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The Plains and Pancakes


Image of an old fort's parade grounds with barracks in the distance
Fort Larned National Historic Site, Kansas

I just wanted pancakes.


During the course of our trip, several people we met for lunches and dinners asked what foods we couldn’t find in Georgia.


I think my standard answer was a little unexpected: green chile, macaroni and cheese, and pancakes drenched in sweet, sweet maple syrup.


So when I checked into my hotel in Garden City, Kansas, I noticed a chain restaurant across the street that specialized in pancakes.


It was the end of my second day in Kansas, and it was full of fun finds. I started off driving to the Coronado Heights Castle, a structure built in the 1930s as a Works Progress Administration project.


The stone castle, perched on a 300-foot hill overlooking the plains, was built on the site where it is said the Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado gave up his search for the fabled Seven Cities of Gold. As I stood on top of the castle, I could imagine Coronado’s disappointment. No gold as far as the eye could see. Just fields. Lots and lots of fields.


From the castle, it’s a two-hour drive to the Fort Larned National Historic Site, but first, I had to follow the small sign on the side of the two-lane highway advertising a motorcycle museum.



Small stone castle on a grassy hill
Coronado Heights Castle, Kansas 

Judging from the simple sign, I expected to find a little museum featuring some retired man’s collection of motorcycles.


I wasn’t too far off the mark, but I wasn’t disappointed either.


Hometown racing legend Stan Engdahl and his wife LaVona opened the museum in 2003 after Stan’s 60-year motorcycle racing career, and every trophy he won is prominently displayed throughout the building. After Stan passed away in 2007, LoVona continued operating the museum until she passed in 2014.


Today, the museum features a variety of classic and modern rides, including a handful of rare models, on loan from other enthusiasts in an envy-inspiring display. It was the first time I had been so close to so many well-restored antique motorcycles in one place.


But the open road was calling, and I had to say good bye.


My next stop was one of importance along the Santa Fe Trail, Fort Larned National Historic Site and hour an a half away.


The tourist season was well over, and I had the fort to myself. Walking along the grounds, I imagined how different life was like when it was a bustling and regimented camp. There were no shouts, no drills, or clamor of horse-drawn wagons, just the sound of a gentle breeze shaking the leaves on the few nearby trees.


From Fort Larned, it took the pioneer average traveler five weeks to make it to Santa Fe. Once again, I was reminded how spoiled we are by technology. In less time than it took those settlers and traders to travel that distance, I could fly in from some far-off land, drive three-quarters of the country, and still have time to visit family and friends in three states before flying off again back to Tbilisi.


Unbelievable.


By the time I left the fort, I was looking forward to checking into the hotel for the night. I was tired and, as I said at the beginning of this newsletter, I just wanted pancakes.


Corie made me promise I would not eat a large stack of pancakes in the morning before an all-day drive. She knew nothing can make me fall asleep faster than an unhealthy Sunday breakfast full of carbs.


As the stars started coming out against a black sky, I walked across the street to satisfy my craving. My gleeful expression as the waitress set a small stack in front of me must have looked goofy to folks who could have maple-syrup-drenched pancakes at the drop of the hat. I didn’t care.


A view of Fort Larned's parade grounds framed by an open door
Doorway, Fort Larned National Historic Site, Kansas

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