Cowboy Adventures in Kansas
There’s a good reason why Kansas celebrates Home on the Range as its official song. Discover Old West adventure at guest ranches, living-history museums and dusty rodeo arenas.
1. Living the Ranch Life
As lush spring grasses dance in a prairie wind and meadowlarks sing their trilling song from hidden perches, a herd of longhorns nervously throws their heads-armed with 6-foot-long horns-at the approaching riders. Dangerous? Well, no. The riders are safe with ranchers Joe and Nancy Moore. And the herd of nearly 250 hulking cattle is probably fidgeting because they're expecting feed.
Imagining yourself in a classic Hollywood Western scene comes naturally, and these flights of frontier fantasy are hard to resist at Moore Ranch in Bucklin (40 miles southeast of Dodge City). Joe and Nancy offer overnight and day visitors a taste of a life once common on the Kansas plains. Moore guests learn about longhorn temperament (generally mild) by saddling up to help drive cattle to far pastures. The amateur drovers eat meals of stew and corn bread cooked in a chuck wagon, sleep in tents and soak up the same sweeping High Plains views that inspired many a frontier cowpoke to song or poetry.
Moore Ranch. Photo: Harland Schuster
A squeaky-clean version of cowboy life lives on at Prairie Rose Chuckwagon Supper on the outskirts of Wichita in Benton. Visitors file into a dining hall at 6:30 p.m. for the Pledge of Allegiance, a prayer and a chuck wagon supper that includes Western staples of barbecue brisket, beans, biscuits and apple cobbler. After dinner, the Prairie Rose Rangers fire up classics like Tumblin' Tumbleweed and Ghost Riders in the Sky.
Mary Cronemeyer's Circle S Ranch and Country Inn satisfies those seeking a more serene escape. North of Lawrence, the plush inn-built to resemble a barn-features gourmet meals and an attached silo with a hot tub to soothe away modern-day stresses. Activities include horse and buggy rides and evening s'mores around a fire pit.
Circle S Ranch. Photo: Doug Stremel
2. Gun Smoke and History
Concealed in an acrid cloud of gun smoke, desperadoes and lawmen with bucking revolvers crouch along the weathered, creaking boardwalk at the Boot Hill Museum in Dodge City. Are the gunfighters supposed to be Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday or Matt Dillon and his stiff-legged sidekick, Chester? It doesn't matter to the throng along re-created 1870s Front Street. They're simply enamored with the Old West spectacle.
Boot Hill Museum, Dodge City. Photo: Jason Lindsey
Mingling historical accuracy and Hollywood flair, the museum celebrates Dodge City, the 1870s Queen of the Cow Towns (a nickname bestowed upon the town for its impressive roster of cattle and gunfighters). A rifle among the museum's expansive gun collection contributed to the population of the museum's Boot Hill Cemetery. On the more glitzy side of the museum's spectrum, The Longbranch Saloon show features a performer dressed as Miss Kitty from Gunsmoke.
Boot Hill Museum, Dodge City. Photo: John Noltner
In the cow town-turned-metropolis Wichita, visitors pop into some of the 39 buildings (27 are 19th-century structures) on the re-created frontier streets of the Old Cowtown Museum. Along with daily shootouts, Old Cowtown features covered wagon rides, blacksmith demonstrations, and a saloon serving brats and sarsaparilla.
Old Cowtown Museum, Wichita. Photo: John Noltner
3. Rodeo Roundup
As ropers, barrel racers, bronc riders and steer wrestlers gallop and careen around the Finney County Fairground arena, the scene takes on a sepia glow from rising dust illuminated by a slanting sun.
If that golden hue lends the Garden City rodeo a timeless air, it's only fitting. With an adrenaline-fueled harmony of skill and mettle, this rodeo celebrates the ongoing tradition of ranch life.
In summer, you're never far from a rodeo. Garden City's Beef Empire Days PRCA Rodeo charges into town in late May.
Beef Empire Days PRCA Rodeo, Garden City. Photo: John Noltner
After that, Strong City's Flint Hills Rodeo opens in the heart of cattle country. Dodge City welcomes visitors to the Roundup Rodeo, with 800 contestants competing for cash prizes, typically in late July and early August. Abilene hosts its Wild Bill Hickok Rodeo in early August.