Our journey continues with a quick visit to Wichita. We meet the Keeper of the Plains, learn what a “Shocker” is, sleep through a tornado warning and meet the best people Wichita has to offer.
Saturday, June 22nd, 2019
With some reluctance, it was time to leave my wonderful hosts in Joplin. Maybe the best way to symbolize my time there is a picture of my food bag. It was completely empty before I arrived. When I was ready to leave, it looked like this:
Wichita, song place 72 of 92, was my target for the day.
A cloudy day cut the heat and I had a pleasant ride there. My only previous experience with Wichita was driving on the elevated I-35 next to the big ditch that runs through town. I was eager to learn more about this place.
My destination was the home of an old friend, Chris. (with Ashley, Davis, Burke and Holden below)
For those keeping score, the first four stops since I left Lincoln have included 13 children. Sonic has been getting more 0 mph revolutions than normal. 🙂
Chris and I met in third grade when my family moved across town and we began to attend the same elementary school. I don’t have any memories of that first day, but Chris actually did. He remembered my Dad following in behind me, capturing every awkward moment with his Panzerschreck of a shoulder mounted camcorder. That was my Dad. 🙂
Chris is an excellent singer and we were in many musical groups and performances together from elementary to high school. He came to Wichita after high school to attend Wichita State University. He and Ashley moved back to Nebraska for just a brief time, but most of his adult life has been spent here. Chris was the perfect person to show me around the city.
We began by doing the first thing I normally do when I visit a song place: Go to a golf tournament.
This was the weekend of the Wichita Open which is a major event for the city. It is just one step down from the PGA tour. I’m not a golfer, but I have a decent appreciation and understanding of the game. At least I know that if an errant ball is hit in your area, you get to pick it up and take it home with you (or maybe that’s baseball?….)
It was an enjoyable experience and we had plenty of time to chat and catch up. A lot had happened in both of our lives since we last saw each other.
Next up on the agenda was a tour of Chris’ alma mater, Wichita State University. Unfortunately, they had already fixed the water tower by the time I arrived.
Their sports team’s name, the Shockers, is one of the best in college athletics. In case you are unfamiliar with wheat harvesting terminology, “shocking” is a term used to describe cutting wheat and tying it into bundles. Kansas is the leading wheat producer in the US.
The unfortunate side effect of this name is that anytime an article is written about their teams by a national news outlet, the headline is inevitably: “Wichita State SHOCKS <insert random college>.” Wary of this, I limited myself to only one “shocking” pun during my stay in Wichita. I wasted it before I even left the golf tournament. I’m really disappointed with myself.
The campus is thoroughly spattered with sculptures. There was one whose style I recognized immediately.
These mishapen monstrosities are by Colombian sculptor Fernando Botero. I saw them all over when I was in Medellin, Colombia:
The moral of the story here is that if you want to be a famous artist, you just have to be consistent about getting your proportions wrong. 🙂
Chris seemed to have had so many positive experiences during his time there. It was fun to walk down memory lane with him. Speaking of lanes, this is in the basement of the student center:
The restaurant Pizza Hut was started by two WSU students in 1958. The original building is now a museum on campus:
It is probably long odds that I would ever marry a Wichita State alum, but if so, the ceremony will have to take place here:
There was a tragic event in WSU’s past of which I was unaware: A plane crash of their football team in 1970 which claimed the lives of 31 people. Perhaps I’ve never hear of the event since it is overshadowed by the Marshal football team plane crash which happened just 43 days later. There is a really nice memorial commemorating the people lost in this tragedy.
A unique thing about Wichita is that they have a city flag. It is a really neat design and it can be seen all over town.
Chris just happened to have a sticker at the bank where he works. It will ever remain a fun reminder on the lid of my trunk.
Back at home, Chris fired up the grill and he and Ashley made me a wonderful supper. All three of their boys are full of energy and personality. This photo sums them up well: 🙂
They all seemed rather interested in my video of the Trans-Pantanal Highway:
After we composed a rather dark and terrifying bed-time story for the boys, Chris and I headed back into town. We went to one of his favorite breweries which had really good beer. There was a group playing some music. I think it was the first time on my trip that I’ve heard a hand saw solo:
Sunday, June 23rd
An alarm went off on my phone around 4 or 5AM. I glanced down and saw that there was a tornado warning. I listened for a moment, heard no sirens, so I just fell back asleep. Apparently the rest of the family had come down to the basement to seek shelter. I just slept too heavily. This event will be forever immortalized by Chris’ signing on Annie.
The morning continued to be a whirlwind of activity after the sun was up. I was on Swedish Pancake duty, but I had a song place picture on my mind. The most iconic image of Wichita is almost certainly The Keeper of the Plains. This is a 44-foot tall sculpture placed where the Big and Little Arkansas Rivers meet. Important to note: The Arkansas River is pronounced like “Our-Kansas” here. Picture of the sculpture from later:
After consulting with Chris and studying the maps and street view, I still wasn’t sure if a picture with Annie and it would be possible. Like usual, I figured the earlier the better, before there was much foot traffic around.
As I pulled up to the parking area, the only people around were a couple and their dog. They noticed my sign, asked about my trip and we became friends pretty much right away. I felt comfortable enough to ask them if they would walk with me as I pushed Annie over to the footbridge and take my picture for me. This eliminated the need for me to get my tripod out.
They took a few shots of me which came out great. Wichita!
Thank you, Shalan and Jaq!
(The dog’s name was either Profit or Prophet. I suppose both are apropos dog names.)
Chris and Ashley’s church was right downtown. I only missed a little bit of the service. The church was a Church of Christ denomination. At these churches they don’t use any instruments, just voices. I loved it! It was so refreshing to hear four part harmony in church!
We went back home and I got my stuff loaded up. Then it was time to take care of all of the festivities. Getting the Wichita sticker stuck on my trunk (Burke didn’t believe me that I’d had a monkey right where he was sitting!:-) ).
Chris struck Wichita from off of my sign:
They took me out for a really nice lunch at a place called The Monarch:
Even though the time with them was short, I felt so thankful that they invited me into their lives. There is nothing better than having a local person with whom I have history showing me around a song place. I can’t wait until my trail leads back through Wichita again. Thank you, Chris and family!
…but we were not quite done yet!
I still wanted to take in a few more Wichita sights and experiences before I left town. I returned to the Keeper of the Plains area and saw it at a more leisurely pace. There is a nice interpretive display which attempts to explain the cultures of all of the Plains Indians, not just the ones from this area.
Up next was a visit to the Old Cowtown museum. This place recreates what life was like during the days when Wichita was the final destination for the cattle drives from Texas (1872-1876).
Ahhh… the good old days, when Nebraska bordered Canada and Washington:
They had a reenactment of a gunfight in front of the saloon.
I actually made a purchase in the gift shop. Recollecting readers of this quality publication will remember “Whiskey,” the little horse who rode next to my license plate for a huge chunk of my journey. Sadly, he was a victim in the Great Colombian Car Wash Fiasco of 2018.
I finally found a new little buddy to replace him:
I’m still working on the name… Perhaps I should choose something…..Shocking?
(Dang it, I almost made it through the whole post!)
Wichita is where the outdoor company Coleman was founded. There used to be a museum here, but it has closed down and headquarters have long since moved away. I’m pretty sure this was the building. I think the logo had recently been removed.
My tent, The Maroon Cocoon, is a Coleman product. As is the hydration pack that I’ve attached to my trunk lid. I’ve always respected the company for providing budget options for getting into outdoors activities. I think the bang for the buck is pretty good.
I had one final piece of Wichita’s history that I wanted to highlight: It’s place as “The Air Capital” of the world. Cessna, Beechcraft and Boeing have all been produced here. Even the trophy for the golf tournament mentioned above is a propeller.
The B-29 bombers used in WWII, including the Enola Gay, were assembled in Wichita. There was a museum which was closed, but I got a decent picture through the glass.
That night I would be staying with…wait…I don’t know anyone else out here? What am I supposed to do? Camp in the woods like some homeless vagabond? Of course!
I found a free campsite at a fishing lake about an hour away from my next song place, Dodge City. I tried hard to remember, but I think the last time I camped on this trip was in Mato Grosso, Brazil. It’s been awhile. Please welcome back to the blog, The Maroon Cocoon:
Like a twister on the Plains, I only touched down in Wichita for a short time. Still, I feel like I was able to wreak a decent amount of destruction and dismay during my time here. Wait…this analogy doesn’t really work, does it? Too late to change it. I hope you are shocked and appaled.
20 to go!
Keep flyin’, everybody
Realtime update: I’m just finishing up in Texarkana right now. I still have the museum of history to check out, but then I will probably begin heading towards Shreveport. I’ve been stealth camping the last five nights and starting to feel sort of stinky and beaten up. I guess it’s nice to feel like I’m on a real adventure again.