We planned to take our time driving during our recent trip to Oklahoma. With that, we did a little research and thought a couple of stops in Kansas would be interesting.
The Topeka area itself does not offer a lot for tourism purposes, but the state Capitol tour is a must-do, in my view. I reserved a spot for us for a guided tour. It turned out to be just Lisa and me on the tour. Our tour guide did an excellent job in showing us around the capitol. She gave great insight into the history and current events of the state capital.
The tour takes you to the floors of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. If the chambers are in session, then visitors have to sit in the gallery. I was able to actually stand at the podium where representatives stand to deliver floor speeches.
Later, we visited the Governor’s office. I got to sit at the desk where he signs bills into laws. He was out that day; otherwise, it is likely he would have stepped out of his working office and visited with us. You would not see that at home, unless it was a specially arranged meeting.
The rotunda had paintings related to the history of the state. On the first floor, there is a painting of famous Spanish explorer Coronado’s visit to the area, seeking the road paved with gold (precursor to the yellow brick road of Oz fame?). Another painting depicts building sod houses on the plains since there were no trees in Kansas at that time.
On the third floor are two paintings of interest – John Brown and a plains homestead. The one of John Brown shows the abolitionist standing between Union and Confederate soldiers with his arms spread. In one hand is a gun. In the other, a Bible. At his feet are the bodies of Union and Confederate soldiers.
The second painting depicts life on the plains. This shows windmills in the background and a coyote on a rock howling. The artist was criticized because the windmills resembled sail boats, the tall grass water and the coyote a seal on a rock. He stormed off in anger. Later, when he returned to “sign” the artwork, he instead added four skunks. Supposedly, that indicated the plains, and also told state senators what he thought of them.
On the grounds of the Capitol stand several monuments and statues. The Abe Lincoln statue stands out because he was president when Kansas was approved for statehood. Also, of note, the Capitol’s main entrance has 34 steps, marking Kansas’ entry as the 34th state.
A few blocks from the Capitol sits the Brown vs. Board of Education National Historic Site. The Topeka lawsuit to overthrow segregation in public schools was one of five nationally. The US Supreme Court consolidated the cases into Brown vs. Board of Education. The Court chose Brown as the lead case because the justices did not want the case thought of as a southern issue. The plaintiff’s case was argued by Thurgood Marshall. The lawyer later became the first African American US Supreme Court justice. The historical site is at the Monroe School – one of four segregated schools in Topeka.
Walking through the school’s main hallway and later classrooms, it really made us think about what life had to be like during that time period. It has always disappointed me that any American would treat another person badly because of the color of their skin.
After our historical tour of Topeka, we hit the road again. Next stop was lunch in Wichita. We wanted to eat some where local, so we had researched Trip Advisor for ideas. The winner was Pig In Pig Out. The local barbecue joint had 100 percent compliments on more than 30 reviews.
The choice was worth it. the BBQ was great. The side dishes (except potato salad) are made onsite. The diner was busy during our visit, which says a lot. I had a sandwich that consisted of three meats – hot links, brisket and ham. Lisa had a pulled pork sandwich. We shared sides of coleslaw and potato salad. Every bite was delicious. If you are ever in Wichita, go off the interstate and eat there!
After lunch, we stopped by the local drive-in on our way out of town. the Starlite is closed for the season, but we checked it out, nonetheless. It was a short visit, and then we were back on our way.
On our trip home, we decided to stop in Wichita and see the “Keeper of the Plains.” It is a Native American sculpture that sits high atop where the Little Arkansas River flows into the Arkansas River. The “Keeper” recognizes the Native American influence in the region. The “Keeper” is the point of focus on building up the river walk area of Wichita.
We decided to take a walk along the river trail and ended up downtown. Since it was near lunch time, we decided to check out dining options downtown. It was a holiday Monday, so not a lot was opened. We did eat at a local sports bar. The food was OK. I think we chose the wrong menu items. Pizza would have been a better pick, I think, as it seemed to be the primary menu item.
We headed back to the car and walked the other side of the river trail. The city has a great veteran’s area. The veteran’s memorial park is an interesting walk. Monuments and memorials from historical flags of the US to a planned Afghanistan-Iraq wars monument are well-positioned. It is a nice area to visit and show respect.
After the stop in Wichita, we did not have time to go to the next stop I wanted to make – the world’s biggest ball of twine, which was less than 4 short hours away. Maybe, we’ll make that a must-see stop next time we are in Kansas.