Kansas Travel Blog

Chronicling changes to KansasTravel.org and Keith's exploration & photographing Kansas restaurants, attractions, museums, festivals and art. Contact him.
Art Prints

Wild horses for adoption at Svaty Ranch - Ellsworth, Kansas
Wednesday - May 1, 2024: We are off to participate in the 2024 Big Kansas Road Trip, an annual event to encourage people to visit rural Kansas and get to know local residents and culture. This year's BKRT is in Ellsworth County, Lincoln County and Lucas, Kansas.

We wanted to have all of Thursday (the first day of the BKRT) to visit things, so we left on Wednesday afternoon, driving across I-70 and stopping for supper in Abilene, Kansas at M&R Grill which has a specialty sandwich which I wanted to try to see if it measures up to our Best Kansas Burger List. I ordered the grill signature burger, the M&R PB&B, a burger topped with creamy peanut butter, Sriracha, bacon and pickles on a brioche bun.

A little later the server returned to inform me that they were out of Sriracha. I tried a chicken fried steak instead, which was fine, though nothing that stood out. 

We drove on to Wilson, Kansas to stay at the Midland Railroad Hotel & Restaurant, one of the few places for lodging in the area included in the Big Kansas Road Trip. The handsome 1899 post rock hotel was one of the settings used in the 1973 movie, Paper Moon, with Tatum and Ryan O'Neal. We previously stayed at the hotel in 2012 and our room had been quite small. I wanted something more comfortable for our four night stay, so we in the Queen Jacuzzi Suite, the only suite available the dates of our visit. I was pleased when the clerk checking us in and asked if we were AAA members. It entitled us to a 10% discount.

 


 
 
 
 

M&R Grill - Abilene, Kansas Chicken fried steak
 

Midland Railroad Hotel - Wilson, Kansas Separate sitting room

Thursday - May 2, 2024: Our night at the Midland Hotel was a little less restful than I hoped for. The bed sagged and train passing through a short distance away sound their their horns multiple times when passing through Wilson. Strangely enough the city fire whistle sounds each day at 7 AM, noon and 6 PM. Not necessarily what you want to wake up to when on vacation.

There was a minimal continental breakfast included until 9 AM, though it was largely gone by 8:30 when we came down. Still, I will not count that against them at all, since their website and email room confirmation said nothing about including breakfast.

The first stop of the day was at Svaty Ranch, west of Ellsworth, Kansas. The ranch is one of just four public off range pastures providing a home for wild horses in the United States. There are many other ranches where wild horses are boarded for the Bureau of Land Management, but the others are not open to the public. I had been trying to arrange a tour of the ranch for 3 years without success and jumped on the opportunity to visit this day.

The ranch cares for 225 horses gathered from public range lands throughout the West. They have a large space to range and were in an area of the ranch that cannot be seen from the road, but Jake Svaty took us and Marsha, his new bride of one month, near the horses riding on hay bales sitting on the flat bed of feed truck. The ground was very irregular and the ride was a little bit of an adventure. The horses were standoffish today and we didn't get as close as desired, but it was still fun.

We did see 7 or 8 young wild horses up close, before going on the tour. They are gentled wild horses less than two years old which are available for adoption for $125. There is an incentive program to encourage adoption where the adopter may receive up to $1,000 when they have kept the horses for one year.

We spent more time than I had expected at Svaty Ranch, so I adjusted our schedule and we went into Ellsworth to do some shopping, first at Ellsworth Packing, a family owned meat packing plant. We were surprised to learn that we were the first people doing the BKRT to visit. There was no tour, but the owner,  Kim Schneider, did offer some samples and we purchased sausage and beef snack sticks. She is at leat the third generation of the family to opperate the company.

We drove to downtown Ellsworth and visited several stores, making purchases at Raised Rustic & Refine design and photographing two nice murals across the street. We stopped to visit the Ellsworth Area Arts Council Gallery, but despite being listed as open at this time for the BKRT, it was all locked up. Other visitors were trying to go to the gallery at the same time.

For lunch we drove a few miles east to Orozco's Portales Cafe in Kanopolis. The Mexican restaurant is in a neat old storefront and has extremely reasonable prices. I had a taco burger and French fries, while Linda had a soft taco and beef enchilada, The fries were so-so, but I enjoyed the large taco burger. We were surprised at how the taco and enchilada filled a plate. We had a lot of food for only $17 including one drink.

While waiting for our meal we talked with another couple doing the Big Kansas Road Trip. They live in Indianapolis, Indiana and come for the BKRT every year. They had started there day with a visit to one of the Missile Silos which was offering tours and thoroughly enjoyed it. They were also staying at the Midland Hotel and we ran into them several times over the balance of the weekend.

From Kanopolis we drove to the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism Kanopolis Lake office where Ranger, Wendy Bowles led a caravan of vehicles to Horse Thief Canyon where she led a two hour hike featuring wild plants, rock formations and canyon walls. The farthest point on the hike was a buffalo jump where native Americans harvested bison by running them off a cliff. We also visited a cave across the canyon where they would process the carcass and skins.

We headed to Lincoln County to continue the day, with our next stop being the Wolf Creek Bridge, west of Sylvan Grove. It was described as a four arch bridge and when we arrived I was surprised it wasn't longer than it was. Of course you can't see anything but the road surface until you park and get over to the side.

It turned out that the arches are not end to end, but lateral arches, two on each end with a stretch or road running across. It is an interesting looking bridge!

We had supper Fly Boy Brewery & Eats in Sylvan Grove. It was early on a Thursday evening, but the restaurant was already quite busy, with a great many of the customers being obviously part of the BKRT. A party of Explorers including our dear friends and great promoters of rural Kansas, Marci Penner and WenDee Rowe.

We ordered chicken alfredo and ribeye (with added mushrooms & blue cheese). All were good though nothing that would lead me to town.

My favorite parts of the meal were an Old Fashioned (which was only $9) and a skillet cookie which was a baked to order chocolate chip cookie topped with vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup.

Before returning to Wilson for the night, we drove north a few miles to see Sage Drive Bridge, an abandoned limestone arch bridge It looked neat, with trees growing out of the roadway, but both side of the river were marked no trespassing, so we couldn't shift around for better views and photos.

Since we were less than a mile from the South Fork Spillman Creek Double-Arch Bridge, I revisited that bridge as well.

 


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Svaty Ranch - Ellsworth, Kansas Wild horses

Svaty Ranch wild horses Wild horses for adoption
 
 

Ellsworth Packing - Ellsworth, Kansas Kim Schneider

Ellsworth, Kansas Mural Mural by David Alexander

Orozco's Portales Cafe in Kanopolis, Kansas Orozco's Portales
 

Horse Thief Canyon Buffalo Jump

Wolf Creek Bridge - Sylvan Grove, Kansas Wolf Creek Bridge
 

Marci Penner and WenDee Rowe - Kansas Sampler Foundation Marci Penner & WenDee Rowe

 

Friday - May 3, 2024: Off for another early stop, we drove back to Ellsworth and south to the Bar J Ranch which normally isn't open to the public. As we pulled in, about a third of the vehicles parked in yard were Model A's from the Wichita A's Model A Ford Club.

The family at Bar J Ranch was joined by their neighbors to brand this year's calves. As soon as we got out of our vehicle we could hear the cattle calling in the distance. As we approached the corral, a group of men & women on horse back brought what looked like about two hundred cattle into the corral, then started separating the calves from their mothers. It was amazing watching the horses shift and dance, moving the mothers into the next space and leaving the calves.

Then the ranch owner and one of his sons started lassoing the calves and bringing them close to the audience where a team would hold down the calves while they were branded, tagged and given shots. The branding was done with two irons, one with the J and one with the bar.

On our way back to Wilson, we detoured north almost to I-70 to visit Oak Creek Mini Jerseys. The farm dairy breeds and raises Mini-Jersey cows. After watching some people playing with the cows, we went to the store where they sell  butter, ice cream, cream, milk, hot fudge sauce, salted caramel, yogurt plus home made soaps, lotions and other products. They hadn't started their soft serve ice cream machine for the day and we couldn't keep hard ice cream frozen for 3 days, so our purchases were limited to hot fudge sauce, salted caramel, and butter.

We have been in Wilson, Kansas many times, but today we were mainly checking out things that are new or normally not open to the public, but first we had lunch at The Snack Shack. The Snack Shack opened in May 1962, but the present owners took over in June 2022.

We ordered a scalloped potatoes with ham dinner and fried chicken gizzards with French fries. The gizzards were rather tough, with a batter which reminded me of deep fried mushrooms. The fries were frozen crinkle cut. The scalloped potatoes and my hot fudge shake were both quite good and I will be back to try them again. Unfortunately the scalloped potatoes was a daily special and not often on the menu.

Then we visited a 1904 stone building which the Wilson Tourism Hub purchased and has a variety of functions. There as a co-working area, the Midland Mercantile and Art Gallery, the Betty Kepka Gallery and Museum, and Native American artifacts gallery. With it being so many things (perhaps an incubator) it is a little hard to define and promote.

I found the Betty Kepka Gallery the most interesting. It showcases the works of the late Betty Kepka featuring original artwork in multiple media and hand painted Czech Eggs.

Leaving our vehicle where it was, we walked over to Wilson Family Foods, a small market and hardware that has its own specialty smoked meats. We had shopped here before and purchased a few items to take home.

Next we visited the First Presbyterian Church and Wilson United Methodist Church, which share together in mission and ministry, worshiping alternate months in each church.

They were followed by a visit to Wilson Heritage Museum, a small museum which is preserving Czech artifacts including dishes, kroje, kraslice-painted eggs, and Czech inspired artwork. Also an eclectic selection of other things which have been donated by members of the community. I don't believe it will interest most people who don't have a strong tie to the community, until there is a significant curating of the collection.

Our final stop in Wilson was at the Immanuel Lutheran Church, which decorates its sanctuary with wheat weaving each year during harvest and had the weaving up for the benefit of people participating in the Big Kansas Road Trip.

After a brief stop at Kansas Originals, we returned to Sylvan Grove and visited the Yesterday House Museum. I had been there once years ago, but as soon as I entered, the docent had said that they were closing early. The museum is a single room and largely photographs. With my not having a connection to Sylvan Grove, it didn't take very long to tour.

A few doors south, we visited the interesting 1887 Union Pacific Railroad Depot. It has a museum of railroad memorabilia and a model train. There was antique farm equipment displayed on the grounds.

Our final stop in Sylvan Grove was at the 1913 Evangelical Lutheran School. The former school is slowly being restored by the members of the adjacent Bethlehem Lutheran Church, who also use the facility. Many of the former classrooms are still set up as they were when it was in use as a school through 1981, including the 7th & 8th grade room which has a time out chair shielded from the rest of the room.

The highlight of visiting the school was some great peach cobbler served with ice cream.

At 4 PM we went a few miles northwest of Sylvan Grove to the Vonada Post Rock Quarry, which is part of the Vonada family farm. An attentive crowd enjoyed a demonstration of how settlers split the limestone using feathers and wedges to make fence posts and building blocks. They also showed a progression of methods and power tools eventually were used. I was particularly fascinated by petrified driftwood and fossil shells found in the stone.
 

Much more report to come!
  
  

Bar J Ranch - Ellsworth, Kansas Separating the cattle

Holding a calf

Oak Creek Mini Jerseys - Ellsworth, Kansas Mini Jerseys
 
 

The Snack Shack - Wilson, Kansas The Snack Shack
 

Betty Kepka Gallery and Museum - Wilson, Kansas Betty Kepka Gallery
 
 

Wilson United Methodist Church - Wilson, Kansas Wilson United Methodist Church
 
 
 
 
 
 

Union Pacific Railroad Depot - Sylvan Grove, Kansas Union Pacific Railroad Depot

Evangelical Lutheran School - Sylvan Grove Evangelical Lutheran School

Vonada Post Rock Quarry - Sylvan Grove, Kansas Vonada Post Rock Quarry

 
Current Month   Kansas Travel Home

2024: January  February  March  April
2023: January  February  March  April  May  June  July  August  September  October  November  December
2022: January  February  March  April  May  June  July  August  September  October  November  December
2021: January  February  March  April  May  June  July  August  September  October  November  December
2020: January  February  March  April  May  June  July  August  September  October  November  December
2019: January  February  March  April  May  June  July  August  September  October  November  December
2018: January  February  March  April  May  June  July  August  September  October  November  December
2017: January  February  March  April  May  June  July  August  September  October  November  December
2016: January  February  March  April  May  June  July  August  September  October  November  December
2015: January  February  March  April  May  June  July  August  September  October  November  December
2014: January  February  March  April  May  June  July  August  September  October  November  December
2013: January  February  March  April  May  June  July  August  September  October  November  December
2012: January  February  March  April  May  June  July  August  September  October  November  December
2011: January  February  March  April  May  June  July  August  September  October  November  December
2010: January  February  March  April  May  June  July  August  September  October  November  December
2009: January  February  March  April  May  June  July  August  September  October  November  December
2008: May  June  July  August  September  October  November  December

 
Copyright 2008-2024 by Keith Stokes.