Culture and Roadside Attractions in Kansas

Roadtripping through Kansas might not sound like the most exciting thing, but you’d be surprised. There are roadside attractions in Kansas all over, and some of these attractions have considerable cultural value. (Also, there is great hiking! Don’t believe us? Read up on some of your options in our post on Hiking Trails in Kansas).

TL;DR If you are trekking across Kansas, be sure to give some of these places a look. You won’t be disappointed, especially if you enjoy the unique and sometimes strange nature of roadside attractions.

Culture in Kansas

(Note that we won’t be covering Kansas City here, because we will have an entire post on that soon!)

Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site
roadside attractions in kansas

(c) ABR 2019

These days our history of fighting racism is just as important as ever. Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site is a museum within the Monroe school, which became the epicenter of the fight to desegregate schools in the United States. Visitors to this place will have the opportunity to explore the school, learn more about the history surrounding this struggle. In many ways, it’s like stepping back in time and it’s one of the highest quality “roadside attractions in Kansas” – in this case, I’m only including it in this list because it belongs on everyone’s Kansas roadtrip.

That all being said, this national historic site isn’t just about the past, there are rooms in the museum that cover racism in the US now as well. And these exhibits are highly immersive and emotional. As a white person who was born and raised in the United States, I think this is a great place to feel a little of the emotions that racism forces BIPOC to experience. We need this understanding in order to be better allies. It’s not an easy experience, but the exhibit isn’t meant to be easy, it’s meant to be educational.

roadside attractions in kansas

(c) ABR 2019

The staff at Brown v. Board of Education are also amazing, lovely people that are happy to talk with you and help you navigate the museum. In terms of history and culture, I think this is a MUST see if you are visiting Kansas.

Need to know information:

Entrance fee: Free

Facilities: Yes

Address: 1515 SE Monroe St, Topeka, KS 66612

St. Fidelis Basilica
roadside attractions in kansas

(c) ABR 2019

The St. Fidelis Basilica, also known as the Cathedral of the Plains, is a church on par with the historic, marvels of architecture and art that you might see in New York City or even Europe. It’s a complete surprise to find this stunning Catholic place of worship amide the rolling plains of western Kansas. That being said, its interior fits with the environment of Kansas in a very subtle and artful way such that it feels like it belongs. The surrounding town of Victoria is also very lovely as well.

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Backyard (Re)Discoveries: Phoenix’s Desert Botanical Garden

The Desert Botanical Garden

Unsurprisingly, having spent all this time at home, I’ve been getting a little stir-crazy. With Labor Day holiday rolling around, I wanted to get outside – something that wasn’t the usual walk around the neighborhood – but I was worried about heading anywhere that would be too crowded. After taking a look at the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden’s website and feeling pretty confident about their social distancing measures, I decided to treat myself to a stroll in the Garden.

Since they’re limiting capacity, my partner and I reserved our time and paid for admission online. We chose the opening time slot because we figured it would be the coolest weather-wise (opting for the least sweaty mask experience since face coverings are REQUIRED for guests 6 and older) and better chance of fewer visitors.

We arrived at the Garden at 7 a.m. sharp (if you’re tardy to your time slot, you may be stuck waiting to see what capacity allows) and were rewarded with just barely a handful of other folks waiting to get in. It was a couple minutes to simply scan the tickets on our phones and then we basically had the run of the place!

We were able to leisurely walk about the Garden trails. I had the luxury of stopping whenever I wanted to take photos or when I was very patiently waiting for a butterfly nearby to flutter over and land on me (which never happened). Very rarely did we cross paths with other wandering guests, and each time we all politely gave each other room to pass.

Kudos to the Garden team who must have worked very hard (and continue to work very hard) to make this not only a safe experience for guests and staff, but also one where you have the time and space to enjoy the beautiful place that they have cultivated.

You can find full details about the new Desert Botanical Garden visitor guidelines here.

Stay safe and find joy where you can!

<3 Katie

Daydreaming Pt. II: A Japan Photo Essay

I realized that two years ago today, I took my inaugural trip to Japan with a couple buds – a whirlwind journey across several cities in seven days (Flight connections don’t count, ESPECIALLY not the time that I got stuck in the Narita airport.)

I bounced around Osaka, Kyoto, Hiroshima and Tokyo and had a roaring good time. I will admit that when I went back to review my photos, I was disappointed to find that I did a pretty terrible job of taking photos this trip. And for the photos I did take, I was absolutely awful at documenting where they were taken (except for vague notions of the city and general area). I’d like to make the excuse of being happily overwhelmed by each place we visited to take too many photos, but ultimately I left my DSLR behind for most outings because it was so INCREDIBLY humid and toasty at the end of August there that one sweaty afternoon of lugging around a heavy camera and backpack was ENOUGH.

I hope this smattering of photos will still bring you joy, as it does for me.

i.

ii.

iii.

iv.

v.

vi.

vii.

viii.

ix.

x.

xi.

xii.

xii.

xiv.

xv.

Looking forward to the next time I can set foot in Japan – I’ll take better notes this time around, I promise.

Keep dreaming,
Katie

Hiking Trails In Kansas: Ranking My Favorite Treks in this Underappreciated State

I’ve always gotten lukewarm or even cool reactions from people in the Southwest when I tell them that I am off to Kansas. In particular, most of my hiking friends here (unless they are from the Midwest or lived there at some point) think that Kansas seems like a pretty boring place to visit. But that really couldn’t be further from the truth (unless you only enjoy hiking mountains- you won’t find those in Kansas). There are a ton of different hiking trails in Kansas, and through them you can experience the variety of environments that could once be found across the state.

hiking trails in kansas

Tallgrass (c) ABR 2019


TL;DR: Kansas is beautiful, hiking here is very accessible to new hikers, and you should not miss it when you are in the state. If you only have enough time to visit one of these parks, definitely go to Tallgrass National Prairie- you will see the wild Midwest here, have tons of options for hiking in Kansas, and there are bison… bison!


Now, I am going to rank my favorite spots for hiking in Kansas, let you know what I love about each, and how to get there.

My Favorite Hiking Trails in Kansas

#1 Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve

hiking trails in kansas

(c) ABR 2019

As you might guess based on the name, Tallgrass Prairie is a part of the US National Park Service, and unsurprisingly, this land is exceptionally beautiful and wild. If you visit Tallgrass, you will be transported back in time to a pre-colonization Kansas dominated by prairies instead of agriculture. If you are a history buff, you can explore historic buildings on the grounds. For hikers, the options are nearly endless with this set of hiking trails in Kansas.

For me, I wanted to see what a pre-US, Kansas looked like, so we hiked up the Scenic Overlook Trail. Of course, as the name would suggest, this track offers some amazing views of the surrounding lands. It also passes through Windmill Pasture, which is where bison can be found. We didn’t see any, sadly. I would have loved to see bison! That being said, I just want to remind anyone who might visit to respect the space of these animals. They are extremely strong and can seriously injure people that approach too closely.

hiking trails in kansas

(c) ABR 2019

If you are looking for a longer trek, there are plenty of loops to check out, both on the west and east side of the park. For those wanting to enjoy nature but are not able to take a long walk, there are some beautiful nature trails in the park as well. Tallgrass is a really great place for anyone looking for some hiking in Kansas.

Need to Know Information

Entrance Fee: Free

Facilities: Yes

Trail length: Varies; Scenic Overlook Trail is 3.6 miles in ONE direction (7.2 miles RT)

Getting There

hiking trails in kansas

Tallgrass Prairie is just north of Strong City on the 177; you can take the 177 south or come up from the 50 and take the 177 north.

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Daydreaming: A New Zealand Photo Essay

This year really has been the pits, huh?

Join me as I revisit my past travels through photos and whisk yourself away to blue skies, sandy beaches, colorful blooms – anywhere but your own couch.

This one I call Daydreaming: New Zealand.

i.queenstown.

ii.eden garden.

iii.
domain wintergarden.

iv.hobbiton.

v.rotorua natural hot springs.

vi.

queenstown shore.

vii.
lake wakatipu.

vii.
tauranga off mt. mauao.

ix.mt. maunganui beach

x.
beach i can’t remember the name of, auckland.

xi.
see above. (whoops.)

xii.

whakarewarewa forest.

fin.

New Zealand is so intensely pretty, sometimes I feel like it WAS a dream.

All the best,
Katie

Two Great Hotels in Scottsdale AZ: Bespoke Inn and Valley Ho

Why Hotels in Scottsdale AZ

Scottsdale AZ is one of the most popular destinations in Arizona, with people coming to visit even in the hottest part of our extremely hot summer. There are amazing museums, great food, endless hiking, and unique places to stay. If you are thinking of visiting, but don’t know where to stay- I got you. Here are two of my favorite Scottsdale hotels that you should check out whether you are looking for a local staycation or you’re planning a vacay!

Bespoke Inn: A Beautiful Boutique

Story of Bespoke Inn

Bespoke Inn is a passion project that began construction in 2012. In my opinion, it is one of the best hotels in Scottsdale AZ. The dream was to create a boutique hotel with personal touches found nowhere else in the city. After years of planning, and a year of construction, that dream came true in 2013 when the Inn opened its door for the first time. Now you can explore the many loving touches in this beautiful city oasis for yourself.

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Immersive Art Experiences in Phoenix, AZ: A Wonderful (and Strange) World

Despite being an artist, I am not fond of art museums. This can be frustrating for my poor husband when we travel together. Typically, he can get away with dragging me to one or two museums per trip (sometimes more depending on the location). But there’s one kind of art museum that I can’t get enough of- Immersive Art Experiences.

What is an Immersive Art Experience?

immersive art experiences

Candytopia (c) ABR 2019

I consider Immersive Art Experiences to be those in which you are surrounded by the artistic work. The best versions of immersive art might involve entire rooms where you can see, hear, and feel the piece. In the modern age, VR might be incorporated as well, transporting you to another world. And when it’s not possible to do either, I count some kinds of interactive art to be immersive as well, partially because this form of art engages with multiple senses.

 

#1 Wonderspaces

immersive art experiences

(c) ABR 2019

Wonderspaces can be found in three US cities, Philadelphia, Austin, and my very own Scottsdale. It’s at the top of my list, because basically every element of Wonderspaces’ display is immersive. And each piece accomplishes this in different ways. Before COVID-19, this included some very cool VR experiences. My favorite was a journey on the river between the living world and the next. While my husband was more drawn to a more scary alien abduction VR experience. The rest of their space is primarily devoted to room-sized experiences.

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horseshoe lake az

Horseshoe Lake AZ: Your Guide to Exploring a Remote Phoenix Lake

Of the lakes surrounding Phoenix, Horseshoe is the hardest to get to and probably the least known. That all makes this little corner of the Tonto National Park a nice place to escape the crowds, and enjoy the beauty of the Sonoran Desert. If you have a four-wheel drive vehicle, this is definitely a day trip that I would suggest as some unique hiking in the Tonto National Forest. Horseshoe Lake AZ has beautiful mountain vistas, a dam with mossy waterfalls cascading down to the river, and an adventurous approach that makes for the perfect day trip from the city.

The Distant Lake of Phoenix

horseshoe lake az

(c) ABR 2020

Horseshoe Lake AZ is a man-made lake that serves as one of several reservoirs for the Phoenix metro-area. It feeds off of the Verde River and is maintained by its namesake dam. If you are choosing among the seven lakes in the Phoenix area, this one might be of extra interest to you if you enjoy a bit of tame 4-wheel driving. It’s also great if you are looking for some peace and quiet.

Need to Know Information

horseshoe lake az

(c) ABR 2020

Horseshoe Lake is located within Tonto National Forest, and as such, you need a Tonto pass or should bring your Annual America the Beautiful pass. The Tonto day pass is $8 and can be purchased online. The America the Beautiful Pass is likewise available online for $80; it covers National Parks and National Forests. If you are planning on boating or camping, please access the Tonto National Forest website to identify the permit that you need. In 2020, since so many visitor centers are closed due to COVID-19, you may need to buy online. If this is the case, make sure to give yourself enough lead time in case you need anything mailed.

The only facilities at Horseshoe Lake AZ are a few outhouses at the end of the dirt road. There is also a small, concrete boat ramp in this area.

The lake is drained fairly often due to water demand. Furthermore, it is drained annually to support native birds that nest in the area, and reduce the population of invasive fish. When drained, do not approach the dam or collect any dead fish that might be scattered along the water’s edge.

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Vulture Peak Trail: Exploring the Wild Desert in Phoenix’s Backdoor

Vulture Peak Trail is not far from Phoenix, but it’s one of the best places to experience the beauty of the wild desert.

Many people think that the desert is an empty wilderness, marked here and there by beautiful sandstone canyons and oases. So, what’s the big deal when more houses are built? The desert is just a big, natural parking lot already, right? Come explore Vulture Peak and hiking near Wickenburg AZ to see that this isn’t at all the case. The Sonoran Desert is one of the most biodiverse deserts in the world! When you hike here you can enjoy beautiful saguaros, and a landscape that changes dramatically with rain and temperature change when plants blossom at the first chance. As plants shift and color the landscape, animals like coyotes, snakes, sheep, deer, mountain lions, and even burros thrive.

vulture peak trail

(c) ABR 2020

And rising above it all is the brilliant red Vulture Peak, which you can marvel at as you struggle up its slopes. Then enjoy the breathtaking views of the wide-open landscape at the top. The desert is alive and beautiful! Explore Vulture Peak Trail to get a taste for just how amazing the Sonoran Desert is.

General Must-Know for the Vulture Peak Trail

Trail Length: 2 miles to the peak saddle, making the round trip hike 4 miles

Trail Difficulty: First half- Moderate; Second half- Difficult to extreme

Cost of entry: Currently free (2020), but future entrance fees to support maintenance of the area will be implemented.

vulture peak trail

(c) ABR 2020

The Vulture Peak trail is located on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land, which means that much of the area that you will be exploring is federally owned. The BLM allows for multi-use and the general experience of their lands is that they are very hands-off; they don’t have the manpower and resources to provide lots of facilities, and support for visitors. However, as of 2020, Maricopa County is working with the BLM as a partner to develop and maintain this trailhead. This means that a lot of changes coming to this spot.

At the beginning of 2020, you had to take a pretty rough (for a car) dirt road down to the trail. Eventually there will be a small visitor center here, bathrooms, established campgrounds, and spaces for educational programming. This means that some construction will be happening soon. Once this is complete, the impacts of users will be more contained and there will be more resources for visitors. Along with Hassayampa, this is poised to be one of the most beautiful and accessible trails for hiking near Wickenburg AZ.

All that being said, check the Maricopa County website before finalizing your trip, as the trail may be inaccessible during construction.

Getting to the Trailhead

vulture peak trail

(c) ABR 2020

No matter where you are coming from, there is only one paved road that you can use to access this trailhead, Vulture Mine Road. The primary access will be from the north. If you are coming from this direction, you will access this road from the 60. Coming from Phoenix, this means that you will need to pass through the little town of Wickenburg. (If you do, be sure to stop by one of the local restaurants or shops after your hike!)

You can access the trail from the south. That will require taking Aguila Road from 355th Ave up from the I-10. This will have you following a small road for a pretty long distance through the desert. So, it’s not a route that I would suggest to most people coming from out-of-state, because you will miss some very beautiful views of Lake Pleasant and cute, little Wickenburg. The northern route has more on it by way of established things to enjoy. That being said, if you want to enjoy more of the open desert, without development, the longer southern route might be a nice adventure for you. Don’t expect bathrooms or services if you come from the south.

vulture peak trail

(c) ABR 2020

Once you see the sign for the trailhead, you will turn east onto a small dirt road (for the moment). You will follow the dirt road for 1-2 miles. This won’t be any problem for a high-clearance vehicle, but there are some challenging sections for cars. The trailhead will be apparent due to some outhouses and a ramada as well as a wide, circular parking area.

As I mentioned previously, the Vulture Peak Trail will be seeing some pretty considerable changes soon, so please consider this a guide to early 2020. Please refer to the Maricopa County website before planning and finalizing your trip to insure that the trail is still accessible when you plan on visiting.

Experience on the Trail

vulture peak trail

(c) ABR 2020

As I mention above, there is an outhouse at the trailhead (as of early 2020), but a friend of mine mentioned that she found it to be very dirty. You might opt for going to the bathroom before you leave Wickenburg.

From the trailhead, you will find yourself perched up above a wide wash, with the mountain clear in the distance with its southern edge of stony teeth, and it’s northern plateau. Between you and the mountain is something like a maze of washes and hills rising up to Vulture Peak’s base.

For the Vulture Peak trail itself, you will currently find the beginning of the track to be a little confusing, due to the many spider trails and ATV tracks. Vulture Peak is fairly apparent from far away, however, so you can use that as a point of reference as you navigate the trails.

vulture peak trail

(c) ABR 2020

Head down into the wash, following signs for the trail, and stick with the track as it crosses a fence. This is where you are most likely to get lost, so pause when you get to the bottom and locate the trail sign. Try to avoid following the larger ATV roads, as these sometimes have people riding fairly fast on them. However, if you can’t find the trail otherwise, you can opt for one of these dirt roads.

If you get going in the right direction on the actual Vulture Peak Trail, you will find yourself steadily gaining elevation as you pass through washes and climb up and down hills. Even though you might be tempted to hurry because the peak is off in the distance, please don’t. This part of the trail is a great warm up for the ascent, but it’s also a great place to enjoy spring blooms, or to just experience the vibrant Sonoran Desert life no matter the time of year. In any case, this part of the trail is wide open to the elements, so don’t expect shade here (or up on the mountain if you aren’t climbing in the morning).

Up the Mountain

vulture peak trail

(c) ABR 2020

Eventually, the trail will pass through a jeep/4 wheel parking area with some informational signs, and this is where you will start to gain elevation at a much faster rate. If you aren’t an experienced hiker or it is starting to get hot, this is where you should turn around.

If the weather is good and you are feeling strong, start making your way up the mountain. Initially, as you work your way up the base, you will be on a steeper version of the trails that you have already traversed. As you get higher, you will move up into the stony landscape that makes Vulture Peak Trail so special and beautiful. Here, if you aren’t familiar with Arizona trails, you may find things to be a bit rough. You will need to scramble up rocks and in some places it will get so steep that you will find yourself walking up portions of trail that feel more like a staircase than anything else.

After quite the tiring climb, you will find yourself at the saddle where you can look down into the sweeping landscape on the other side of the mountain. If you stop here and turned around, you would have visited of the most beautiful places for hiking near Wickenburg AZ.

Considering the Summit

vulture peak trail

(c) ABR 2020

Bagging to the summit of the Vulture Peak Trail is something that I actually would not recommend. That is because getting to the summit is not a hike after the saddle, it is a climb.

While this is a doable climb without equipment, it will require hand-over-hand scaling of a rock face. That means that it is much more dangerous than the trail that you take to the saddle. If you were to slip and fall here, your odds of getting very hurt are high. Furthermore, the times of the year when it is most comfortable for humans to hike about is also the best time for snakes to sun on the rocks. That means that there is a chance you will stick your hand right into a rattlesnake’s personal bubble on your way up… That’s not a situation that you want to have happen to you, especially not in a wilderness situation.

All that being said, if you are tempted to try for the summit, you should be a comfortable climber, you should not be alone, you should have very good shoes and gloves, and you should move slowly so that you can check for wildlife before you place your hands and feet.

All this in mind, it would be best to spend some time enjoying the view from the saddle, and then head down.

Safety Concerns

vulture peak trail

(c) ABR 2020

Remember that you are responsible for your own safety and well-being in nature. Always travel with a hiking companion and let others know where you are going and when you expect to be home.

(1) NEVER hike in Arizona when the temperatures are above 100 degrees. It may be dry, but it is brutally hot and the dry air will sap you of your internal water content. Furthermore, when the air is hot, the ground will be even hotter. This means that if you become exhausted in the heat and need to sit down, you will get even hotter. Just be careful and smart. In the spring and fall, head out early in the morning, and avoid hiking in the summer altogether if you don’t have experience with our heat.

vulture peak trail

(c) ABR 2020

(2) You will need more water than you think, and snacks as well. Never hit the trail in Arizona without plenty of water. A good rule of thumb is that you should turn around when your water is half gone. Believe me, you don’t want to hike in the desert without water on hand; it is extremely uncomfortable on a good day and can be deadly. A salty snack is also a helpful way to get a dash of electrolytes, and a little bit of sugar can give you a boost of energy when you need it.

(3) Bring the right gear. Wear hiking shoes. This is no place for running shoes, since the trail is very steep, and it’s definitely not a place for sandals. Furthermore, you should bring a small first aid kit. And a comb in case you end up with some cholla in your leg.

Responsible Use

vulture peak trail

(c) ABR 2020

Stay on the trail to save plants and animals that you can’t see. The desert is very good at hiding its biodiversity. So stepping off the trail can crush seeds waiting to sprout, essential soil bacteria mats, or the homes of little animals escaping the sun and heat.

Take your trash with you to keep the desert beautiful and healthy. Plastic and wrappers can last for a very long time before breaking down. Over that time they may kill animals that consume them. You’ve come to experience the beauty of the desert, so please leave it just as lovely as you found it.

Other Hiking Near Wickenburg AZ

hassayampa river preserve

The Palm Lake (c) ABR 2019

My favorite alternative hike in the Wickenburg area is Hassayampa. It is not remotely similar to Vulture Peak Trail. It’s only got short hikes, and it is in a lush, green riparian area. However, it’s a great place to experience what happens in the desert when you have water. And you are sure to see birds and small mammals if you visit.

If this was helpful to you, please share!

vulture peak trailvulture peak trailvulture peak trailvulture peak trailvulture peak trailvulture peak trail

Black Lives Matter

Black lives matter.

If we truly are allies, we have to do better now and forever to speak out against and crush anti-black racism in our communities.

Below are just a few resources to get you involved, to help you start conversations, to help you learn. Feel free to share.  A couple of them are targeted toward the Asian community (Asian-American, here), but I think these practices can apply broadly.

Ways You Can Help

Anti-Racist Resource Guide by Victoria Alexander

20+ Allyship Actions for Asians to Show Up for the Black Community Right Now by Michelle Kim

6 Ways Asian Americans Can Tackle Anti-Black Racism in Their Families by Kim Tran

Let’s work to make anti-blackness unacceptable in every space we inhabit. Let’s show up for black lives.

Katie


Dear readers,

I wanted to take the time to express my support for the BlackLivesMatter movement.

I try not to ignore the dark history of our country, even as it saddens me to reflect on the tragedies of the past. One of the darkest parts of our history is the ongoing, systematic oppression of African Americans, which started with slavery and has continued through the misuse of laws and power structures. We should not continue to turn a blind eye to this, and change is possible, necessary, and moral.

African Americans have always and continue to contribute in every way to what makes the United States beautiful and vibrant. It’s past time for our communities to come together with them to elevate their voices and call for the changes necessary to make our shared home a place where we can all be safe, free, and supported in the pursuit of our dreams.

Here are some more resources, which were shared with me by my friend, Lisa:

How Do You Stay Resilient? – By Dr. Lisa-Marie Pierre

Anti-Racism Resources for White People which was compiled by Sarah Sophie Flicker, Alyssa Klein in May 2020

And we also wanted to link out to some of our favorite Black, female bloggers/travel professionals for everyone to check out (in no particular order).

Learn.Grow.Pass is a complex blog- part self-care, part philosophical and ethical musings, this is a great place to go for thoughtful explorations of life and living it well. (This is also Lisa’s blog!)

interNATionalcaty has a travel blog, and she also helps people live out their travel dreams with itineraries, group travel, and more!

A Daily Dose covers a variety of topics, including societal issues, self-care, and living in the Caribbean.

The Thought Card is here to teach you how to afford travel no matter your financial situation.

Caribbean and Co. is building a comprehensive guide to travel in the Caribbean by someone from the Caribbean. I used her resources to plan my most recent trip to Montserrat before the pandemic!

Aireona

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