Kansas’s Flint Hills and Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve: What to know
But in truth, I hadn’t experienced much more of Kansas myself. Until recently, I’d traveled very little in the state outside the suburban slice of the northeast where I was raised. That all changed two years ago, when I heard about what sounded like an enchanting summertime event: Every June, the Kansas City Symphony totes its concert shell way out onto ranch land in the middle of the Flint Hills and performs a special concert there. The event has sold out every year since it started in 2006. Last year, when tickets went on sale in March, organizers say they sold 5,000 in 37 minutes.
I did some investigating and found out that the Symphony in the Flint Hills that year was to be on a ranch not far fromTallgrass Prairie National Preserve, one of the newest national park sites and another place I’d always wanted to visit.
I was in a good mood when I hopped online and made plane and hotel reservations, even after I was squeezed out of symphony tickets by a constant busy signal and had to turn to an overpriced pair for $208 on eBay. I was going home!
Although I’ve lived in Washington for more than 20 years, I like to think that I’m still a Kansan at heart. I root religiously for the Kansas Jayhawks basketball team. I country line-dance without irony. And I’m still forced to suffer the Wizard of Oz jokes. (My standard response: “Yes, I’m from Kansas. And the Yellow Brick Road runs through my back yard!”)
But it wasn’t until I traveled home that I realized just how far from my cowgirl roots I’d strayed.
I landed at Kansas City International Airport in the middle of a thunderstorm, the plane bumping and grinding its way out of the sky like the downward plunge of a roller coaster. Rumors of a tornado touching down nearby spread through the airport as I disembarked.
“Will we be blown away?” I asked the clerk at the shop where I stopped to get a bottle of water.
“You’ll live,” she responded, her eyes twinkling. I’d forgotten the casual way locals coexist with the fierce storms that are a regularity in this part of the country, known as Tornado Alley.
My friend David from college, who’d flown in from Denver to accompany me on the trip, picked me up at the airport. We nervously eyed the ominous rose-and-gray sky as we drove, but what we thought was a funnel cloud turned out to be a plume of smoke from a far-off power plant.
We packed the car with a cooler, lawn chairs, bug spray and decent bottles of zinfandel and pinot noir from the Cork & Barrel wine shop in Lawrence, the university town where I grew up. (We snobbishly — and correctly — assumed that there would be no decent wine where we were headed.)