Picture a vast inland sea teeming with an abundance of prehistoric creatures. Along the edge of the water laid a vast swamp filled with an assortment of dinosaurs. Overhead, Pteranodons floated on the warm air currents, as they scanned the horizon for an easy meal. This is the scene that would have played out in western Kansas, even though it may be hard to imagine these days. Our visit to Hays opened up an opportunity to have a date with history, as we explored the background of this city of the plains.
We want to thank Visit Hays and all of their local partners for hosting our visit. Rest assured all opinions are our own.
While it may not be necessary to go this far back in time, we found our visit to the Sternberg Museum very enlightening. Exploring the formation of our state helped us gain a better understanding of things we have seen at many other destinations. The layer upon layer of silt, that formed during the days of the sea, are evident when visiting nearby Monument Rocks. It also makes for perfect fossil hunting, which is apparent in the numerous displays at the museum. As we explored the various exhibits, we found ourselves being drawn back to the earliest days. This place is a great family-friendly attraction to add to your itinerary.
On the Edge
Moving forward in time, our date with history took us to the frontier days. As settlers were migrating west, it was imperative that new cities sprang up to offer safety and rest stops. A visit to Fort Hays Historic Site gave us a peek into life for the soldiers and families that were stationed here. The town had a rough and tumble reputation that came with being on the edge of the frontier. The early citizens included buffalo hunters, speculators, gunmen, and even outlaws. Hays, Kansas would be home to the original “Boot Hill”, which would later be overshadowed by the one in Dodge City. Soldier life was a juxtaposition between hard labor and unstructured free time. Often, a soldier would find himself in the guardhouse for breaking one of the post rules.
Making a Life on the Plains
As time marched on, the lawlessness would subside. Now came the period for new emigrants to build a city that would prosper and flourish on the open plains. At the Ellis County Historical Museum we saw a replica of an early German residence. The influx of new residents brought important trades and skills that allowed businesses to develop. Saloons and brothels were replaced with livery stables, blacksmiths, and harness shops. Progress was marching forward in Hays, Kansas. During our date with history, we had learned how this prairie town moved into the modern age.
Now you can’t expect us to do all of this research without a few food stops. One of our favorite activities in new destinations is scoping out the local restaurant scene. During our visit to Hays, we had enough time to sample a few options. For those looking for a quick meal, we stopped into two good choices that offer plenty of choices for the whole family. Taco Shop has been serving the local community for decades. They offer up affordable meals that draw in the university crowd. A relative newcomer to the restaurant scene is Tiger Burgers. Housed in an old gas station, this burger joint has some interesting flavor combinations. Be sure to check out their Burger of the Month.
Sometimes we enjoy lingering over a meal, so we added a couple of places that really made us feel at home. The morning that would find us on our date with history began with breakfast at Pheasant Run Pancake House. Hanging with some locals was a great way to start our day of exploring. We also had a nice meal with one of our hosts. Janet joined us for dinner at Gella’s Diner and filled us in on what was happening in Hays. While the food was exceptional, it was the evening of conversation that made it extra special.
What we learned from Janet was Hays has seen a ton of redevelopment in their downtown corridor. This is a scenario that we have found repeated in many of the cities that we visit. That meant we needed to check out the retail scene for ourselves with a couple hours of shopping. We loved how many of the local businesses had repurposed existing historic buildings, instead of razing them to build something new. It adds another level of charm to a boutique when we can feel the age of the city in its bones. Of course, I think Crystal was more focused on the cute clothes and accessories she was finding in the boutique shops.
Don’t Forget the Guys
Many times, this portion of the visit leaves me meandering around a little, but Hays had a couple of surprises. There are always a couple of things for men, but usually they are mostly minimal, as us men are used to finding. In Hays, not only did I find a nice selection at one of the larger boutiques, but there is an entire clothing shop dedicated to us. It was one of those rare times that the roles were reversed and Crystal was the one watching me shop.
Here is when we need to gush a little about our hosts at the Hays CVB. (Convention & Visitors Bureau) When we dropped by their offices to meet the staff, they surprised us with a bouquet of beautiful hand-decorated cookies. These were produced at Augustine’s Bakery, which prides itself in fresh made pastries. These treats made a perfect accompaniment for our morning coffee at our hotel. We were so impressed with the cookies that we had to drop by their shop to thank them in person.
A Date with History
Too often we hear people lament about the long drive across the state of Kansas. Our time in Hays proved out the belief that there are great things all around us, we just have to look. Our hope is that you will enjoy our articles about this city of the plains and it sparks you to make your own visit. We are confident that you will find plenty of family-friendly activities to help fuel your own date with history. Just make sure you stop in and get some of those cookies!