After successfully leaving Paris on Iceland Air (note: they gave us sandwiches on the first leg of the flight and then nothing on the second flight, which was longer and actually during a meal time. F that), we arrived in NYC and stayed with E’s brother for a night. The next day, we flew to Kansas, which is where E grew up and where his parents still live. We were there from August 8-14 and spent a lot of time eating, sleeping, hanging out and enjoying one another’s company. I was told that it was atypically cool, rainy and humid for this time of year (Hutchinson was completely underwater for the few days before E and I went out), which suited me just fine. As I was negligent about posting daily while I was there, I thought I’d give you all a bit of a highlights reel:
With E around to cook, we didn’t go out very often to eat, but I was treated to three local establishments and Roy’s was one of them. Here, they serve real Kansas-style BBQ, which according to E is distinguished by the copious amounts of slightly sweet and tangy sauce. I got the pulled pork on Texas toast and E got the beef. Other great food moments included breakfast at another local joint, Skaets, E’s dad’s BBQ ribs and nightly homemade desserts by E’s mom.
After Roy’s, E and I went to the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson. E spent many a day in the Cosmosphere – in fact, his parents showed me a poster of him dressed in an astronaut suit that was used on the cover of the Cosmosphere’s brochures for several years. We wandered around and learned the history of rocket building, saw a piece of the Berlin Wall, and then took a tour to see the F-1 Apollo Shuttle that had been found in the ocean and was now being conserved. When E’s parents took the tour, I guess you could see more of the shuttle, but, while we were there, a lot of it was submerged in buckets of fresh water, so we could only see bits of it. The whole conservation project is funded by Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, who is, apparently, a space travel enthusiast.
The next day, we went to the Hutchinson Salt Mine Museum. The entire museum is 650 ft underground and is really well done. You go down in an old mining elevator and are greeted by a guide who gives you a general overview of the history of salt mining in Hutchinson and the lay of the land of the museum. The exhibits are pretty evenly divided between geological and mining exhibits. While I tended to linger in front of large posters describing marine life that used to live in the Kansas sea, E was captivated by the large machinery. We also visited an underground vault (couldn’t go inside, but they had a display outside of it), where items such as movie posters and costumes and other artifacts are stored and well-preserved due to the cool, dry climate down in the mine. Finally, we took a train tour to other areas of the mine, where we saw things like “roof sags” and miner litter and even a miner outhouse (FYI – nothing degrades in a salt mine).
One day, we visited Maxwell Wildlife Refuge, which was easily the highlight of our trip. We were met by an amazing tour guide, who drove us in a beat-up suburban out into the middle of a bison herd. It is late in the calving season and so we were able to see several young bison – some had already turned brown, while others still had their orange coats. While we were out there, he gave us a wealth of information that spanned everything from how to distinguish between male and female bison (females have curved horns), the history of bison and the land, modern day management of the refuge and so much more. It was clear that he had studied the American West in great detail and that he loved to share his knowledge with others.
Aside from these activities, we also visited a local art show and spent some time with friends of E’s family – people whose children he had grown up with and who had been neighbors of his parents for years. It was nice to have finally spent some time in this place that has shaped E, and to be able to experience the warmth of the community that raised him. It also felt good to have some time and space to truly relax and begin to process and appreciate all that we have done this summer.