I saw my first roadrunner in the Gypsum Hills of Kansas, and oddly, there was no coyote hot on his tail! When most people think of Kansas, they think of a monotonous sea of flat land filled with cornfields and sunflowers. This lovely state is checkered with cornfields, and beautiful fields of sunflowers, but it has so much more to offer.
One area missed by most tourists is the glorious Gypsum Hills. Located in the very southern part of the state near the Oklahoma state line, these rugged hills, cliffs and buttes give visitors a glimpse into the old west. This is especially true if you take a trail ride offered by several outfits in Medicine Lodge.
The Gypsum Hills Scenic Byway, (US 160), is a short 42-mile trek through some of the most amazing scenery. Buttes with flat tops named Twin Peaks and Flower Pot Mound beg you to stop and savor the area. The smell of sage brush fills the air, deposits of gypsum roll like a carpet along the road side and rusty soil pops up in unexpected places. If you are fortunate enough to travel through this area in the spring, a rainbow of prairie flowers fills the canyons with spectacular color.
Small spring-fed ponds litter the landscape, as well as thick growths of cedars edging along the gypsum bluffs. Prairie grasses, cactus, sagebrush, and yucca grow very large here. Itís not unusual to see armadillo, and buffalo. This area is home to one of the largest herds of buffalo in the Midwest. Remember, this is open-range land, you never know how many cows will be standing in the road around the next bend. There are no fences along the back roads, so drive cautiously and respect private property.
Take what I call a ďbeauty detourĒ and veer off onto one of the dirt side roads. (Be sure and fill your gas tank in Medicine Lodge or Coldwater.) These scenic side roads offer fantastic view of the craggy hills you just canít get from the main byway. While the roads are good, inquire locally before heading out.
This area is home to rattlesnakes, lizards and even a few tarantulas. These critters usually shy away from people. Just use a little caution and common sense when hiking or picture taking from a scenic overlook. Iíve never encountered one of these, but Iíve never gone looking for them either!
Park your car beside the bridge along the Salt Fork of the Arkansas River and peer under the bridge. Honest, there arenít any trolls lurking there. What you will find are hundreds of funny little nests. This bridge houses dozens of Cliff Swallows and their nests that resemble rock piles.
Venturing through the town of Medicine Lodge requires a stop at the home of Carry Nation. Carry known for her axe welding against bars, alcohol, and distilleries, was almost single-handedly responsible for the 18th Amendment that banned alcohol in the U.S. Fortunately, that was later repealed.
Medicine Lodge has a splattering of chain restaurants. If you want a really good meal at a good price try Cafť by Mikeís. Several hotels can be found here as well.
Linger along this scenic byway, you wonít be disappointed. Rarely is there a day that goes by without a sunset worthy of an epic western movie.
The byway ends in Coldwater, Kansas, a small town where youíll get a smile and a wave from people who strain to look at your license plate. Make sure you stop at Timber Wolfe Cafť for great food, and a cold drink.
Coldwater Lake is a two-hundred and fifty acre man-made, spring fed lake, beautiful, clear lake great for fishing, camping or just sitting by the campfire. During the summer months the campground fills quickly, particularly on the weekends. Plan ahead and make reservations. The campground is very nice with full hookups and clean, shaded sites.
If you have the time, take a trail ride. After a few hours in the saddle, you will have a deep appreciation for the beauty of a Kansas prairie and the gorgeous gypsum bluffs. Donít be surprised if you see the ghosts of cowboys and Indians wavering in the distance.