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Nothing To See In Kansas? Wanna Bet?

Story ID:372
Written by:Nancy J. Kopp (bio, link, contact, other stories)
Story type:Things to do
Location:Manhattan Kansas USA
Person:General George Custer
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Nothing To See In Kansas? Wanna Bet?

Nothing To See In Kansas? Wanna Bet?

Nothing To See In Kansas? Wanna Bet?

By Nancy Julien Kopp

Not many people pore over a map of the USA and point to Manhattan, Kansas as the best vacation spot in the country. In fact, darned few do so. Too bad, as I think they’re missing something rather special.

If you did decide to make Manhattan, Kansas your vacation destination, you’d start out by locating Interstate 70. Head east from Denver or west from St. Louis. About a hundred miles west of Kansas City, Missouri a sign announces the Manhattan/Council Grove exit. Drive nine miles north through the rolling Flint Hills to reach Manhattan. Along that stretch you’ll see some of the prettiest tallgrass prairie imaginable. In some spots, grass can grow so high a man on a horse can be lost in it.

The official name of this area is the Konza Prairie, named after the Konza Indian tribe that once roamed these hills and plains. This is the largest stand of tallgrass prairie in the world and is now a protected preserve. Buffalo wins the prize for the largest animal to inhabit this prairie-land, but you’ll also find cattle, rabbits, reptiles, birds and insects of many kinds. Scattered amongst the grass are wildflowers that appear as tiny dots of color from a distance. Drive down the four lane road with scenery worthy of a film crew on both sides and ahead, blanketed by a sky so blue and so wide, it sometimes takes one’s breath away.

All too soon, you’ll be at the edge of town, crossing the Republican River to reach downtown. Manhattan was founded by pure accident. A group of settlers were grounded in that river and ended up founding a town rather than trying to find a way to get to their original destination. They say God works in mysterious ways. Perhaps grounding that boat was one of those methods He used to guide this group of nineteenth century settlers.

In its early days, Manhattan became the home of Kansas State University. The university grew and so did the town. Today K-State, home to nearly 23,000 students, heads the list of local attractions. Unlike the Konza prairie, the campus boasts a variety of large and stately trees clustered around many of its limestone buildings. Unlike many college campuses, K-State has kept a common theme with both the old and new buildings being built with native limestone. A few brick dormitories slipped by somehow but not too many, not enough to mar the beauty of this limestone campus. University gardeners take pride in the landscape around the buildings and winding campus drives. Flowers and bushes add color and texture. A drive or walk through the campus nearly always ends with the tourist making appreciative comments.

A visitor might check out the Beach Museum of Art, the indoor rodeo arena, or the dairy building where ice cream is made that tastes like homemade. Parade through the University Gardens to admire flowers and plantings between winding paths that lead to an indoor butterfly garden and a historical dairy barn made of stone. Visit the Grain Science buildings, where students flock from around the world to pursue a degree in milling and other grain related fields. A walk through the huge Veterinary Med building might prove interesting along with a drive to the dairy farm owned by the university north of the campus. Research and hands-on learning takes place there and in many other buildings on and near the campus. Drive west of campus to the athletic complex that is home to a 50,000 seat football stadium, an indoor football practice field, a 13,000 seat basketball arena and a new baseball diamond.

Kansas State University offers a top-notch education for the student and an interesting visit for the tourist. But you don’t have to stop here

Drive eight miles west of town to Ft. Riley Army Post. Be sure to have proper ID to get on post, which means proof of insurance for your vehicle and a picture ID for each occupant. Once through the security checkpoint, drive for miles across this old cavalry post. The old cavalry barns and officers quarters boast thick limestone walls and graceful styling. Officers and their families still live in these old homes erected in the mid-nineteenth century. General George Custer, who lost his life at the Battle of the Little Big Horn in Montana, was stationed at Ft Riley. One of the homes is furnished exactly like his and is open for tours. It’s said a ghost inhabits that house to this day. The Cavalry Museum pictures the history of the post and the men who lived there, including the Buffalo Soldiers—black soldiers named by the Indians because their hair resembled a buffalo hide. Exhibits of weapons, uniforms, historical documents and more can be viewed at this fine museum.

Back in Manhattan, you can find a variety of hotels and restaurants. Being a college town, there is no shortage of bars. Many are clustered in the campus area called Aggieville, where you’ll also find unique shops and eateries. Sit in a beer garden with a burger made of prime Kansas beef and face west when the sun is ready to go down. Kansas sunsets are legendary. But don’t take my word for it. Head to Manhattan for a visit on your next trip through the Heartland of America.