Well, Canby Handy and I completed our long-planned (think eight years) Old Boar’s Mindless and Meandering Tour of the Southern Flint Hills on Gravel Roads. We traveled 580 miles and I guarantee that at least 90 percent of them were on gravel — or mud — roads. We had a wonderful time — thanks to the hospitality and guide services of a lot of helpful and thoughtful folks.
Before we completed our journey we’d traveled through or into Chase, Lyon, Greenwood, Woodson, Wilson, Elk, Montgomery, Chautauqua, Cowley, Butler and Marion counties. I might add that we had a Kansas road map, but we relied upon the uncertain cartography of the Kansas Hunting Atlas, published by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. The Atlas sure ain’t perfect, but, if you’re persistent, it will get you through the country on gravel roads.
The weather was sunny, warm and windy on day one, not-so-warm and windy on day two, and downright cold and miserably windy on day three.
We started off at 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning and went straight south — as much as the roads/trails would let us — through Chase County’s open rangeland. Our goal wuz to find the headwater of the Verdigris River — and we found it and crossed it at a solid limestone crossing. The Verdigris wuz probably 6-feet wide. We had to veer east into Lyon County to get there.
Next destination was Teterville Rock and the old Teterville townsite in northern Greenwood County. We found the rock and missed the town ruins. Then we struck off southeast on the gravel with no particular destination or landscape feature in mind and went through the communities of Lapland, Hamilton, Virgil, Quincy, Toronto, Coyville, New Albany and Fall River. We stopped somewhere in western Wilson County in a sunny glade to eat our lunch. We broke out the grill and had hamburgers and trimmings and a cold beverage of our choice.
Near Fall River we visited the famous Flint Oak Ranch, nationally known for its upscale hunting and fishing lodge and restaurant, sporting clays, skeet and trap shooting. Just by accident I ran into two old friends — Brian and Dave — and their wives just coming out of the restaurant. I hadn’t seen them in years.
Then we headed cross country to Longton and Elk Falls, where we spent a half-hour exploring the beautiful Elk Falls waterfall on the Elk River and the walking bridge to it. Thanks to recent rains the river wuz running over the falls, but it would be spectacular during a flood.
Next destination wuz our overnight stay with my long-time friends Steve, Jim and Donna in eastern Chautauqua County. This leg of The Tour was through uncharted territory for me. We made it with only one serious navigational error when we ended up on a dead end road at the St. Charles Cemetery and had to backtrack out. I told Canby if we got stranded on that road, we wouldn’t be found until the next funeral procession to the cemetery — and that might not be for a year or more.
That evening we enjoyed a steak dinner with our friends. Canby provided the steaks and Steve, Jim and Donna provided all the trimmings in a formal dining experience much too good for scruffy rednecks like Canby and me. We sat and caught up on family news until 11 o’clock.
Monday morn at 5:30 we “coffeed” with Steve, then headed for breakfast in Sedan. We took the round-about route through Havana, Peru, and Niotaze, before arriving at the “highly recommended for local color” Green Door Cafe in Sedan. We weren’t disappointed with the food or the folks and the locals welcomed us and told us “we’d better be armed and have good tires” for our planned trip that day.
We assured them we were and headed north and took in both the old and new Sedan city lakes. Then after “blacktopping” a few miles north, we grabbed a gravel road that took us by the old Belknap Church which wuz founded in 1891. From there we found our way to former TV anchorman Bill Curtis’s Red Buffalo Ranch and the friendly folks at the headquarters directed us to the fabulous Butcher Falls on the ranch.
Ol’ Canby and I agreed that Butcher Falls is the most scenic spot we’ve ever seen in the Flint Hills. A small crystal-clear stream races through 100 yards of small boulders and then dives into a solid limestone pool of water carved by eons of water power. The pool is probably 20 yards wide and 100 yards long entirely encompassed within solid limestone walls 10- to 15-feet high. An ancient concrete bridge spans the southern end of the pool and leads to a rustic lodge on the east side and also to an Indian teepee set is a grassy glade.
Also on site were the Lost Trail Root Beer Stand, made of weathered barn lumber, and an old horsedrawn “Phineas T.Bunkum” medicine show wagon with a sign on the side selling “Snake Oil — Horse Linament — Sheep Dip — Elixirs.” It wuz an absolutely beautiful setting and we spent most of an hour there.
Next stop was south of Sedan at the little community of Chautauqua where we acquired directions to the once-famous Chautauqua Springs. Well-kept by a local caretaker, we were told that the mineral springs, complete with limestone bathtub, once attracted an American president for a visit. A nearby second spring runs water claimed to be 99.9 percent pure water. There’s no place to bathe these days, but it wuz easy to envision the springs in their heyday.
Next week I’ll complete the Old Boar’s Tour travelogue. Until then, I’ll close with these few words of wisdom about water from Chinese philosopher Lao Tzo: “Nothing in the world is more flexible and yielding then water. Yet when it attacks the firm and the strong, none can withstand it ... Everyone knows this but no one can do anything about it.”
That quote completely explains Butcher Falls in the southern Flint Hills. Have a good ’un. ❖
“Nothing in the world is more flexible and yielding then water. Yet when it attacks the firm and the strong, none can withstand it ... Everyone knows this but no one can do anything about it.”