Kansas—Who Knew?

posted in: Kansas, Van Life | 5

While driving down a long dirt road, in the middle-of-nowhere Kansas, my butt bump-bumpity-bumping in the passenger seat of VAN Morrison—-I had an epiphany. I sat in silence for some time, my thought-buds mulling around the rich, gooey morsels of understanding I’d been granted. What if everything you thought you knew was wrong? Not even wrong per se, just not right—NOT absolute. What if you could make anything happen just by changing the way you think about it?

I chewed on this thought for a while. Of course, a quick google search would reveal that someone else had the very same thought but was able to articulate it into what would become a famous quote.

“Change your thoughts and you change your world.”

— Norman Vincent Peale

Google.

A simple reminder that most all thoughts and ideas are not as original as we think them to be. Anyhow, I digress. So, yes, I chose to change my mind about Kansas and a whole new world opened up to me.

Kansas Round 1: East to West

Oxford

The giant park

First stop, Oxford. Eric and I planned to stop and spend some time with Gabe. It was here, we first discovered the joys of van lifeing in Kansas. Many small towns have parks that double as campgrounds. Many are free, but some run on either dontations or small fees (ie: $3.00/night).

Now, if you’re used to cities in west coast states like Oregon, Washington, and California, I’m sure you’re already envisioning grand sprawls of blue tarp shelters, and the waft of undesirable aromas that swirl around a colorful sea of endless trash But, no. This is Kansas. Instead, we were met with fresh cut grass, friendly waves (or curious stares at the novelty of van life)., and quiet, star-filled nights. We even had trash and water services! We had a nice time visiting with Gabe and Grizz opened up a bit more during his time with Tucker (Gabe’s pup). It was so enjoyable, we ended up staying 4 days, 3 nights instead of 1.

Kingman

Looking back, Kingman was one of my favorite stops while in Kansas. The tall, colorful Cottonwoods swooshing in the gentle warm breeze, the quiet days merging with the stillness of night, the glorious sunsets that spanned across the glassy lake, the friendly locals.

It was simple yet fantastic. It was living in its most basic, purest form; and life was good.

Grizz REALLY loved it here. Together, we went on many long walks, played in the yellowing leaves grounded by powerful winds the night before, and Grizz made some friends.

First there was Baone (pronounced Bay-own), he was one cool fella who helped Grizz worm his way even further out of his shell. And his mom, while we never did get her name, was a brute of sorts; a commanding, self-sufficient woman, charismatic to the core. Eric and I couldn’t help but like almost instantly.

In the photo above, you’ll see that Baone discovered Grizz’s favorite toy! The look on Grizz’s face is so expressively sorrowful at the idea of sharing. Looks like someone has a case of the only-child-syndrome.

Despite needing to share at times, these two guys hit it off beautifully and they ran and ran and ran and then ran some more. They ran until their wet, dripping tongues dragged the ground and 3 bowls of water barely quenched their thirst. It was so nice to see Grizz happy after weeks of fear and anxiety. So, thank you Baone.

Our first trip to Kingman was a huge success and we all enjoyed the solitude the area offered. Here are a few more photos from our time in the Kingman area.

Clark

Glorious hills, lake coast lines resembling those of their larger cousins–the OCEAN, gorgeous sunsets. What?!? Are we still in Kansas? Oh, that howling, constant wind who is always there to remind you that yes, yes indeed…you are still in Kansas.

Despite the relentless winds, we all loved the Clark area. It was quiet with a rugged, intriguing landscape begging for exploration. Lucky for me, I have a new buddy that loves our trekking adventures.

Yep. You guessed it. Grizz. He’s never one to turn down an activity of any kind rain, shine, wind, hail, snow, and probably not even tornadoes. Good thing one of us has limits or who knows what kind of mischief we could achieve. Here are some photos from our adventures.

Grizzy and I even walked back to the site of another kind of adventure that Dad took us on. Luckily, we all survived the big uphill climb on loose gravel thanks to dad’s skills and a little thing called momentum.

Here are a few more photos of the area.

All-in-all, an interesting landscape for sure. Eventually, our souls lifeless and tattered like an old flag, sent us searching elsewhere for cover and peaceful rest away from the unrelenting wind.

Cimarron

After striking out with some free, dispersed camping options (sketch) we opted for our first campground in weeks. We figured, $14 for 2 nights was worth some peace of mind. We didn’t realize at the time that it was an excellent pick for the sake of photography but the worst pick for our little man’s paws—one word—GOATHEADS. So, we didn’t stay long. Also, the vibe here was just very unsettling. Not one of our favorite areas for sure!

But, I did get some amazing pics!

Dramatic clouds danced across the sky
Reflection on the pond
I was expecting 3 massive tornadoes to come thundering down!
Always time for silliness
Fantastic views
And a magnificent sunset to boot!

It was here, less than 1 hour from Colorado, that we decided we weren’t ready to leave Kansas just yet. We weren’t ready to trade trees and friendliness for smoke filled skies or desert. So, the next day, we packed up and east we went. It’s funny, how decisions work. We often over complicate them quite unnessisarily. But, as another one of my favorite quotes goes…

“You’re only one decision away from a totally different life.”

Mark Batterson

And a totally different life we created. For better or worse no one will ever know. Just a life.

Kansas Round 2: West to East

Clark Revisited

We spent one quick over-nighter back at Clark to think about our next move. Back to the places we already visited or on to something new. Plagued by curiosity, we set our sights north.

North-Central Kansas

Strike one…two…three…four. North-Central Kansas, You’re Out!

As Eric always says, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” At least we tried something new. Unfortunately, it was just one strike out after the next. The other team was definitely winning.

Ultimately, we found nothing but dried up lakes and reserves, more goatheads than we could take, and even more wind. Not just wind but headwinds no matter which way you stood (how is that possible Kansas?).

We tried. That’s what matters. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.

On we went.

Kingman Revisited

When all else fails, do what you know. I’m sure there is a famous quote about that somewhere out there and if there isn’t, there should be!

I’m so glad we revisited Kingman. There was so much more to see and do than I had initially thought! Plus, we ran into Baone and his mom again so Grizz was super happy too! And he made a new friend named Ami whose dad was saving up to travel the world too. We were all in our element again. Coming to Kingman feels like coming home.

Here are a few more photos from our time here:

Discovering a new section of the lake
Found over 10 miles of new paths. Yes, 10. We checked!

Did I mention this was our favorite stop? Pure, simple, living at it’s best. We didn’t want to leave! But, such as life, all good things come to and end and after about a week, we left.

Random Campground

Look at that cute little butt!

Thanks to some local, insider knowledge we stayed one night at a free campground that would have otherwise been left undiscovered. Judging by the (hopefully deer) blood spattered boxers near the remnants of some animal fur/gut mixture not far from the treeline, it was definitely a local hangout. There wasn’t a lot around other than that unsightly mess unless you count the time-confused armadillo rummaging for grubs during the day (as opposed to night). But, for the most part it was clean and free. It was bow season after all and whose to say armadillos can’t be day-turnal. Since we were not in the market for the Ritz, we decided to stay. Free and quiet is had to pass up as long as it seemed safe—and it did.

Cheney State Park

Ok, sometimes you want the Ritz. The next day, we drove 45 minutes around the lake to the land of opportunity. Well, it was really just a giant state park that was nearly empty. Music to our ears. Plus, there were a few trails, miles of pavement for bike-training Grizz, disc golf, and beautiful fire pits equipped with pristine grills. Yeah, totally the Ritz. It was hard to pick from the hundreds of available spots, but eventually we settled on one with an incredible view right off the lake.

View from the van

Bike-Training

Miracles do happen!

After miles and miles of unsuccessful leash training and countless fears that Grizz wouldn’t take to biking, our little man surprised us in big ways. On his first time out, Grizz ran 3 miles and was an absolute rock-star! In fact, he took to biking quite naturally and we couldn’t have been more excited!

The next day we were able to bike 6 miles and do a 5 mile walk.

I’m telling you, this dog is a beast! I was so happy. Finally, someone to keep up with me. Wait, the real question is…can I keep up with him? Only time will tell.

The next day neither Grizzy or Daddy wanted to get out of bed. I guess I win. He’ll just have to keep up with me!

Trail Blazers

The trails were nothing to write home about, but the days were warm and our legs were happy as we marched along—me and the Grizzy Bear. I think we’re both at our happiest when blazing the trails no matter how dull or spectacular! Here are some photos of our trekking about.

Disc Golf

It was here we got to try out our new disc golf set on one of the most challenging courses I’ve ever played (not that I’ve played a lot). It was a lot of fun fighting the wind, maneuvering the course, and chasing our discs into tall, snake infested grasses. Nothing ups the ante like the possibility of death from a venomous fang! It was pretty hardcore for a couple of newbs.

A basket taunts us in the distance
Crocodile Davis ready to brave the reptilians in the wilds of Kansas.
Grizz laughs hysterically as we make our way through the course.
Excellent course markers to lead the way

Butler

Another great find, Butler proved itself a mighty fine place to live out some of our days in Kansas. Quiet. Pretty. Walkable. The only thing we could have asked for was better weather. We were approaching a late midwestern fall. It was by the glory of Mother Earth herself that the weather had been as nice as it had been for this long! So we took what we could get when the sun did shine and when the rays failed to surface, we left. More out of necessity than disgust. We had to charge those solar pannels after all!

Here are a few photos of our time here:

I almost forgot. This is where Grizz found Bugs Bunny’s hole, you know, the one that led to China.

Thankfully for us, he decided we weren’t so bad and that China could wait. After all, dinner was calling.

Toronto Lake

Due to the cold, rain, fees and undesirable camping options we didn’t stay. That said, there did appear to be some really cool trails in the area. Maybe next time!

Woodson

With the exception of the endless cold and rain, what a wonderful stop. Eric and I will definitely be making this stop again.

Grizz and I did some exploring, but the road was mushy and muddy which makes for a mushy and muddy van so our walks were short. But, I have to say, this little guy looks good in his new rain coat <3

Bourbon

I can’t say that this place was a total fail because I found this cute raccoon hidden in a tree.

Local party spot. Close to several residents. Didn’t stay.

Crawford State Park

After a VERY long day of driving and numerous fails at finding a safe, quiet, free spot for the night, we gave in and stopped at another state park. Southwestern Kansas, like the central west was a flop! We had a long run of wins, we were due for a loss.

It was a very unassuming place but it worked and I learned everything I ever wanted to know about the guy who checked us in (and then some!). Glad we made this stop though. It seemed we couldn’t get out of the rain, so the pavement felt like a luxury we were more than willing to afford. Grizz and I walked circles around the miles of road and it felt so so good! We’d been cooped up for far too long and our animal instincts were kicking in—we just wanted to run wild and free. So, we walked and ran and biked until the rain stopped and then we hit some trails!

Isn’t he handsome?

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We had still been going back and forth by now about which direction we would head. It wasn’t too late to hit Oklahoma and head southwest towards dry air and sunshine. But, in my stubborn, adventure-seeking little mind, I just couldn’t see past dust and prickly plants. My tree deprived heart wanted to remain among the hills and the forests for as long as possible in hopes we may find something…anything besides the bloody noses, cracked finger-skin, and dusty phlegm—-gifts from the desert. Little did I know at the time, with van life, there are definitely worse things than the southwest. Much, much worse.

Reflections

Kansas was awesome! There are so many reflections in this post, I will spare you any additional thoughts. Ultimately, we’re counting down the days until we return to this little midwestern haven that feels untouched by what the world has become. Who knows, maybe someday we will call Kansas home?

Until next time friends….

Thanks for reading! And just in case you missed it, check out my previous blog (Missouri Recap) here.

5 Responses

  1. Debbie

    Oh my gosh Jenni! I’m so thankful for your blog. I feel like I’m in the van exploring with you! Grizz is definitely handsome and I love his raincoat. As usual, your pictures are fabulous! I just oohhed and ahhhhddd and had to show Dan. Thanks for sharing!!

    • Jenni

      It feels good to know someone out there enjoys it besides me and my family 🙂 I’m so glad you’re able to follow along…it’s been quite a ride! Kansas was so enjoyable and a real eye opener that not everything has to be epic all of the time to be truly enjoyed. Merry Christmas!

  2. Barb McNeil

    Grizz is handsome and strong! I am so glad he is adjusting and now thriving in your adventurous life!! Merry Christmas and a very Peaceful, Healthy New Year!

    • Jenni

      Thanks Barb. We love our handsome little fur ball. He is definitely adjusting and thriving more than we ever imagined my be possible. Merry Christmas to you as well and as always….thanks for reading! 🙂

  3. Gaby

    Hi Jenny, I hadnt had chance to read until now, so now I have. I love your adventures. I am so glad Grizz picked up biking its so nice to bike with your dog by your side. Also so glad is is warming up to you guys more and more.

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