Dorothy said “There’s no place like home” about her Kansas farm but I didn’t feel the same about my Kansas home. I lived 2 years in Salina while in high school, but routed us through Hutchinson and Dodge City instead. Tourism over sentiment!
There are eight Wonders of Kansas and two of them are in Hutchinson. We started with the Strataca Salt Mine Museum.
Formed when the Permian Sea evaporated 275 million years ago, a massive salt layer spreads across 27,000 square miles of central Kansas. While looking for oil, a developer found salt. Mining began in 1923 and continues to this day. The active and previously mined sections cover 1000 acres and include 160 miles of tunnels.
More than half of the current production is sold to Chicago as road salt with the rest going to other states and municipalities for the same purpose. A small amount is used in livestock feed.
We descended 650 feet to the Strataca Museum where you tour areas worked in the 1950s. There is a self guided portion, a train ride, and two shuttles through different sections of the mine.
Much of the salt in Strataca has brown and red veins – good for roads but not for tables.
We were able to choose salt pieces to take home – or in our case, to our grandson.
We saw interesting artifacts including gloves from the 1940s with double thumbs. To accommodate war time shortages, gloves were made to be used one way and, when the palm was worn, reversed to use the back side. Miner gear, boxes and garbage are museum artifacts and not disturbed.
Because it was costly and time consuming to remove, and there was plenty of room, miners left garbage piles. These give additional perspective on mine history. The pile above had a partially eaten sandwich from the 1950s.
There are thousands of discarded dynamite boxes left in the mine. All are in perfect condition, as though they were used yesterday.
The salt mine environment is perfect for preserving garbage, boxes and valuables because there are no critters or moisture. There is a constant 70 degree temperature.
After the Monuments Men recovered art the Nazis had hidden in European salt mines, a new business was incorporated here in 1959. Underground Vaults and Storage holds original Hollywood films (including The Wizard of Oz), costumes and props. They also store medical, financial and insurance records from around the country. State governments’ and other nations governments’ records are stored here. It is big business with 65 employees, 2 shifts and nearly 1.7 million square feet of storage – with lots of room to grow!
Randy visited Cosmosphere, the second Wonder of Kansas in Hutchinson. It is an affiliate of the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum. He spent four hours at Cosmosphere and said he barely scratched the surface.
The Cosmophere has extensive history and artifacts detailing how German rocket technology developed, came to America after WWII, and factored into the Cold War with the Soviet Union.
The Apollo 13 Command Module is at Cosmosphere! “Houston, we have a problem.”
Eventually, we moseyed across the prairie to Dodge. Dodge City began as a location for buffalo traders and became a hub for western cattle drives. It also became infamous for gunfights, saloons, gambling halls and brothels, including the Long Branch Saloon.
We enjoyed a sarsaparilla and a show at the Long Branch Saloon.
In the rough years between 1872-78 known and unknown folks were buried on the hill above Dodge. Several were buried with their boots on, thus the name Boot Hill.
Today the Boot Hill Museum sits on the former cemetery. (The residents were moved.)
The museum recreated Front Street including the shops and saloons present in 1870.
Neither was Matt Dillon. There are pictures and artifacts of Gunsmoke but the museum focuses on the real history of Dodge City, not the TV version.
The next time we wander into Kansas, maybe I’ll be drawn to the old home town. Or maybe we’ll catch the remaining six Wonders of Kansas!