Before leaving on this trip I got a book by William Least Heat-Moon called PrairyErth:A Deep Map and have been reading it off and on the last couple of months. It focuses on one county in Kansas, Chase County, in the Flint Hills. His description of the tallgrass prairie remnants, the people and towns of Chase County led me to schedule a stop in this area. On Saturday we drove a portion of the Flint Hills Scenic Byway. It cuts diagonally across the Flint Hills area which stretches from northeastern Kansas to north central Oklahoma. The area contains some of the last remnants of the tallgrass prairie that used to extend as far north as Manitoba and east into Illinois. Because of the rocky soil, early settlers were unable to plow the area which resulted in the predominance of cattle ranches that surround the Flint Hills Scenic Byway and to some extent preserved the tallgrass prairie. We stopped at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, a new type of National Park that is a public/private partnership between the National Park Service and The Nature Conservancy. The reserve encompasses nearly 11,000 acres much of which was part of a ranch established in 1881. The developed area of the preserve includes the historic ranch house, limestone barn, several outbuildings, and one-room schoolhouse. We did the self-guided tour of the ranch house which was quite an elegant place for being built in the late 19th Century way out on the prairie. It was four floors with a center staircase and railing made out of solid walnut. It even had a 3-hole out house.
We went to Cottonwood Falls, the county seat, on the Cottonwood River. The Courthouse in town is the oldest courthouse in continual use in Kansas. Things were pretty quite for a Saturday evening, but the Grand Central Hotel was open for dinner. The hotel, built in 1884 and remodeled in 1995, features the original brick walls and stockyard brick flooring. It used to be the Cottonwood Falls Hotel and according to PrairyErth it "sold for forty dollars" in the early '90's. We're still in Kansas so it was time for beef again. I had the Flint Hills Filet of Sirloin and Sue had Sterling Silver Prime Rib. Both were delicious. I got bread pudding to take home for dessert.