Road Trip: Hutchinson, KS

Another scorching Kansas day, another chance to explore our beloved state, and by “explore,” I mean escape Wichita for a bit.

Jeremy and I, in our usual fashion of late starts, embarked on a mission to Hutchinson. Why? Well, I had a conference to co-host there in a few weeks, and we desperately needed an excuse to flee town before then.

First order of business in Hutch: Mr. Cao Japanese Steakhouse. The server? A true superstar. The food? Surprisingly fantastic. We even dared to venture beyond our usual menu picks and sampled some new dishes. Brilliant move, I must say.

Next up, the Hutchinson Zoo.

A quaint zoo with decent exhibits showcasing some native Kansas critters. We dished out snacks to koi and turtles, and those koi went bonkers for the food. I chuckled at their enthusiasm, realizing they were the fishy counterparts to my buffet frenzy in Vegas. I got you, koi.

Attempting to explore the entire zoo was ambitious, given the blazing 100-degree weather. Most of the animals had the right idea—snooze or seek shade. Even the otter seemed remarkably chill.

We were excited about the prospect of hopping on the train to escape the heat, but alas, it was offline. Our disappointment knew no bounds. Seriously, a few more shady spots would have been a godsend. I get it, it’s a young zoo, but shade, please!

We bought a couple of bottles of water and headed to our next stop, the Salt Discovery Well. 

In the heart of South Hutchinson, Kansas, a historic marker stands as a testament to a discovery that shaped the city’s destiny. The Salt Marker, located northwest of the Main Street and US-50 intersection, marks the spot where the Salt Discovery Well was unearthed in 1887. This site offers a glimpse into the past and showcases the rich history of salt mining in the area.

The display at the Salt Marker includes picnic tables, several informative markers, and the Salt Discovery Well itself. It was at this very spot that Ben Blanchard stumbled upon a significant salt deposit, inadvertently contributing to Hutchinson’s development. The original well is covered by a small tin structure with a clear top, you push a button which turns on a light so you can see it for yourself. 

In 2007, Ben Blanchard’s original well, buried for decades beneath layers of soil, was finally uncovered. That same year, the Kansas Underground Salt Museum opened nearby.

There’s also a massive 1,260-pound block of locally mined salt.  Raw salt is not as exquisite as its consumer counterpart, but it was cool to see.

Ben Blanchard’s Inter-State Investment Company founded the community in 1886. The turning point came in 1887 when Blanchard sought oil beneath the town but instead struck salt. In a desperate bid to attract investors, he even poured oil into the well, attempting to convince them of an oil discovery. Though this strategy failed, it revealed a valuable salt vein beneath the surface.

The discovery led to the establishment of Reno County’s first salt processing plant in 1888. By 1910, 26 salt companies had popped up in the area. 

Our next stop was the Reno County Veterans Memorial.  It’s a powerful tribute to the brave men and women who have served in all branches of the U.S. Military, from the Civil War to the present day. Inspired by iconic national and local veterans’ memorials, this community-driven project is a symbol of gratitude and remembrance.

One of the key features of the memorial is the names of veterans from Reno County or those who called it home. Etched on seven granite panels, there’s 10,000 to 15,000 names.

Our next adventure took us to the Cosmosphere, we were exhausted from trying to catch a break from the scorching heat. So, we decided to skip the museum this time, but if you haven’t been there, you’re missing out on something out-of-this-world. 

You can check out a legit moon rock – like, we’re talking a piece of the moon in all its lunar glory. They’ve got artifacts from the Space Race, with Russians, Germans, and Americans battling it out among the stars. And guess what? You can see the real Apollo 13 and Liberty Bell 7.

 Now, I may have missed the museum, but I wasn’t about to let the opportunity to snap a pic with a bronze statue slip through my fingers. This statue is like the Moon’s MVP, celebrating astronaut Eugene Cernan’s epic moonwalk in 1972. It’s made by Garland Weeks, and its basically Cernan leaving stylish bronze footprints on the Moon’s surface as he prepared to leave for the final time. And fun fact – the footprints were made from the same molds used for the original moon boots. 

Finally, we wrapped up our adventure with a pitstop at the Rusty Needle, a neighborhood bar that felt more like the center of the universe on that late Sunday afternoon. And guess what made me happy? They had shot glasses! It was the perfect way to toast to our Wichita escapade. Oh, and don’t get me started on their bacon/gouda cheese curds – they were so gouda.