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Amongst the plethora of attractions are the Hallmark Visitors Center and the Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop; art venues including Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art; the American Jazz Museum and the Arabia Steamboat Museum. Shopping malls such as Country Club Plaza and Legends Outlets are worth a mooch.
Barely 40 miles west of Kansas City, the college town of Lawrence is a smart, lively and growing community of 80,000 and home to the University of Kansas campus and the Haskell Indian Nations University. Downtown, the half dozen blocks of Massachusetts Street are replete with chic boutiques and quirky antique stores; intriguing galleries and surprising studios; micro-breweries, restaurants and cafes.
Distance: 135 miles
Just south of Topeka, the town of Council Grove is a fascinating gateway onto the Flint Hills National Scenic Byway, but not before a couple of interesting stops - at the Kaw Mission State Historic Site, the Hays House Restaurant (dating from 1857 and still in operation) and the Cowboy Jail. The Byway traverses the largest remaining tract of tallgrass prairie in North America - billowing grasses framing limestone bluffs; home to diverse wildlife including cottontails (rabbits), foxes and coyotes; red-tailed hawks and other birds. Southwards, the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve interprets the story of this unique ecosystem, whilst its native stone ranch house, barn and schoolhouse bring to life the late 1800’s in this part of the Sunflower State
The drive today definitively explodes the myth that Kansas is flat and uninteresting, as does this evening’s destination - Cottonwood Falls, a small town with huge character and charm. The first surprise is the elegant, boutique-style Grand Central Hotel - superbly appointed rooms and mouthwatering steaks. Just down the main street sits the Emma Chase Cafe, where Friday night features a catfish-fry followed by an open mic session (it could be C&W, bluegrass, R&B or gospel) with local artistes Everyone is welcome!
Distance: 80 miles
Abilene is also the home of US President Dwight D Eisenhower, and the great WW2 leader’s childhood house, and the Presidential Library & Museum are an enduring attraction of the city. As is the palatial home of AB Seelye, whose 25-room Georgian mansion also offers a fascinating insight into this early entrepreneur’s successful medicine business, straddling the 19th and 20th centuries
Close by is Lindsborg (Little Sweden), with its close genealogical link to far-off Scandinavia - nowadays characterised by shops, museums, art galleries, working studios and cultural and ethnic events. Back to Abilene, evening time brings thoughts of dinner - perhaps at the Brookville HotelRestaurant, whose family roots go back to the 1870s, and which today is rightly famous for its fried chicken dinner menu - arguably the best to be had in Kansas; Mr K’s Farmhouse Restaurant is famous for its warm hospitality and country-style menu. This was a favourite eating place of President Eisenhower
Distance: 105 miles
Today’s route is a scenic and hugely entertaining one - through two Kansas Byways. Driving west, it joins the Post Rock Scenic Byway - miles of gentle, rolling green countryside, punctuated by thousands of the tell-tale stone fence posts, and ends in the town of Lucas - for which the term ‘quirky’ might have been invented. Unique non-conformist art can be found all over Lucas, in the Grassroots Art Center, the world famous Garden of Eden - which really defies description - and the Flying Pig Studio & Gallery. Perhaps the most visually stunning of Lucas’ public art projects is the town’s restrooms - a warm and humorous melange of wall painting, mosaic and modern art
South next, onto the 77 mile Wetlands & Wildlife National Scenic Byway, connecting two of the world's most significant natural wetlands - Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. More than 60,000 acres of wetlands host millions of migrating birds each year. Affected by seasons, weather and human use, these wetlands are in a constant state of motion and change. The Kansas Wetlands Education Center is a great place to get orientated to this ecosystem. Abundant wildlife makes this Byway region a favourite for wildlife viewers and photographers. Bring binoculars today and watch for the more than 300 bird species. Though impressive any time of year, bird numbers explode here in spring and autumn, when millions of migrating birds rest and refuel. The town of Great Bend is home for the night
Distance: 120 miles
Lunchtime brings a host of options - not least of which is the family-owned and run Old Mill Tasty Shop, offering gargantuan sandwiches and comforting ‘blue plate specials’. Meanwhile, the city’s Old Town warehouse district - in the heart of downtown Wichita - undergoes a transformation each evening, when the working and shopping centre metamorphoses into a vibrant, energy-filled world of urban nightlife. Its clubs offer a variety of music to whet every appetite - soul, rock, jazz, country, blues and reggae - all within a cosy, stroll-friendly area.
Distance: 200 miles
On eastwards to Bartlesville, and it’s here that Frank and L.E. Phillips founded the Phillips Petroleum Company in 1917. It grew to become Bartlesville’s largest employer and one of the nation’s top oil companies. Visit the residence of Frank Phillips, and the Phillips Petroleum Company Museum. Look for the Price Tower - the only skyscraper built by renowned Chicago architect Frank Lloyd Wright - preserved today as a gem of a boutique hotel. Head back through Bartlesville to the country estate of Frank Phillips - Woolaroc Ranch, Museum and Wildlife Preserve. Will Rogers said, "Of all the places in the United States, Woolaroc is the most unique." The Woolaroc name comes from the woods, lakes and rocks
Finally, to Tulsa - an engaging and memorable city to explore, enjoy and rest for the night, after a busy day of sightseeing. Tulsa’s Brady Arts District is a perfect place to stay. Anchored by the Philbrook Gallery Downtown and the Woody Guthrie Center, this emerging warehouse district is now a smart, colourful community of fantastic restaurants, clubs and live music events. Meanwhile, for shopping the historic district of Brookside jostles with quirky boutiques and antique shops; art galleries and trendy restaurants
Distance: 110 miles
To the north of the city lies Guthrie - Oklahoma’s old territorial capital - with its downtown listed as a Historic Preservation District. This is a great example of a typical mid-western town, and it’s also well catered with ‘antique stores’, offering genuine bric-a-brac, collectibles and bargains. Evening brings today’s drive to its end, in burgeoning Oklahoma City. Bricktown - the city’s water-side redeveloped warehouse district - is alive with entertainment, shopping and food. Live music spills out of many of the 30 canal-side eateries and clubs in this colourful and energetic district
Distance: 85 miles
Native American culture is the focus of today’s itinerary, with a visit to the Chickasaw Cultural Center in fast-growing Sulphur. The Center evokes and celebrates the history and contemporary life of the Chickasaw Nation through exhibits, demonstrations and other outreach projects. This is the USA’s largest tribal cultural centre, built on a section of more than 100 acres of rolling hills, woodlands and water. The Chickasaw National Recreation Area brings together diverse flora and fauna in a combination of eastern deciduous forest and western prairie
The Travertine Ranger Station Visitor Center offers the opportunity to take a short hike in and around this area of outstanding beauty, and in nearby Davis, visit scenicTurner Falls and try some mouthwatering Oklahoma food at Nancy Fulton’s Fried Pies or Smokin’ Joe’s Rib Ranch. Back in Sulphur, the recently rebuilt and re-opened Artesian Hotel offers superb lodgings and a taste of elegance last seen here in the 1920’s. Or just a short drive away is the Echo Canyon Spa and Resort, a small resort offering characterful accommodations and superb food - much of it lovingly homegrown
Distance: 195 miles
The tiny township of Medicine Park, ‘America’s Cobblestone Community’ lies at the center of the Wichita Mountains Scenic Byway - and there are magnificent views to be seen from the top of Oklahoma’s highest mountain, Mount Scott. Back in Medicine Park, over the years many a celebrity, politician, writer - and even gangster - has paid a visit, and today this picturesque and quirky little community puts up a series of music festivals and events between May and October each year
Final destination for the day is Elk City, back on Route 66, and this lively community is home to the National Route 66 Museum, telling the Mother Road’s story from end to end - all 8 states - part of the Old Town Museum complex. The Old Town Museum itself is a superb repository of artefacts demonstrating pioneer life, and it also proudly tells the story of cowboy and rodeo life - largely thanks to donations by the famous Beutler Brothers Rodeo Stock Producers. Elk City makes a comfortable stop for the night
Distance: 115 miles
Today the route is eastbound along the second section of Route 66, with time to stop off and complete a memorable exploration of the Mother Road. Clinton is the first port of call - the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum, recounting the history of the road as it was rolled out through the state. The museum offers a mellifluous and intriguing audio tour by baritone Mother Road historian Michael Wallis. Also in Clinton is the Mohawk Indian Lodge. Established in 1892, it’s the first and oldest authentic Indian Trading Post in Oklahoma - a vast conglomeration of diverse items, from Pendleton blankets to hides; beaded moccasins to Native American jewellery
In Weatherford, make a stop at Lucille’s Service Station - a classic gas station built in 1929 and run by Lucille Hamon for 50 years, and then drop in on Lucille’s Roadhouse Diner - a modern evocation of the original gas station and a great place to enjoy a late lunch. And on the subject of food, the town of El Reno is home to three famous fried onion burger joints - Robert’s Grill, Sid’s Diner and Johnnie’s Grill - all beloved of ‘Roadfooders’
Oklahoma City is the final destination, and a last chance to visit Bricktown - or perhaps Stockyard City, one of the nation’s largest and busiest cattle and sheep stockyards and auction houses. And surrounding the Stockyards are some of the state’s finest Western wear stores - where everything from shirts to boots; jeans to jewellery is on display. For a final meal in Oklahoma, there’s little to better the Stockyards’ Cattlemen’s restaurant for a superb, perfectly aged steak - for dinner or breakfast
To discuss your ideal Route 66 holiday call the USA experts at Bon Voyage.
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