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Revision as of 07:09, 26 June 2008
Kansas  is a state in the Great Plains region of the United States of America. It is generally considered the center of the country, at least in geographical terms, though one of its nicknames is "the Heart of America." Thanks to the Wizard of Oz, many non-Kansans (and some Kansans as well) think of it as a place from which to escape; however, there are a lot of great places to visit, particularly if you are interested in the history of the American West. With a little exploration, almost every little town has something of interest.
There is no clear division between Eastern and Western Kansas, but there are clear regional distinctions.
- Eastern Kansas -- Most of the larger cities are in Eastern Kansas, which tends to be surprisingly hilly and have more trees and water than other parts of the state.
- Western Kansas -- Generally, Western Kansas is more rural, with very low population density and a lot of open land. With notable exceptions, it is drier and flatter.
- Central Kansas -- A mixture of farmland, rolling hills, and man-made lakes, central Kansas is a transition zone between the hilly east and the arid west.
- Flint Hills -- Down the center of Eastern Kansas run the Flint Hills, an area of great geological interest, with some of the last living grasslands of the true Great Plains.
- Southeastern Kansas -- Far southeastern Kansas is part of the Ozarks region, with beautiful hills, coal mining, and endemic rural poverty. Ozark influence wanes the further you get from the southeast corner of the state.
- Topeka - Capital city of Kansas, also the site of the Kansas State Historical Society Museum.
- Dodge City
- Hutchinson - home to the second largest space museum in the world, the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center.
- Kansas City and Environs - Smaller half of Metro Kansas City, which spills across the border into Missouri. Kansas City as a whole is much larger and more cosmopolitan than Wichita. The second largest city in Kansas is not Kansas City, Kansas, but Overland Park, Kansas, a wealthy yet nondescript suburb of Kansas City. Overland Park, along with Kansas City suburbs like Shawnee, Olathe, and Lenexa make up Johnson County, which is the largest county by population in Kansas, and one of the richest counties in the United States by per capita income. The suburbs that make up Johnson County are also collectively known as Shawnee Mission, named after the Methodist mission sent to the Shawnee tribe in the 1830s. To this day, many towns, streets and places in Shawnee Mission carry Native American or mission-based names.
- Lawrence - Home of the University of Kansas, Lawrence is easily the most interesting and unique destination in the state. Lawrence boasts the strongest art, music and bar scenes - not only in the state, but anywhere between Chicago and Denver. Lawrence was founded by anti-slavery fighters ("Free-Staters" or "Jayhawkers") shortly before the start of the Civil War. This heritage led to the creation of the University of Kansas' imaginary bird mascot, the Jayhawk.
- Manhattan - Home of Kansas State University. Aggieville is one of the most vibrant places in this college town. The town is affectionately nicknamed "the Little Apple."
- Wichita - Largest city in Kansas (although metro Kansas City is much larger), known as "the Air Capital of the World" because of the large number of airplane manufacturers' plants.
- Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail - Between May 1804 and September 1806, 32 men, one woman, and a baby traveled from the plains of the Midwest to the shores of the Pacific Ocean. They called themselves the Corps of Discovery
Although Native Americans have lived in Kansas for thousands of years and the first Europeans visited in the 1600s, most Kansas communities date from the early to mid-1880s. The real development of Kansas didn’t take place until the 1850s when pro-slavery settlers from Missouri and antislavery settlers from New England flooded into the area. This period of "Bleeding Kansas" included a great deal of violence and some people consider this area to have been the cradle of the Civil War. In communities like Lawrence, Kansas many organizations and businesses still proudly display the "free state" name.
Residents of Kansas believe that they speak neutral American English; however, there is a faint southern influence -- both in accent and word choice. The farther you get into Southeastern Kansas, the southern accent becomes heavier and more noticeable.
If you are driving to Kansas from the east or west, it would be best to take Interstate 70. I-35 travels from the south center of the state and passes northeast meeting I-70 in Kansas City.
Wichita and Topeka have municipal airports, but most people flying into the state would come through Kansas City (Missouri). The only regular train service is Amtrak's Southwest Chief.
The only way to travel in Kansas is to drive. It doesn't have interstate transportation like Caltrain in California. Part of the experience of being in the state is to spend time on the road, which is as interesting an experience as you make it. Take the time to plan a route off of the main highways and see the country. Otherwise, if you require public transportation, Kansas may not a place for you.
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Kansas' best known regional food is Kansas City-style BBQ, associated with the metropolitan Kansas City area including Wyandotte County and Johnson County, as well as portions of Missouri. It is a slow "pit" style barbecue; sauce is usually an important component to the finished meal. Well-known restaurants include Rosedale and Wyandotte BBQ in Kansas City, Hayward's Pit BBQ and KC Masterpiece and Gates BBQ in Overland Park (Gates, however, is based in Kansas City, Missouri -- an important distinction to some), and Zarda BBQ in Lenexa. KC Masterpiece in Overland Park is the original restaurant that started the chain and its nationally distributed "sweet sauce." In the small town of Spring Hill, K&M BBQ was voted the best BBQ in the Kansas City metro area.
In Abilene, The Brookville Hotel offers family style fried chicken dinners.  Stroud's in Fairway serves the best fried chicken in the Kansas City area.
In Crawford County, in the extreme Southeastern corner, there are six "chicken houses." These serve fried chicken dinners, and the side dishes differ from each house. Fried chicken is a distinctive dish in Southeast Kansas, making the region known for their chicken dishes.
Kansas is in "Tornado Alley." Tornadoes and severe thunderstorms with high winds and hail are not uncommon during the spring and summer months. Make sure you keep a radio on in the car. Should you hear the tornado sirens sounding, locate a suitable tornado shelter at once - DO NOT stay outdoors to get a picture! Also, DO NOT try to outrun the tornado in your car! You may wind up driving directly into the tornado's path.
Should the skies be cloudy, and the light take on a greenish-yellow cast, this is an indication of an imminent hail storm - again, seek shelter at once.
Keep in mind, these storms are spread over a wide area and many residents have never seen a tornado; however, tornado drills are a regular part for all Kansas school children and residents do not hesitate to run to the basement/cellar if a tornado warning is announced. Refer to the Tornado safety article for analysis of the issues here.
Ice storms and blizzards are also common during the winter, especially in northern Kansas. As with most weather in the region, storms tend to be intense, but roll in and out fairly quickly due to lack of natural obstruction (e.g., mountains).