Thursday, June 7, 2018

Mushroom Rock State Park (Free!)

Rock City is pretty well-known, but Kansas has another rock attraction that's more off the beaten path and free: Mushroom Rock State Park. This is Kansas' smallest state park and is about 20 miles from Salina, off Highway 140.  Yes, first twine and now mushroom rocks - never let it be said we don't have an exciting blog!

Address: Avenue K, Brookville, KS
The tiny park is only 5 acres, and you have to travel over a couple of dirt roads to get there. The mushroom-shaped rocks are a geological phenomen known as a hoodoo, although we like the French name better, demoiselles coiffĂ©es,  which means "ladies with hairdos".
The rocks in this park are the remains of the beaches from when Kansas was the bed the of a inland sea in the Cretaceous Period, which was 144 million to 66 million years ago.
  A deep layer of Dakota sandstone, held together with a natural cement made from of calcium and limestone, was laid down over the softer sandstone floor. Over the years, wind and erosion has worn away the softer sandstone, leaving the harder Dakota sandstone. You can still see the odd splits in the rocks where water once washed calcium and limestone from tiny sea creatures into the Dakota sandstone. 
In the 60s, the Ellsworth County Historical Society secured five acres from two individual owners for a park, and the park was officially opened in 1965. 
Today, the park is a wide spot in the road, tucked away in the middle of a couple of farms. It offers a pull-over and a picnic area and bathrooms. It is only a day-use park and is managed by Kanopolis State Park.
This is also a historically significant area. The Fremont Trail passed very near here, and  was used by the Kaw-Santa Fe Freight Company. The trail became the first route for the overland stages to California, until they were forced to take a northern trail by hostile Indians.
Know Before you go: You have to travel down two dirt roads to get to this park, so make sure the weather is dry when you visit. Since we were on a motorcycle, we just parked by the railroad tracks and walked in.
After working up an appetite tromping around, looking at rocks, we zipped over to Ellsworth for lunch. We grabbed a couple of sandwiches as Paden's Place, a popular local hangout. The food was definitely American diner food - good, but a little lacking in seasoning. 
The dessert, though, was very very good  - and yes, the meringue was really that thick.
Ellsworth was found in 1867, and was named after nearby Ellsworth fort (which changed it's name to Harker the same year!) A railroad brought settlers, but the town soon  suffered both a flood and a cholera epidemic. In the 1870s, the town would also weather a couple of devasting fires.
Today, Ellsworth is a sleepy small town, but in the 1870s it was a notorious "cowtown" and considered by some as the "wickedest cowtown in Kansas".
One newspaper is quoted as saying, “As we go to press, hell is still in session in Ellsworth.”  In 1875, the stockyards closed, and the town slowly became more respectable.
While researching this town's history, we discovered Ellsworth is also known as the burial place of Mother Bickerdyke. Mary Bickerdyke must've been an unusual woman; she was born in 1817, and graduated from college as a nurse. Her and her husband moved to Galesburg, Illinois where she became a nurse and then a hospital administrator.  After the war, she became an attorney so she could help veterans with their legal issues. She also secured pensions for 300 women nurses! 
Across the train tracks is Ellsworth's museum, the Hogden House Museum. It was getting late, so we decided to skip the museum but we understand it's well worth the trip. The house built in 1877 by Perry Hogden after fires devastated Ellsworth. The Ellsworth Historical Society established a museum in 1963 and have restored the house, as well as collecting other interesting buildings including a train depot and a one-room school house. Maybe next time we will have time to stop and check it out - or at least find Mother Bickerdyke's gravesite!

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