Archive for Sunday, November 27, 2005

Review: ‘Kansas Guidebook for Explorers’ revels in the details

November 27, 2005

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Marci Penner, a champion of rural life, has written a sweeping, 432-page traveler's guide of Kansas.

But the coolness of "The Kansas Guidebook for Explorers" is in the unbelievably sweet details.

For instance, in the three pages covering restaurants, shops and attractions in Hays, Penner writes, "Climb aboard the two tree-swings in the city cemetery at 26th and Vine."

These "explorer extras" that appear on nearly every page resonate with any traveler.

Oftentimes, after all the planning, hassle and expense of traveling to a "tourist destination," the best family memories of a trip are of the funny looking gas station, or the restaurant that sold weird trinkets.

Penner covers all the major spots in Kansas, but it's the comprehensive coverage of all things backroad, such as limestone dugouts, WPA structures, abandoned jails, folk art, scenic byways, museums, churches and markets, that makes this book.

The pages also are filled with history, trivia and information about interesting Kansans and customs. (The city of Denver, Colo., was platted in Lecompton in 1858.)

Most likely, she has dug up some place you didn't know existed in your own town.

Penner wants you to get off the highway, kick back, soak up the ambiance and spend some money in the local shops and restaurants to keep rural Kansas alive.

"You'll find no franchise businesses listed here," the inside of the book cover declares.

Penner, who lives on a family farm near Inman, traveled more than 40,000 miles over several years doing research for the book, which includes hundreds of photographs, numerous maps and directions that read like you're talking to a local.

In Wellington, for instance, "Kids can crawl on the steam locomotive at Sellers Park (east on Harvey from Washington to Ash)."

Penner has produced a wonderful book that is as big-hearted as the state. This dovetails nicely with her real occupation as founder and executive director of the Kansas Sampler Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated toward sustaining rural life.

While the book is enjoyable to read from page to page, it also has a helpful index to look up specific locations and subjects. Want to explore post office murals? The index directs you to 21 different locations.

Anyone planning a Kansas vacation, short family daytrips or who happens to be traveling in the state, should put this book in their glovebox to discover what treasures exist if only you explore.

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