Kansas may be best known for the Wizard of Oz, tornadoes and wheat, but the Sunflower State gives up a lot more than meets the eye. Whether it be rolling plains full of incredible ecological diversity or a huge, winding underground salt mine or even a museum that boasts an incredible collection of space artifacts, Kansas has a diverse selection of sites to offer. Just like there are eight wonders of the world, Kansas has its own eight wonders. The Kansas Sampler Foundation established a list, and in no particular order, we’ve run through them below.
Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve & the Flint Hills
A wonder that represents Kansas’s most notable feature: the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve and the Flint Hills. Even though Kansas is known for rolling fields of grass with complex ecological systems, less than 4 percent now remains. Much of the prairie was converted into farmland, which explains why so much of it is gone now. The preserve includes almost 11,000 acres. The preserve includes exhibits, a bookstore, historic ranch buildings and nature and hiking trails.
St. Fidelis Catholic Church
Victoria, Kansas, boasts a beautiful example of architecture in the St. Fidelis Catholic Church — otherwise known as the Cathedral of the Plains. Finished in the early 1900s, the church can seat 1,100 and is built in the shape of a cross. When is was built, it was the largest church west of the Mississippi. It is also the 78th basilica in the U.S. and the first in Kansas.
It’s easy to see what makes up the sunflower state above the ground, but what about below? Strataca, formerly the Kansas Underground Salt Museum, can provide some insight. An attraction in Hutchinson, Kansas, the salt museum is the only salt mine in the U.S. that is open to tourists. Inside the museum, 650 feet down, visitors can look at formations and artifacts and explore exhibits about salt mining. The museum also holds a 5K, where visitors can run the race over 600 feet below the ground. Additionally, the museum offers a 10K and bike ride.
Cheyenne Bottoms/Quivira National Wildlife Refuge
At 41,000 acres, these special spots bring the ocean to the prairie. The area is significant because they happen to be a migratory stop for North American shorebirds, according to the Kansas Sampler Foundation. The website also says the area attracts 45 to 90 percent of the North American shorebird population during spring migration.
Monument Rocks & Castle Rock
Located in the heart of northwest Kansas, Monument Rocks and Castle Rock are two ancient chalk beds that sit stacked in peculiar shapes in west and east Gove County, respectively. Monument Rocks is even a designated National Natural Landmark. According to the Kansas Sampler Foundation, the chalk was deposited 80 million years ago when much of the central U.S. was covered in water. Because of the origins, many fossils are often produced by these rocks.
Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library & Museum
Marvel in the story of former President Dwight D. Eisenhower in his hometown of Abilene, Kansas. The museum boasts five galleries that together illustrate the story of Eisenhower and former First Lady Mamie Eisenhower. You can also tour his house and the family’s final resting place.
It might seem odd to include a giant well on the list of the eight wonders of Kansas, but this well happens to be the world’s largest hand-dug well at 32 feet wide and 109 feet deep — yes, it is hand-dug. It was formed in the late 1800s by Jack Wheeler and a crew of men. The effort took nearly two years. The well is located in Greensburg, Kansas, and supplied the town with water until the 1930s. A large spiral staircase takes visitors down the well.
If you love space, or enjoy indulging yourself with the story of humankind’s mission to the moon, there’s a spot in Kansas just for you. A center for space education and located in Hutchinson, Kansas, the Cosmosphere provides visitors with a large collection of U.S. and Russian space artifacts. According to the Kansas Sampler Foundation, the museum is one of only three in the world to display flown spacecraft from Mercury, Gemini and Apollo — three early-manned space programs. In addition to a planetarium, the cosmosphere also boasts an astronaut training camp for all ages.