Northeastern Kansas Road Trip | Holton, Topeka, Lyndon, & Emporia, KS | Camping at Chase Lake | March 2021
The beginning of March brought warmer temperatures day after day, each day nicer than the next. Being born and raised midwesterners, we know that this is likely a ‘false spring’ and that we’ll still have some colder days and possible snow showers ahead. But we decided that while the weather was so beautiful, why not go on our first camping trip of the year to celebrate?!
Back in January we had actually thought about taking a trip to the Ozarks or somewhere further South over Curtis’ spring break (the gap week between his Masters classes), but gave up when his work schedule didn’t support that. As it turned out, we didn’t even need to travel that far South for pleasant camping temperatures! We instead turned to a trip itinerary we had planned for a weekend road trip around Northeastern Kansas.
We left home early on Saturday morning taking US-75 South. Because of this, we have now driven the entirety of US 75 through Nebraska! Our first stop was in Holton, KS, to see the Jackson County courthouse. We took a short walk around the town square. Usually it’s not hard to see which side of a courthouse could be considered the ‘front,’ but that wasn’t the case here. I snapped a few pictures of each side hoping something would suffice, then we got back on the road.
Our next stop was in Topeka. We parked a block away from the Kansas capitol building and went for another walk around the city. We’ve found that early weekend mornings are the best time to see capitol buildings and downtown districts. There’s plenty of open parking nearby, and there are hardly any people out so we’re able to get good pictures of the buildings. We took our time walking around and admiring the capitol from all sides, and then headed over to the county courthouse building a few blocks away.
At this point, the temperature was only in the lower 60’s, but Charlotte was already acting tired and slowing down. We accommodated for her slower pace and gave her water, but hopefully she’ll adjust to the heat quickly — she’s been going everywhere with us and has gotten so much exercise over the last 6 months, I hate to think of having to leave her home when we go for walks this summer.
Next, we made the short drive over to Brown Vs. Board National Historic Site. Unfortunately, the school/museum was still closed because of COVID-19, but the grounds were still open so we did another short walk to read the informational signs outside. The park centers around the building of Monroe Elementary School, a Blacks only school in Topeka during the years of segregation. And, in 1951, 13 parents from this school, under guidance, encouragement, and representation of the NAACP, filed a lawsuit against the Topeka Board of Education, filing under the name Oliver Brown. Unlike the other 4 cases that would be joined together with B. vs. B. at the Supreme Court, instead of revolving around the fact that Black schools were inherently inferior in facilities, pay, supplies, etc. (as was the case in the former Confederate States), B. vs. B. ran on the platform that segregation itself was a detriment to school children. And, in 1954, the Supreme Court ruled against segregation in its entirety.
After walking and reading, we ended our short stay in Topeka and continued heading further South on 75 stopping briefly in Lyndon, KS for the Osage County Courthouse. Across the horizon and in the air you could see evidence of prairie fires, with even a couple visible from the road. Heading further South we finally started heading West on I-35 but got off shortly to see the Flint Hills National Wildlife Refuge. We thought that, because it was approaching peak migration season for Sandhill Cranes in Nebraska (something we still intend to see later this month), perhaps we could get an early glimpse now. But, maybe because it was mid-day, maybe because we didn’t know where to go specifically, or maybe because we were dead wrong on the migration cycle, we didn’t see any wildlife to speak of as we drove around.
We returned to I-35 and continued heading west a few miles before getting off yet again to drive through Emporia, KS for our fourth and final courthouse for the day; this one for Lyon County.
We continued further West on US-50, by which time it was approaching late afternoon, and, since Charlie had been suffering the heat already, we figured we’d find a place to camp and just relax for the rest of the evening. We found a spot just South of the highway and West of Cottonwood Falls at Chase County Lake Park, a free use recreation area. We set up our camp, replete with four sleeping bags in case the thermometer dropped below freezing (we don’t think it did, but it was quite cozy).
With two or so hours left of sunlight we decided to walk the access road and cross the dam that formed the lake. Overall, the lake was pretty quiet, though enough people had the same idea as us on camping that someone was passing us by every so often. After crossing the dam, we followed a foot path to the spill way and found a natural spring and very mediocre waterfall (I’m sure it’s better after a rain).
On our way back to camp, we noticed a foot path leading off the road and up a hill. Still having plenty of time left, we followed it to the top and got a fantastic view of the prairie. The whole region is part of the Flint Hills, a prairie ecosystem known for its flint, shale, and rolling landscape (insert flat Kansas joke here). Because of this, except in certain areas, it is very difficult to farm, so the prairie is allowed to grow more freely than elsewhere in the great plains. The view from the top of the hill was incredibly open and stark. It’s hard to think of or believe that once, almost all the Midwest looked like this or something similar.
We returned to camp for some soup and games before calling it a night, listening to the neighborhood owl, Canada Geese, coyotes in the distance, and campground partiers (they called it a night by 8pm, thank goodness).