Celebrating Kansas Beauty at Kanopolis State Park

Kansas is the proud home to over 25 state parks. Spanning across the state, these parks provide Kansans with an escape from normal life and the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful landscapes that dot our state. Over the 4th of July weekend, we decided to visit one of these parks for a couple of days of kayaking, hiking and sleeping under the Kansas sky.

Taking the Scenic Route to Kanopolis

If you know me, you know I will jump at any chance to take the long way to get somewhere. The trip to Kanopolis State Park was no different. Sure, taking I-70 across the state would be the quick and easy option, but doing so means missing out on some great views and a leisurely drive. Because of that, I decided to avoid highways during the road trip and add an extra hour to my journey.

How You Know You’re On The Road Less Traveled, “Darn” Rough Road Ahead

By opting to take the back roads to Kanopolis, travelers can experience a different side of Kansas. Particularly because the route is rich with different historic markers and interest points. Many of these revolve around things like the Santa Fe Trail. Which was a 19th century trail that connected Franklin, MO to Santa Fe, NM. Historic sites are marked by a family of road signs, and I found myself stopping at several different spots to learn more.

Old Lost Springs Historic Site
Monument Erected by Settlers of Marion County

Kayaking, Hiking and More at Kanopolis State Park

Kanopolis State Park is the first state park in Kansas. Completed in 1948, it is located in the Smoky Hills region of the state. The park offers a number of amenities including a vast expansion of hiking trails and a man-made lake which allows for boating, swimming and fishing. We decided to camp at a primitive campsite which did offer a small shelter. If you choose to camp at Site 52, you will also benefit from a fire pit constructed by one of my good friends, Brian, in years past.

The Pains of Having an Easily Misspelled Last Name

After getting camp setup, we decided to head out onto the lake for a paddle at dusk. Kanopolis Lake is a man-made lake created to help with flood control. There are multiple boat ramps, which allows those looking to enjoy the water easy access. Our initial plan was to explore the lake as well as Smoky Hill River. But unfortunately the latter did not happen. Still, the lake is surrounded by awesome views, which prove what a beautiful state Kansas truly is.

At night, we sat round the fire. Reflecting on memories and chowing down on some delicious brats. Come morning, I whipped up what has now become a legendary breakfast hash. And we set out on another day of exploration and adventure. Despite heavy winds sweeping the lake.

The Cliffs of Kanopolis Lake
A Lazy Weekend Paddle Enjoyed by the Group

Often times, when hiking or kayaking, I find myself pushing myself for that extra mile which can result in losing track of why I started these hobbies to begin with. The enjoyment of the great outdoors. This past weekend, we made a concerted effort to do just that. With friends traveling from as far away as New Mexico to camp, this trip was about relaxing and appreciating the presence of people we care about. And I couldn’t think of a better place to do so than Kanopolis State Park. Once you make the trip, and see the grander of this Kansas treasure, you are likely to agree with that opinion.

Why You Should Visit the Largest Electric Shovel in the World

Kansas is a state filled with odd quirks and interesting history. Part of that includes a rich legacy of mining in the Southeast region of the state. And while mining in Southeast Kansas is no longer an industry, many of the relics remain. Both in the landscape, and in old mining equipment, like Big Brutus.

What is Big Brutus?

Big Brutus, located near West Mineral, KS is the world’s largest electric shovel. Operating from 1962 to 1974, Big Brutus worked 24 hours a day, moving massive amounts of earth. The shovel stands at 160 feet, or 16 stories, and weighs 11 million pounds. And each bucket load of dirt and rock could fill three railroad cars, allowing access to coal.

When mining operations ceased, it was too expensive to dismantle Big Brutus. So, Big Brutus was simply parked, and it’s been in the same spot ever since.

From Mining Legend to Museum

In 1985, through the hard work of many people, Big Brutus was dedicated as “a Museum and Memorial Dedicated to the Rich Coal Mining History in Southeast Kansas.” And seeing this testament to Kansas history is something that is worthy of consideration.

From the Kansas City area, Big Brutus is roughly a two hour drive. But you will see Big Brutus miles before you arrive, because this machine towers over the plains. The bright orange paint job doesn’t hurt visibility either.

Before you get to Big Brutus itself, you will enter the museum. The building is filled with information, old equipment and exciting pieces of Kansas mining history. As of this posting, masks are required along with social distancing protocol.

Once you check out the museum, you can go outside where you will find Big Brutus and other large mining equipment. This area is self-guided, with plenty of signage explaining different machinery. On a nice day, you could easily spend a few hours exploring everything.

If you’re like me, you prefer to save the best for last. I walk the park, looking for any new equipment that may have been added, before I climb the stairs into Big Brutus. That’s right, visitors are allowed to explore the massive interior of Brutus to experience what it may have been like when the world’s largest electric shovel was fully operational.

Wandering the inside of Big Brutus is truly an awing experience. Everything is on such a large scale, you may find yourself wondering how everything worked. Plaques are located throughout, which give detailed insight into the various jobs that needed to be completed in order to keep Big Brutus functional.

Camping is allowed at the site, with prior reservations. And while it is primitive, I would recommend it. There are a number of other interesting attractions in the area. Including Erie Dinosaur Park, located just about 40 minutes away from Big Brutus in Erie, KS. Plus, how often can you camp with a giant, orange electric shovel nearby?

In addition to the Erie Dinosaur Park, Southeast Kansas is known for fried chicken. And while you’re in the region, I suggest placing an order at Barto’s Idle Hour, some of the best fried chicken in the Pittsburg area.

So, looking to experience a new part of Kansas? A trip to Big Brutus makes for an ideal weekend getaway. When you visit, not only will you get to see an awesome piece of machinery, but you will learn about an era of Kansas history shaped by hard-working individuals and families.