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26 July 2010 by Claire Suellentrop 97 Comments

When hearing citizens of rural Kansas towns describe Wichita as a “big city,” I’ve never been able to keep a straight face. I mean, come on. Our skyline is backed by grain elevators. Drive an hour in any direction, and you’ll hit rows of fields. And if you’re thinking about using public transportation to travel downtown, you might be better off with a good pair of walking shoes.

However, a Labor Day road trip through southern Kansas may have caused me to put my “metropolitan” foot in my mouth. There was no better way to spend that lazy Monday than by exploring K-42, passing tiny towns that boasted little more in the way of public activity than churches and post offices. The trip was entirely free of McDonald’s, Wal-Mart and, for the most part, cell phone reception. Despite the lack of population, however, there was a distinct charm to be found along our state’s southern border. If you’re interested in some off-the-beaten-path sightseeing, check out these gems on a quiet weekend getaway:

Wind turbines outside Sharon

Rain or shine, these massive structures are an incredible sight. Shiny and white, their high-tech appearance contrasts sharply with the natural greens, golds and browns of the sprawling fields; however, their sleek build is far less of an eyesore than clunky grasshoppers and old farm equipment.  Like the crops surrounding them, the rows of turbines extend for miles. Despite their colossal size, however, they’re almost silent, emitting no noise but the hum of their engines and the gentle whir, whir, whir of the blades.

Gypsum Hills

Located just past Medicine Lodge, this region is home to mesas, buttes and rugged terrain. It’s a far cry from our pancake reputation and the perfect setting for a scenic drive. The Gypsum Hills are so close to the Oklahoma border that the dirt is bright red—show up after a rainstorm, and the rust-colored mud will stain your shoes. Gypsum deposits sparkle in the sunlight, and the view from atop one of the hills almost took my breath away. Well, maybe that was just all the shouting I was doing—the echoes are crazy.

Origins Fair Trade Coffeehouse in Haviland

Only about five months old, Origins Coffeehouse sells fair trade coffee, tea and chocolate as well as artwork and crafts made by impoverished communities in Rwanda, South Africa, Bolivia and the Congo. Their mission is to provide a gathering place for students at the nearby Barclay College and to simultaneously support the families of indigent artisans across the globe. As an added bonus, their homemade granola is delicious—pour milk over it for the perfect mid-afternoon snack.

New developments in Greensburg

Greensburg is a town of visual contradiction. The jagged frames of mangled old buildings are interspersed with clean, bright, cutting-edge architecture. Although half the town is still a mess from the tornado that swept through the area in 2006, signs of environmentally friendly progress are apparent everywhere. The storm was devastating to Greensburg homes, businesses and schools, but it was also an opportunity for citizens to start fresh. The community is extremely earth-conscious, and all the new developments pay special attention to efficiency and energy conservation. Mini wind turbines dot most of the yards, and there seemed to be as many solar panels as there were people. Greensburg is an inspiring example of how a major tragedy can be turned around for the good.

To see the rest of Kansas’ great wonders would require a few more days on the road. Next up on my to-do list: follow the setting sun into the west. Before I do, though, I could use a few suggestions. What’s your favorite exploration spot?

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