As Summer winds down and you feel pressure to squeeze in one more family trip, you don’t need a huge budget or endless days away from home to make a memorable summer vacation. America’s heartland is filled with interesting and fun destinations just minutes or hours away, and as day trips from Kansas City.
Museum makes books come to life
My daughter returned from college with way too much to fit into her bedroom. After paring down items to go to the Lay Clergy Thrift Store in Pleasant Hill, garage sale, and the trash, I found one item she had decided to keep on her bookshelf and it made me smile. It was the Laura Ingalls Wilder set of books her father had given her.
To get acquainted with Wilder’s story in Little House on the Prairie, you don’t need the set of books. We are fortunate to be able to journey to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historical Home and Museum near Mansfield, Mo. There you’ll find the home where Laura, at the age of 65, began writing her books. It is a day trip that is a multi-generational activity.
“The grandmother who read the book in the 70s can bring her daughter who experienced the books in the 90s, along with the granddaughter who is currently reading the book,” the museum’s lead docent, Vicki Johnston, told me. “Coming to the Wilder home is an activity they can do together, where all three can understand and connect.”
The homestead welcomes 30,000 visitors each year and requires around 2 ½ hours to tour Laura’s garden, farmhouse, rock house, and the museum. If you’ve been there before, you’ll now notice a new museum that opened in March of 2016 and showcases Pa’s fiddle. This year the Laura Ingalls Wilder Fiddle Off will be in September, which brings 30-plus contestants from several states to compete in many divisions.
The homestead is open March through mid-November, plus one weekend in December for “Christmas with Laura.”
Don’t miss her amazing life displayed at the museum. Visit www.lauraingallswilderhome.com.
If you travel in Europe, you likely use trains to get from point A to point B. On a family trip several years ago, we certainly enjoyed our trip from Paris to London. If you are from the Midwest (or the majority of the United States), you drive! But America once, before the advent of the highway system, had a extensive system of passenger rails that carried the masses on long trips. That might be why Americans still seem fascinated with trains.
This is exactly what you experience when you visit Baldwin City and enjoy the Kansas Belle. Upon entering the train car, you are transported back to the 1940s, enjoying big band music.
“It is a novelty to ride on a train,” Bruce Eveland, manager of the Kansas Belle, told me. “Very few American have had the experience of enjoying dining as they ride,”
Bruce said that people of all ages enjoy the Kansas Belle, which began operation in 2013. “Kids are fascinated by trains. Conversely, people in their 90s have come for a birthday celebration. Grandpa wants to ride the train again after 50 years,” he said.
It is an activity for the entire family and various options include a family friendly murder mystery, WWII USO show, or melodrama. The Saturday night dinner train is a five-course meal catered by the 23rd Street Brewery in Lawrence. The Sunday dinner is a three-course dinner that tends to be more family friendly, with a children’s menu and rates.
The train leaves Saturday evening or Sunday afternoon on a three-hour journey over 22 miles of rails, where you enjoy beautiful Kansas scenery, the sunset or falling snow, depending on the season.
Although the Kansas Belle is a destination in itself, there are surrounding historical sites including nearby Baker University. There you can visit the Clarice L. Osborne Memorial Chapel, which was moved from Sproxton, England, and the Quayle Bible Collection, a collection of rare bibles and illuminated manuscripts. Also close by is the Black Jack Battlefield, referred to as the first armed battle of the Civil War. All aboard!
For info visit www.kansasbelle.com.
Crystal Bridges combines art and nature in Bentonville, Ark.
Everyone once in a while you need to “get out of Dodge!” If you find yourself in need of natural and man-made beauty, enjoy the easy drive to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark. The museum was funded and built by the Walton Family Foundation and opened in 2013, nestled among two spring-fed ponds surrounded by 120 acres of beautiful Ozark landscape. It’s a work of art itself, having been designed by Moshe Safdie who also designed the Kaufmann Center in Kansas City. The 3.5 miles of walking trails surrounding it allows you to unwind and enjoy God’s creation either on foot or bicycle.
Inside you’ll enjoy masterpieces from the colonial era to the present, and all the work is by American artists. A few of the must-see pieces include Gilbert Stuart’s “George Washington”, Mary Cassatt’s “The Reader”; Norman Rockwell’s “Rosie the Riveter”, and Any Warhol’s fun depiction of “Dolly Parton”. The museum, which opened in 2011, is free.
Last Summer the special exhibit is American Made: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum. It included 115 plus items that were hand-made by those living when our nation was young. The exhibit includes everyday items such as quilts, signs, weather vanes, etc., that shows creativity, skills and ingenuity. The special exhibits are free to those 18 and under and $10 for adults.
In my family, food is always important on a road trip. The museum’s Eleven Restaurant is a great place to grab a cup of coffee, lunch, or dinner and promotes “modern American comfort food with an emphasis on traditions that hail from the ‘High South’ region…the Ozarks.” A special stop for many locals, plus visitors like Dwight and me, is Crepes by Paulette just off the Bentonville’s downtown square. It took some convincing once Dwight saw the long line but, he agreed, it was well worth the wait. If you enjoy farmers markets, be sure to plan your visit to include the downtown farmers market that runs through October.
For info visit crystalbridges.org
By Anita Widaman | Metro Voice Co-Publisher and Lifestyles Editor