Timeline: October 19-22
We broke camp and set out around 10:00 am enabling us to make a stop at the Pueblo site we’d visited two days earlier so that Joanna could purchase a ceramic horse she wanted to bring home. With a seven-hour drive ahead of us and knowing we’d be staying in a motel, the Budget Host Lafonda Motel in Liberal, Kansas that night, an early start wasn’t required.
About three hours into the drive, feeling a bit peckish and having noticed sign after sign for Blake’s Lota Burger, a local chain with outlets in New Mexico, Texas and Arizona we stopped at the one in Tucumcari to give it a try. Known more for their green chili burger, we made the mistake of not ordering one, instead getting a regular burger combo and a serving of the chili pie with fond memories of the bison version we’d experienced at Kaktus Brewing in Bernalillo.
The burger itself was good but not great, a standard patty and additions but the Chili Pie a disappointment, essentially a bowl of chili that one then emptied a bag of Frito’s to top it off. So, a passable meal on the road, not a bad stop or experience. And with the tab coming in at just under $11, friendly on the budget. We kept on driving through the flat plains of Northern New Mexico, western Texas and Oklahoma, finally entering Kansas at its border with the Sooner state and the town of Liberal.
This part of the country relies on energy and agriculture as its main economic drivers. Natural resources include oil, natural gas, helium (In 1963 the largest helium plant in the world, National Helium, was opened) water, gravel and sand. The beef industry (ranches, feed lots and packing plants) is Liberal’s largest source of employment and hard winter wheat, corn, milo, alfalfa and cotton are common crops. To support the needs of the two main industries, trucking is also a major force.
We pulled into the Budget Host Lafonda in late afternoon, a cold blustery day heralding the coming of late fall and winter. We’d selected this place for the price, $64 a night and its positive reviews on Trip Advisor and weren’t disappointed when we entered our room which was large and clean. We relaxed a bit, then after a bit of research on the web set out for dinner at Billy’s Blue Duck BBQ, a newish restaurant attached to the bowling alley in town.
We ordered a couple of beers and decided to split the two Meat Combo at $12.95, opting for ribs and chicken along with two sides, coleslaw and baked potato salad, which we had not encountered before. This was basic nicely done BBQ, good quality meat and a variety of sauces to choose from. The baked potato salad, which we thought might resemble the warm German style was just another variation of something you’d find in a supermarket deli. Good but nothing outstanding.
We faced a six hour drive to Bev’s house the next day and so decided to get breakfast before we left town at one of the better known restaurants, appropriately named The Pancake House, located on the main street of town and of the same name.
We were warmly greeted upon entering and enjoyed a friendly interaction with our waitress throughout the meal. I ordered a vegetarian omelet and Joanna a large stack of chocolate chip pancakes with pecans added, a standard meal for us to split.
We paid our tab of $19.39 and drove a block or two down the main drag to stop in at a local tourist attraction, the Seward County Historical Museum and Dorothy’s House & Land of Oz. Fans of the movie will recall that all Dorothy wanted was to go home to Kansas. But where in Kansas? The film didn’t say, and the question was tactfully avoided for decades. Then, in 1981 the city of Liberal answered it when they moved a small, old farm house from outside of town to this spot and christened it “Dorothy’s House,” since it sort of resembled the one in the movie. We opted not to take the tour but did make a brief visit to the historical museum next door to check out the displays.
Back on the road we continued to make good progress and by mid-afternoon, decided to stop off in Wichita at the Coleman Factory Outlet & Museum. Essentially a large outlet store for an array of Coleman products, the museum portion takes up roughly 200 square feet and contains many examples of early lanterns, coolers, and, interestingly enough, coffee makers. We arrived at Bev and Bill’s later in the day and settled until Sunday, when we would make the long drive home.
While Bev was working on Friday Joanna and I drove into Iola and parked at the trailhead for the Prairie Spirit Trail, opened within the last five years and spanning 52 miles, we hiked about four miles (two up and back) before adjourning to Iola’s town square, claimed to be the largest downtown square in the country to stop in at a coffee joint we’d hit our last time here, Around the Corner. We enjoyed a large latte and spent our time perusing the local papers, which usually provide insight into the places one visits.
That night we’d eat at the house, spend some time around a campfire and prepare for a full day up in Kansas City with our nephew Dillon, who has returned to the States after two years living in Copenhagen. It would be good to see him and find out how he was adjusting to being home. We would soon find out.
Budget Host Lafonda Motel: https://www.budgethost.com/hotels/Budget_Host_La_Fonda_Motel_Liberal_KS.aspx
Blake’s Lota Burger: https://www.lotaburger.com/
Billy’s Blue Duck BBQ: http://www.billysblueduckbbq.com/
Dorothy’s House: http://www.dorothyshouse.com/
Coleman Factory Outlet & Museum: http://www.kansastravel.org/colemanmuseum.htm
Prairie Spirit Trail: http://bikeprairiespirit.com/
Around the Corner: http://www.growiola.com/around-the-corner/