As described in the Willie Nelson song “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys”, I’ve had “things” for all-things ranching since an early age.
While other girls were playing with Barbies and wearing tutus, I spent my time tending a Breyer horse herd and clambering around in fringed cowboy boots. There was always only one thing I wanted to grow up to be: a cowgirl. Not a poufy hair rodeo queen cowgirl (I ended up doing that briefly, due to my need for scholarships), but a real-life, cowpoke with land, cattle, and horses to her name.
Hence, one of the first places I’d longed to see since we received orders to move to Kansas was the legendary Wild West town of Dodge City.
What states come to mind when you think “snow skiing”?
Colorado, Montana, Wyoming?
Yeah, those are home to my top ski destinations.
What about South Dakota? Did you know there was skiing just outside of Sioux Falls?
Turns out, there’s a lot more to South Dakota than just the Badlands, Wall Drugs, and historic mining towns like the ultimate Wild West destination – Deadwood, SD.
Just outside of Sioux Falls, a publically-owned ski area – Great Bear Recreation Park – offers super budget-friendly snow sports with over a dozen runs, three lifts, and none of the typical Rocky Mountain crowd congestion.
Chase County, Kansas is one of my favorite places on earth.
It tops the list of places I’d like to live.
While it may not look like much according to its Census Bureau stats (less than 3,000 people, miles away from the closest grocery store, terrible cell reception, almost no infrastructure), Chase County is a community with a whole lot of heart.
Hailed as one of the crown jewels of the picturesque Flint Hills, Chase County’s strategically situated as a quiet hamlet along the Flint Hills Scenic Byway (K-177), nestled up against the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve and its impressive buffalo herds. Chase County has a ton of history, a gorgeous Courthouse, and lots of unique cultural events (ever heard of the Symphony in the Flint Hills? It’s amazing.).
The Cardinals and the Gateway Arch.
Those are the only two things I knew about St. Louis, Missouri before last weekend.
Considered by many to be just another Midwestern flyover city, St. Louis has been a drive-thru destination for me for the past few years, always a good place to take a quick fifteen leg stretch on a long road trip. But this year, things were different. St. Louis no longer a pit stop, but a holiday destination. We were heading to the Gateway of the West, and we were ready to have some good ol’ fashioned Midwestern fun.
Time to get my TripAdvisor on.
Here’s a few of the St. Louis highlights we hit on our holiday travels:
The “mini-mountains” running through Missouri and Arkansas, known for their unique cultural contributions, picturesque landscapes, and rural identity.
Admittedly, the majority of my Ozark exposure came from binging on Netflix’s Ozark series (loved it!) and watching Jason Hawk and family on the History Channel’s Mountain Man series.
My husband grew up spending summer vacations in the little Arkansas Ozark town of Hardy (population 754), canoeing, listening to folk music, and indulging in all-you-can-eat pancakes. His fond memories of summers spent on the Spring River piqued my interest in the non-televised Ozark community.
While it’s kind of an out of the way destination (you caught the “rural identity” mention, right?), we finally found ourselves in the vicinity of Hardy on a recent road trip and made plans to stretch our traveler’s legs in the hills and springs that surround the quaint mountain town.
Oxford, Mississippi has always held a special place in my heart.
My husband graduated from the University of Mississippi, also known as “Ole Miss”, located in the heart of Oxford, and we spent the majority of our very short (courtesy of Uncle Sam) dating relationship attending concerts, jogging the trails, and frequenting the local watering holes around Ole Miss.
While the military has taken us many places both in the United States and abroad, Oxford is one of the few places that offers that oh-so-elusive feeling of “home”. Connecting with old friends, enjoying Oxford’s infamous southern cuisine, and getting into the spirit of whatever university athletic event is schedule always leaves me flooded with memories of our pre-war life.
This October, my husband and I had the opportunity to schedule our should-be-annual Oxford trip for Ole Miss Homecoming Week, which meant football, tailgating, and catching up with fellow University of Mississippi alum.
Weston, Missouri is a charming historic town located just a few miles outside of the Kansas City metro area.
I first became acquainted with Weston when my family was stationed at FT Leavenworth. Seeking a running route that didn’t include outlines of the massive federal prison, I’d asked local for recommendations from my new neighbors. Weston – a neighboring community – was among the top recs by local yokels, followed by additional directions to Weston’s mouthwatering restaurants and winery to refuel following a long stretch.
While Weston is small, with a population of under 2,000 people, its historic downtown district, neighboring state park, u-pick orchards, and multiple breweries, distilleries, and wineries make it a definite must-see for anyone visiting the Kansas City area.
Oh, how I love the Kansas State Fair.
For ten days in September, the little town of Hutchison welcomes hundreds of thousands of visitors from all around the Sunflower State. The roadways become packed, restaurants overflow, and “No Fair Parking” signs crop up in hastily manicured terraces. A city best known for its Cosmosphere and salt mine evolves into the state hub for pretty much everything for ten epic days of all-things-Kansan.
The Kansas State Fair is an annual festival that’s been going on for over 100 years. Thanks to a multitude of helpful volunteers and supporting organizations, the state fair provides both educational and entertainment opportunities for all ages. Some of the exhibits are predictable, like the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Fisheries mobile aquarium (super cool), while others breathe new life into the annual event, like a surprise visit from the Budweiser Clydesdales (the 2015 fair rocked).
Kansas City is a unique city, in more than one ways than one.
The barbeque is fabulous, the museums are awesome, and there’s a lot of history for your inner nerd. Oh, and there’s the KC Royals, and the Chiefs (can’t forget those!).
Another Kansas City distinction is that it’s a city spanning two states – Kansas and Missouri.
Although I’m a Kansas resident, I haven’t spent much time on the Kansas side of Kansas City. The majority of the metro’s population, along with a lot of historical development, is on the Missouri side. So, as a KC local, most of my day to day happenings end up being hosted across the state line, on the Show Me State’s side.
Like many residents, I’d heard a lot about must-see attractions in Kansas City, Missouri; however, I was pretty oblivious to the unique art and culture offered over in Kansas City, Kansas (KCKS). Thus, I was just tickled pink when Kansas Tourism announced the June #NoPlaceLikeKS Instameet hosted in Kansas City, Kansas (KCKS), as I was finally going to get to explore the often underrated KC gems of the Sunflower State!
If you follow me on Instagram, you know I love to paddle.
Summer’s a little late coming in the Midwest, so June starts my four month season of kayaking in lakes and rivers all across Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, and Iowa. I’m pretty psyched about getting “Susie” – my budget-friendly, Lifetime® kayak – back in the water. It’s been a while since I felt the “paddle burn” in my forearms, after a long day’s trek upstream; there are few places I’d rather be than in the middle of a peaceful body of water with just my boat, my dog, and my camera.
Maybe you’re thinking about purchasing a kayak, or maybe you just enjoy an annual float and are wondering if it’d be cost effective to invest in your own. Paddling’s a great hobby with fabulous fitness benefits; plus it’s a fun new way to see familiar places or explore new destinations.
In case you’ve been bitten by the summertime paddle bug, here are five questions to ask before buying your first kayak: