Visiting all 8 wonders of the world might be a dream, but for most of us, it’s an impossible one. Visiting all 8 wonders of Kansas, on the other hand, is something you can tick off your bucket list almost effortlessly. It all started back in 2007 when the Kansas Sampler Foundation launched a contest to find the most significant treasures in Kansas. The people voted, and these are the 8 wonders they decided on.
1. Big Well Museum, Greensburg
If you’ve ever wanted to set eyes on the world’s largest hand-dug well, set your GPS for Greensburg. As explained by kansassampler.org, the history of the well began on August 9, 1887, when Jack Wheeler and his crew planted their first shovel in a hole that eventually become a 32-feet wide, 109-feet deep well with two feet thick native stone walls. An engineering marvel, the well took two years to complete. What makes it even more extraordinary is that it was crafted entirely from hand with rock sourced from the Medicine River and sand from Cowskin Creek. The well kept Greensburg supplied in water all the way up to 1932. In 1939, the residents of the town decided to start advertising the well as a tourist attraction, with the result that thousands of visitors now visit the site every year.
2. Cheyenne Bottoms/Quivira National Wildlife Refuge, Great Bend
The next wonder of Kansas is a duo – the Kansas Wetlands Complex of Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. The Kansas Wetlands Complex of Cheyenne Bottoms is the largest freshwater marsh in the US, occupying over 41000 acres. According to nature.org, the complex is one of the most significant staging areas (i.e. the places migrating birds stop to feed and rest) for shorebirds and waterfowl in the US, hosting up to 1.4 million waterfowl and tens of thousands of shorebirds each year. To date, over 365 different species of birds have been observed in the region. In recognition of its significance, it’s not only been voted one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas, but it’s also one of only 34 sites in the entire US that have been designated a “Wetland of International Importance” by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. A little over 20 miles away is the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge, a 22,135 preserve of saltwater marshes, dunes, prairie meadows, dikes, and water expanses. Another popular staging area for birds, it’s not unknown for over 500,000 migratory waterfowl to visit the refuge every spring.
3. Cosmosphere, Hutchinson
Cosmosphere was created by Hutchinson resident Patricia Carey. Since starting life as a small planetarium, it’s grown exponentially, housing a collection of US and Russian space artifacts that are second in significance only to the one housed at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. It also boasts an acclaimed planetarium, an astronaut training camp, one of only 14 IMAXR dome theaters in the world, and a Hall of Space Museum that features spacecraft from three of the earliest manned space programs, Liberty Bell 7, Gemini 10, Apollo 13. If all that wasn’t a big enough claim to fame, it can also take credit for building the spacecraft that features in the Tom Hanks movie, Apollo 13. If you want to check it out for yourself, the museum is open Monday-Thursday 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 9 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sunday noon-5 p.m.
4. Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library & Museum, Abilene
The Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library & Museum is operated by the National Archives and Records Administration and serves as a showcase for President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s life, career, and legacy. As one of only 15 Presidental Libraries in the country, its mission statement is to promote understanding of the presidency and the American experience through interactive programs, historical material, and exhibits. The museum, which is located in Eisenhower’s hometown of Abilene, is home to a staggering collection of 26 million pages of historical records and papers, 335,000 photographs, 768,000 feet of original motion picture film, and 70,000 artifacts. As well as trawling through the exhibits, visitors also have the opportunity to tour the nineteenth-century wood-frame house where the Eisenhower family lived from 1898 until 1946, and visit the final resting place of the President, his wife Mamie, and their first-born son, Doud Dwight, at The Place of Meditation. The center is open daily from 9 a.m. until 4:45 p.m, excluding holidays.
5. Strataca, the Kansas Underground Salt Museum, Hutchinson
There are around 15 active salt mines in the US, but only one dedicated salt mine museum. Located in Hutchinson, Kansas, Strataca, the Kansas Underground Salt Museum, invites visitors to go deep underground and explore its subterranean depths. After descending down the elevator, you’ll receive a brief orientation before being left to explore its salt mining galleries, geological wonders, and huge display of movie props and memorabilia from Underground Vaults & Storage, which uses the mine as a secure storage outlet. You can also hop aboard the 40 minute guided “Dark Ride” tour, which will take you past abandoned equipment, fascinating rock formations, and numerous exhibits. At the end of the tour, you’ll be given the chance to dig through a pile of rock from the attached active salt mine to select a souvenir to take home. Another option is the “Safari Shuttle” tour, a relatively new addition to the museum that will take you into previously unexplored areas of the mine.
6. Monument Rocks, Oakley
Set on the western edge of Gove County is the 6th Wonder of Kansas, Monument Rocks. The site consists of a collection of huge chalk monoliths that have been naturally carved out from the area’s ancient chalk beds over millennia. According to geologists, the chalk beds formed around 80 million years ago during the Cretaceous Period. At the time, the region was covered by a vast expanse of water that was home to fish, swimming reptiles and birds, gliding reptiles, giant clams, sharks, turtles, and more. Many of those animals eventually ended up trapped and preserved in the murky layers at the bottom of the ocean, making the site a hugely significant point of interest for fossil hunters.
7. Cathedral of the Plains – St. Fidelis Catholic Church, Victoria
The St. Fidelis Catholic Church doesn’t have a sitting bishop, so can’t technically call itself a cathedral. But while it might not have the status of one, it’s certainly got the size. In total, it measures 220 feet long, 110 feet wide at the transepts and 75 feet at the nave. With seating for 1100 people, it was the largest church west of the Mississippi River at the time of its dedication in 1911. In 1912, William Jennings Bryan gave it the nickname, the Cathedral of the Plains, in recognition of its mighty dimensions.
8. Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve & The Flint Hills, Strong City
Last but certainly not least is Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve & The Flint Hills. Tallgrass prairie once covered around 170 million acres across North America, representing the largest continuous ecosystem on the continent. After farmers discovered how rich prairie soil is, they began turning it over to crop production. Today, only 4% of the original Tallgrass prairie acreage now remains, most of which can be found in the Flint Hills of Kansas. Established in 1996, the Tallgrass National Prairie Preserve aims to protect what now ranks as one of the most endangered ecosystems in the US.