Transit to and Fun Stuff© in Hutchinson KS

Thursday morning we started our pre-underway stuff at 0800 and were rolling out of the Lawrence KoA right about 0930 for our 198 mile trip down to Hutchinson…well, actually South Hutchinson…KS for a 2 night stay at Lighthouse Landing RV. The route was mostly a retrace of our previous trip from Wichita KS to Lawrence KS…at least until we crossed I-135 which we took previously north out of Wichita.

When we got to the intersection of US-50 with I-135 north of Wichita…we headed south 2 miles on the combined highway then exited back off onto US-50 for the last 30odd miles to Hutchinson. We arrived around 1300.

Before we got there though…we made 1 stop in Emporia KS…well actually it was 2 stops as Neil proceeded directly to the Flying J there where we had lunch while Connie stopped for a photo op.

Turns out that right outside downtown Emporia across the traffic circle from the local high school…there’s a silo. Now I have no idea whether it’s a corn or wheat or a whatever silo…but that’s not really germane to it’s importance. What is important is its color scheme…which is the whole reason we stopped and why this particular silo has its own designation on Google Maps.

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Yes…it’s a silo painted to look like a Coke Classic can. Pretty neat, huh?

Here’s a closer view.

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The silo is located just SW of the traffic circle where the high school is…we came into the circle from the east. Neil got a view of it…then since there was no rig-worthy parking nearby…proceeded a half mile south to get back on US-50 then west a half mile to the Flying J. Connie pulled off…got the photos…and met him for lunch.

After lunch we continued on down US-50, past the short merge with I-135, and then back onto 50.

Arriving at Lighthouse Landing RV…we found the office empty…so Neil called the number on the door and talked to Jennifer the manager. She said to just “proceed to your site and come in tomorrow morning to pay”…but we didn’t know our site. She said that it was #3…which turned out to be a nice pull through right near the bath house. We quickly got setup…turned on the A/C as it was in the upper 80s…and settled down for the evening.

Connie’s been battling allergies the past week or so…as has Neil…but hers has developed into a cold or something…so we stayed in for the afternoon and evening…Neil used the last of the pork from Kansas City BBQ (except for the package we froze)…and made a noodle, pulled pork, and BBQ dish…it tasted pretty good but most of all it was easy.

An interesting side note about Hutchinson KS…it’s just about 128 miles from Lebanon Kansas…what’s important about Lebanon KS you say? Just outside it…and again this is a spot that is findable on Google maps…is the geographical center of the lower 48 states.

What’s the geographic center of all 50 states you say? According to the US Geodetic Survey…who are also responsible for the above determination…there’s not a precise way to determine this because of variability in how you do the calculations…but they generally accept a spot 17 miles west of Castle Rock SD as the 50 state center. Belle Fourche SD (29 miles SW of Castle Rock) disputes this claim and says that by their calculations…or rather the calculations they paid somebody to make to disagree with Castle Rock…is the actual geographic center of the 50 states…but I digress.

Friday morning…we were up early for breakfast then left about 0940 for the 10 minute drive to our first Fun Stuff© stop for Hutchinson…the Strataca Salt Mine and Museum.

Strataca is both a tourist attraction and a working salt mine. Salt was discovered here in the early 1920’s by a guy who was actually looking for oil. He sold the rights to a local family who’s essentially been mining salt ever since. The salt deposits here are about 400 feet in height and the bottom is about 650 feet below ground. The deposits were laid down over about 1.6 million years about 190 million years ago. Back then…all the current continents were essentially in the single large continent known as Pangea and over what is now TX, KS, and OK there was a large inland salt sea. Geologists…and don’t ask me how they figured this out because nobody explained it and I have no idea…have figured out that the inland sea was about 5x times more salty than even the Dead Sea is…which is about 9 times as salty as ocean water. Over the 1.6 million years it took to lay down the salt beds…the sea periodically dried up to mostly dry and then was flooded again. As it dried up…the salt concentration got so high that some of the salt precipitated out. Then on the next wet period…mud and silt were washed into the sea and laid down on top of the salt…resulting in layers of salt and mud that varied from an inch or so in thickness all the way up to 4 or 5 feet…totaling about 400 feet in height. The beds are over 150 miles wide and 200 miles long.

There are currently several businesses operating in the salt bed. First is the Hutchinson Corporation which produces rock salt mostly used for roads and other non-culinary uses…this salt is harvested by mining the rock, sending it to the surface, and crushing it. Second is Strataca which runs the museum. There’s also a company which produces food grade salt…this is not mined as rock but by drilling a well down into the salt bed, pumping in water to dissolve the salt into a brine solution, then pumping the brine to the surface. There…it’s dried into salt that is milled and sifted into table salt, kosher salt, and other food grade products. Lastly is the Underground Vault and Storage Company…USV…which uses the constant 68 degrees and 40 percent humidity to store long term everything from computerized medical data to original prints for the Wizard of Oz movie to paper document storage.

We spent about 2 hours touring the museum portion of the salt bed at a depth of 650 feet…including a couple of train rides out into the sections of the mine that were mined back in the 30s and 40s…the rides and sights were pretty cool but the recorded narration was pretty cheesy.

OK…on to photos from the mine.

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Plaque to Old Number 2…this was an engine owned by the Hutchinson and Northern Rail Road…H&N RR…which has the distinction of being the railroad with the shortest total track length…a whopping 3 miles…in the US. It was built and owned by the mine owners to move filled railcars from the mine site to Hutchinson where they transferred them to the national railroads for distribution.

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Old Number 2 itself…which came back to it’s original site about 40 years after the death of the H&N RR.

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Close up Neil took of some of the layers…this shot is about 4 feet from top to bottom.

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Connie actually got a much better shot of the same area…she zoomed out to get some scale into it and it’s a much better photo than Neil’s is…but don’t tell her or it will go to her head:-)

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Salt loading vehicle…the salt is mined by undercutting it at floor level with a machine that looks very similar to a 10 foot long chain saw parallel to the floor. Once the wall is undercut, drillers come behind and drill holes in the wall to a depth of 10 feet. These are then filled first with a blasting cap then air packed with ANFO which is a mixture of ammonium nitrate (fertilizer essentially) and diesel fuel. It’s like wet sand and mostly inflammable and non-explosive compared to the dynamite used originally. You’ll recall that ANFO is what was used in the Oklahoma City Federal Building bombing back in 1995. Best of all…ANFO is about 1/20 of the cost of dynamite and can be made on site from it’s two components rather than needing to be shipped in and stored. Once set…the miners light the fuse and in the ensuring 4 minute delay withdraw about 200 yards. The blast is sequenced with low center charges going off first, followed by low sides then the top…this results in the best performance in bringing down a section of wall. After the dust clears…this machine…essentially a low bulldozer…picks up the salt in its bucket and moves it to a conveyor belt for the 1/2 mile (currently) trip to the skip which moves it to the surface for processing. Back in the day…carts were hand filled…then machine filled…on narrow gauge mine cars which moved on rails to the skip.

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This is a single salt crystal from one of the thicker layers…with Connie…again…doing her best Vanna White impersonation in front of it. The green Airport Road sign hanging from the roof shows the location and direction of Airport Road…650 feet above us…from where we entered the mine property. This is a singe chunk weighing a bit over 6,000 pounds.

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On the train ride…this is an air barrier erected by early miners to close off mined out and unused sections of the mine to provide better air flow to the in use sections of the mine. 

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The throne…alongside some trash piles that you can’t see. The rule is that “whatever comes into the mine…stays in the mine”. No trash is carried out and miners and their mechanics are experts at salvaging and reprising parts from one machine to another.

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This is a sample of things stored by UVS…there are a lot of Hollywood props on display…Batman’s costume, the Men in Black sun glasses…although not a de-neuralizer.

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Example of how the salt was mined. Pillars were left in place periodically to support the roof as the mine chambers were expanded as salt was removed.

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This is a map of the entire mine complex showing which areas were mined during which time periods. The museum is in the purple, green, and blue portions which were mined in the 30s and 40s. There’s nothing really important about this map…except for some printing down in the lower right hand corner…which is the whole reason it is posted here. 

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Just in case you’re eyes…like mine…just ain’t good enough to read the lower right hand corner…here’s a closeup. Dirty Jobs…somebody’s gotta do ‘em.

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We came back topside…and after a couple of quick stops for gas, lunch, and some circuit breakers for the rig headed off to our second destination for the day…about 23 miles east of Hutchinson in Halstead…where we went to Riverside Park to see the swinging bridge and the ‘waterfall’ over a dam there.

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Hey…I know it’s not much of a waterfall…but give me a break…this is Kansas. Kansas is the state that is literally…flatter than a pancake. Yes…this has actually been scientifically proven. Back in 2003…a trio of geographers bought themselves a standard IHOP pancake and took it into the lab…where, undeterred by the “No food or drink in the lab” signs liberally displayed there…subjected it to a topographical analysis conducted by a laser microscope. They then compared their profile to an east to west profile of Kansas taken from a 1:250,000 digital model of the state’s official elevation data…and calculated a flatness estimate for each profile. A flatness level of 1.0 means perfect, platonic flatness. The pancake registered a flatness level of 0.957…which seems pretty flat…at least until you compare it to Kansas’s flatness level of 0.9997…or damn flat as the geographers said. That seemed to be the definitive answer until 2014…when another couple of geographers analyzed their methodology and determined that in order to be NOT flatter than a pancake Kansas with it’s 644 kilometer width (about 400 miles) would need a 9,908 meter tall mountain to be less flat than the pancake as measured in 2003. Since the highest mountain in the world is only 8,848 meters tall…every state in the US is “flatter than a pancake” by their definition.

This second pair of folks…in their study…used a different methodology based on how much and how far a person of average height could see if he/she looked in a circle. Using their method…the actual flattest state is FL…at least according to them. 

So Kansas might not actually be as flat as everybody thinks…but again I digress. Sorry ‘bout that.

After we got the shot of the waterfall…we were walking back to the car and Neil spotted the flood gauge thing near the river…you can see the dirt marks near the 21 foot mark from recent flooding along with the levee across the river that protects downtown Halstead.

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How recent was the flooding you say?

Well…here’s a photo of the entrance sign to the park.

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The river is to the left just outside the sidewalk you can see at far left…and the bridge above is at back center. The entrance to the park is about 20 on the flood gauge in the previous shot.

This was the view taken from the same spot by Greg Miller from KAKE TV in Wichita a mere 10 days ago.

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At that time…the bridge was almost completely submerged and the dam was under about 12 or 15 feet of water…which came just about up to the road where these two shots were taken from.

With that…our work here is done as they say. We headed home, had some fish filets for dinner and lazed around until bedtime. Tomorrow we’re off to Dodge City KS…where we’ll spend 3 nights at the Gunsmoke RV Park.

An interesting new possibility has arisen in our US-50 travels…it’s too soon to tell but if it pans out I’ll be posting about it here in a couple of weeks…so stay tuned for further developments on that front.

On to interesting things found on the net this week…these come to us courtesy of an email from our friend Gail along with a few additional ones Neil found on the web.

Apparently…millennials are now traveling unsupervised…and this list of complaints has been forwarded to the Thomas Cook travel agency by dissatisfied millennials.

  • On my holiday to Goa in India, I was disgusted to find that almost every restaurant served curry. I don’t like spicy food.

  • They should not allow topless sunbathing on the beach. It was very distracting for my husband who just wanted to relax.

  • We went on holiday to Spain and had a problem with the taxi drivers as they were all Spanish.

  • We booked an excursion to a water park but no-one told us we had to bring our own swimsuits and towels. We assumed it would be included in the price.

  • The beach was too sandy. We had to clean everything when we returned to our room.

  • We found the sand was not like the sand in the brochure. Your brochure shows the sand as white but it was more yellow.

  • It’s lazy of the local shopkeepers to siesta in the afternoons. I often needed to buy things during ‘siesta’ time — this should be banned.

  • No-one told us there would be fish in the water. The children were scared.

  • Although the brochure said that there was a fully equipped kitchen, there was no hard boiled egg-slicer in the drawers.

  • I think it should be explained in the brochure that the local convenience store does not sell proper biscuits like custard creams or ginger nuts.

  • The roads were uneven and bumpy, so we could not read the local guide book during the bus ride to the resort. Because of this, we were unaware of many things that would have made our holiday more fun.

  • It took us nine hours to fly home from Jamaica to England. It took the Americans only three hours to get home. This seems unfair.

  • I compared the size of our one-bedroom suite to our friends’ three-bedroom and ours was significantly smaller.

  • The brochure stated: ‘No hairdressers at the resort.’ We’re trainee hairdressers and we think they knew and made us wait longer for service.

  • When we were in Spain, there were too many Spanish people there. The receptionist spoke Spanish, the food was Spanish. No one told us that there would be so many foreigners.

  • We had to line up outside to catch the boat and there was no air-conditioning.

  • It is your duty as a tour operator to advise us of noisy or unruly guests before we travel.

  • I was bitten by a mosquito. The brochure did not mention mosquitoes.

  • My fiancée and I requested twin-beds when we booked, but instead we were placed in a room with a king bed. We now hold you all responsible and want to be reimbursed for the fact that I became pregnant. This would not have happened if you had put us in the room that we booked.

  • A tourist at a top African Game Lodge over looking a water hole, who spotted a visibly aroused elephant, complained that the sight of this rampant beast ruined his honeymoon by making him feel inadequate.

Ah…the joys of youth who know everything.


About Gunther

The full time RV travels and experiences of Gunther the Bear and Kara the Dog…along with their human staff neil and Connie.
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2 Responses to Transit to and Fun Stuff© in Hutchinson KS

  1. Mj Trainor says:

    Squee! Love the pix and adventures!!! Babysis

    • Neil Laubenthal says:

      Glad ya like em.


      The three kinds of stress…nuclear, cooking and a&&hole. Jello is the key to the relationship.


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