One of the key goals of Our Changing Lives is to showcase places that are often overlooked as potential destinations. Some are sites that are hidden gems inside of major cities. Others, like Lucas, Kansas, are smaller towns that hold some unique sights that are less known. While many people have never heard of this destination, we are hoping we can help spread the word about the “Grassroots Art Capital of Kansas”.
We would like to thank the Lucas Chamber of Commerce and all of the local businesses for their hospitality. Rest assured all opinions are our own.
First Impressions of Lucas, Kansas
Lucas is about 3 hours west of Kansas City, so it is well within day-trip distance. We wanted to get a full day of exploring in, which meant heading out on a Friday evening. Being the weekend before Halloween meant that the sun had already set by the time we arrived. We decided to just head straight to our lodging at Horseshoe Lodge. Having stayed in many repurposed buildings, this is the first one that began life as a nursing home. These days it serves as a hunting lodge for the many hunters who travel to the Post Rock area.
Everyone was Fueling Up
We were greeted on Saturday with sunshine and a chilly October morning. This town of around 400 residents doesn’t have tons of dining options, but we were about to discover they believe in hearty starts. A short drive from our lodging, and we landed at K-18 Cafe. Like most small town diners, it was filled with locals who obviously frequent the place. Friendly chatter and hot coffee helped warm us from the morning chill. After ordering our meals, we quickly learned that “short stack” only refers to height, as these things were massive. Next door to the cafe is an airfield, which is frequented by small plane enthusiasts. We were surprised to see a plane pull up to the pumps at the local filling station. Our server pointed out that it is a common sight for those who live in Lucas, but it offered some breakfast entertainment for us.
Art on Every Corner
Driving through town, we quickly realized that the Grassroots Art was quite abundant. Some refer to this art style as “Folk Art”, but no matter what you call it, we love seeing the variety and ingenuity displayed all over the town. When you make your visit to Lucas, you will want to check out some of the pieces that are displayed in many of the yards of residents.
Kansas’ Garden of Eden
The tourism market in Lucas began long ago, with one man’s dream. S.P. Dinsmoor believed that creating his masterpiece would be a long term money maker. He began constructing his vision at the age of 62, and would continue adding to it for 22 years. The Garden of Eden was a finalist to be one of the “8 Wonders of Kansas”, and stands as a Grassroots Art spectacle. While Dinsmoor struggled to earn enough from his creation during his life, these days the site survives off of monies from admission and souvenir sales. (You can read more about the Garden here.)
Miller’s Park Gets a Second Life
Around the same time that Dinsmoor was building his Garden, there was another couple in Lucas who wished to share their art with travelers. Roy and Clara Miller started their park as a rest stop and would eventually add lodging cabins, picnic tables, and even playground equipment. Having traveled extensively themselves, they used their artistic abilities to create a series of miniature buildings. These diminutive structures were fashioned with rocks and shells they picked up on their journeys. After falling into decay and being moved to Hays, the site was resurrected and returned by the Kohler Foundation in 2013. Today visitors can view these amazing creations for themselves, at the park next door to the Garden.
One of the fun things about visiting new destinations is interacting with the locals. Lucas may not have a string of boutique shops along their Main Street, but they are not bereft of business. One that certainly drew our attention, was Brant’s Meat Market. Opened in 1922, this family owned shop served not just Lucas, but the surrounding region. When the family decided to sell the business recently, the locals were obviously concerned. Fortunately, the new owners are dedicated to continuing the tradition of only offering house made and fresh cut meats. You may want to bring a cooler when you visit, so you can bring home some of their creations.
Making New Friends During Our Lunch Break
Being travel bloggers means that we will usually work with the local tourism bureaus. Lucas may not be a sprawling metropolis, but they are still an important tourist destination. Our contact, Connie, had arranged our lodging and attraction visits, as well as offering important tips to make the most of our trip. We even met up for a lunch at Backstreet Bakery, which offered some needed fuel for our afternoon explorations. As you can see, tourism bureaus are a key partner that offer a variety of services. Always remember them when doing your research on a new destination.
Let’s Get Small
During our lunch, we were introduced to Erika Nelson, who founded The World’s Largest Collection of the World’s Smallest Versions of the World’s Largest Things Traveling Roadside Attraction and Museum. She invited us to check out the home base for her traveling exhibit. While growing up, I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time exploring Route 66 sights. Many of these are the exact kind of places that Erika loves to showcase during her travels. We are sure you’ve seen them during your drives, as well. Things like giant muffler men or many of those other “tourist traps” that were designed to get travelers to pull off the road. (Read more about World’s Largest here.)
Grassroots Art Headquarters
Our timing was great that day. We had just left the World’s Largest and headed across the street towards our next stop. While catching up on some social media, a tour was heading out from the Grassroots Art Center. We joined in and it ended up being quite an experience. For those unfamiliar with folk art, this is the perfect place to get a better understanding of some of the untrained artists that hail from Kansas. (Read more about Grassroots Art here.)
An Unexpected Addition
As we were finishing up at Grassroots Art, the curator noted another possible stop just up the street. She pointed to a car parked a couple blocks away, and told us that it signaled the artist was still there. We hurried up the sidewalk to the DA DA Muse’Um Art Gallery to meet up with Alan Vopat. This Salina based artist has doodled his way to fame, with his unique style. It requires a close inspection to see that his pieces are composed with an element of himself in each. He has thousands of sketches that cover an amazing number of topics. We hope you get to meet this interesting Kansan when you visit Lucas.
How does a town of 400 handle the needs of thousands of tourists per year? Obviously, having a few restaurants, gas stations, and other sundries are required. This still leaves the need to satisfy the call of nature, and Lucas came up with an interesting solution. The artists of the town came up with a plan to construct a public restroom that has no rival in the state. After winning the support of the locals, Bowl Plaza was designed and built with unique qualities. A visit to the #2 ranked public restroom in America is more than just a bathroom break. (Read more about Bowl Plaza here.)
A Special Invitation
Visiting on the weekend before Halloween happened to coincide with the town’s annual Halloween Pageant. Connie asked us if we would have time to attend this event. Since we didn’t have a deadline to be back home, we were happy to oblige. A large portion of the town shows up to watch the kids of all ages display their best costumes. We were honored to not only be invited, but to feel welcomed into the community.
Getting Off The Interstate
Traveling has opened up a wide range of experiences for us. Many times, we have read how travel is an excellent form of continued education. It gives the traveler a chance to hear the stories of those who came before. Potential new friends can be found in every stop along the way. We love the idea of exploring new destinations. While we use the interstates to get us to our stops, we know they are only a means of increasing the time we will have to spend at our final destination. The real fun begins when we arrive in the cities and towns. Places like Lucas, Kansas are a prime example of the unique experiences that can be found once you get off the interstate. So where will the road take you next?