This is how our spur of the moment road trip through small towns of the Flint Hills materialized. My husband said, “How about…” and I said, “Let’s go.” That’s it.
It only takes an hour from idea to heading up the lane in our camper van. These kinds of trips happen other times of the year, but never before at Christmas.
We are ready to leave by 6:00 pm. Armed with Marci Penner's Kansas Guidebook for Explorers
, a list of the best Chicken-fried Steaks in Kansas from the Kansas Explorers Club
, and a map, we plan to find good rural Kansas food and Christmas decorations.
Overbrook is a progressive small town only 11 miles south of our rural home. It does not surprise us their decorations are nice. Normally, we stop at Conrad’s for their special, but there are more towns to visit. So, from there we head west on Hwy 56. We consider the restaurant at Four Corners because the parking lot is packed, a good sign in small town Kansas. Alas, it is not on the Best Chicken Fried List it so we head on, past The Trop for those who know.
Scranton's lighted snowflakes are very beautiful for the size of their main street. No tarrying, it is on to Burlingame and Santa Fe Café, which is on the List. Decorated for the season and housed in an obviously historical storefront, the Santa Fe Café is busy. Local families laugh and visit while waiting for their orders. Even though pan-fried steaks are a prerequisite, ours are deep-fried. No matter, the homemade gravy and real mashed potatoes make up for it. Full with enough leftovers for breakfast, one last look at Burlingame’s lights and we are off.
Continuing on the old Santa Fe Trail route, Hwy 56, we visit Osage City, Admire and Bushong. Community spirit is still strong in small towns because they all manage nice decorations.
Council Grove did not disappoint. As we slowly drive main street it seems the lights outlining the buildings and the decorated storefronts have a charm befitting the historic town. We take a little extra time to drive back through before taking off south on Hwy 177 toward our destination of Strong City and Cottonwood Falls.
As we turn on the street leading up to the town square in Cottonwood Falls, the sight of the historic courthouse completely outlined in white lights was breathtaking. Businesses on each side of the street are festive but not over done to take away from the beautiful building. We stop right on the street to take it all in.
By then it is 10:00 pm but Cottonwood Fall’s Emma Chase Café is still rocking. We slip in a corner table and enjoy the bluegrass music. As people drifted home, the musicians soon outnumber the audience. Obviously, the jean and overall clad participants are having fun.
The Emma Chase is winding down and so are we. We scout around for a spot to boondock for the night.
Saturday morning finds us in a parking lot near downtown Cottonwood Falls. We enjoy our leftover chicken fried steak and coffee for breakfast and take off. I want to see the sunrise over the Flint Hills.
We continued south on Hwy 57, part of the Flint Hills Scenic Byway. The sun is just peeking over the horizon as we stop at an overlook. Flint Hills as far as we can see with cattle still grazing despite the time of year makes this scene a quiet, inspirational moment. We continue south still enjoying the beautiful rolling hills, impressive barns and rock fences. Matfield Green is a tiny town, but earned an entrance to the turnpike.
In no time, we are in Wichita and the outdoor/sporting store located in downtown near the convention center. We spend several hours shopping and turned toward home.
We again exit at Matfield Green exit on the KTA because nearby is the Cassody Cafe in the town by the same name. The Café is on the Best Chicken Fried Steak list and we are hungry. Unfortunately, the menu said Thursdays only for the steak. We settle for their buffet of fried chicken and homemade beef and noodles with four-star gravy. The Cassody Café is a destination for motorcycle riders in the summer. From the pictures posted by the register, it appears the city doubles its size on weekends.
As we once again stop at the tollbooth at Matfield Green, the lady recognizes it is our third time through.
We laughingly tell her, Merry Christmas and head for home.