years old and eroded by weather since the sea receded, this unusual outcropping features several clustered spires of varying sizes. Despite damage to one spire in a 2001 thunderstorm, Castle Rock’s remaining sections jut high into the sky amid relatively flat land and minimal vegetation.

INSIDER TIPBe sure to check directions before you head off the highway to see any natural wonders. Some areas are fairly remote with poor to no cell phone reception.

 

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PHOTO: Kansas Tourism/Andrea LaRayne Etzel
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Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park

WHERE: Near Oakley

Long revered for its wild beauty, this area was named a state park in mid-October 2019. As in Quinter, rock formations are the big draw. Remnants of the inland sea that once covered the country’s mid-section, these natural structures represent the state’s largest Niobrara Chalk formation. Hikers who choose one of two trails marvel at dozens of 100-foot spires and cliffs in this wildlife-rich valley. The park is also one of the newest attractions owned by The Nature Conservancy. The last remaining site for Great Plains wild buckwheat, Little Jerusalem also hosts native amphibians and reptiles, while ferruginous hawks and cliff swallows are several indigenous birds one might spot here. And the clamshell fossil that you found? It may date back millions of years.

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PHOTO: Leon Volk
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World's Largest Easel Giant Van Gogh Painting

WHERE: Goodland

Weighing in at more than 40,000-pounds and soaring 80 feet above the otherwise flat landscape, the World’s Largest Easel Giant Van Gogh Painting replicates Vincent Van Gogh’s iconic work, atop an equally massive steel easel. With grain elevators in the background, the painting depicts the original artist’s Three Sunflowers in a Vase. It’s the perfect image for this locale, where sunflowers are prolific in their growth. How this painting arrived here is a fascinating story. It’s just one “piece” of Canadian artist, Cameron Cross’ Big Easel Project, in which he planned to create three-dimensional public works of art from Kansas, Ottawa, Canada, Edinburgh, and Scotland.

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