Thursday, July 30, 2015

Searching for Proper Barbecue - Colorado to Georgia

Quite literally in the middle of Kansas, 600 feet below the surface of Hutchinson, a Strataca Salt Mine tour guide asked me if I enjoyed Roy's BBQ for lunch. Bemused, I learned that Roys has such a distinct smell and the salt mine is devoid of smells, so tour guides quickly learn this approach with tourists. Strataca and Roys, or odd sites and barbecue were the treats on this road trip but the underlying purpose was for a move.

Michael at the Strataca Salt Mine.

My father-in-law (Michael) and I were in Kansas because our calling was to relocate one of our cars from Monument, Colorado to Atlanta, Georgia. The four-day journey was punctuated with a handful of museums and a superb selection of barbecue joints.

We set out from the Denver airport in the late afternoon and drove four hours to our first waypoint in Colby, Kansas. En route, we enjoyed a picnic dinner at the surprisingly well appointed Limon Railroad Park (by donation).

Day two's first stop was the Fort Hays State Historic Park. The buildings and exhibits are very well done. For young visitors, there is a 'bison herd' across the street (with bison numbering just a few). Plan 1-2 hours at this attraction. From Fort Hays, we drove to Hutchinson, Kansas for the Strataca Salt Mine. This was a major waypoint during the trip planning: where else can you descend 600 feet into the crust of the Earth to view an active salt mine? It turns out that the salt vein stretches into New Mexico, but this is the best way to get up-close to the operation.

An industrial elevator carries both workers and tourists down under. The tourist portion of the mine is sectioned off for safety. Tourists get to see dioramas containing mining equipment and the blasting techniques used to excavate salt from the mine - the salt is used mainly for ice removal. The underground gift shop has free wifi and there are a couple of add-ons for your visit. Tourists can ride the mine train in a loop that shows more of the mine or you can book a seat on the tram tour, which also shows more of the mine.

BBQ is an American treasure.
The Strataca Salt Mine was such a great stop that Michael and I decided to check out the other local Hutchinson attraction: the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center. We expected a couple of planes and some cheap displays but we were instead treated to a plethora of rare air and space artifacts. The museum's motto, "Out of this World. Right in the Heart of Kansas" is an appropriate saying. Aside from the Smithsonian collection, the Kansas Cosmosphere impressed me more than any air and space museum I have seen (including the National Museum of the USAF, Seattle's Museum of Flight and many others). To quantify my claim, know that the museum collection contains a spacecraft from Mercury, Gemini and Apollo (Liberty Bell 7, Gemini 10 and Apollo 13).

Ending a big second day of the trip in Wichita gave us the opportunity to ride the free downtown tram to Old Town where we enjoyed excellent pizza and local brews at Public.

Day three was a 450 mile push from Wichita to Little Rock but we found time for a few diversions. The first was Fort Smith National Historic Site where Michael was able to purchase his National Park System Senior Pass. Ten bucks gets you free access to all National Park properties for the rest of your life (seniors include those 62 and over). The Fort Smith prison, gallows and courtroom are all available for viewing. Kids love romping around the grounds to see the out-buildings and the neighboring Arkansas River. Tip: Pick up lunch at the Garrison Pointe Market, which is walking distance from Fort Smith (it is in a gas station, but those who know of the Whoa Nellie Deli know the deal). In Little Rock, we tried Sims BBQ but were thoroughly disappointed. 

Elvis's Birthplace in Tupelo, Mississippi.
Day four's drive was from Little Rock to Atlanta. The main diversion was Elvis's Birthplace in Tupelo, Mississippi. Most fans visit Graceland but I found ticket prices there to be obscenely expensive. The Tupelo museum and home were small enough to visit in 1-2 hours and were right on our route to Atlanta. In Tupelo, we tried and liked BBQ by Jim. This joint was a meat and two sides type of place with excellent sauce and a family-focused orientation.

1. Stock the car with cold beverages and healthy snacks.
2. Plan activities in cities between your lodging locations. Most attractions do not open until 9am or 10am, so you will lose lots of drive time if you stick around in a city to do something there.
3. Picnic when you can to save costs.
4. A newspaper or magazines in the car give you something to chat about with your trip partner(s).

1 comment:

  1. I love your TripTips! Thank you so much for sharing your experience! That was a lovely post! I will share it with my writer at, hope it will be helpful for his assignments.