Today’s Flyover People column as seen in The Emporia Gazette:

Harland Schuster and Marci Penner, both seated, autograph the 8 Wonders of Kansas Guidebook for fans of Kansas. Meanwhile (left), Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower look on.


Monument Rocks. Arikaree Breaks. The Konza Prairie.

These are just three of the many places of beauty in Kansas, three of the 216 locations featured in the newly-released “8 Wonders of Kansas Guidebook,” written by Marci Penner, with photographs by Harland Schuster.

About 300 people attended the book’s launch on April 16 at the Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene (itself, one of the Wonders.)

This whole wondrous thing began in 2007 with an 8 Wonders of Kansas contest. After the Kansas Sampler Foundation got the contest rolling, they knew that the wonderfulness of Kansas could not be limited to a mere eight things.

Eight more contests ensued, with 8 Wonders being selected for each of eight elements: architecture, art, commerce, cuisine, customs, geography, history and people. The final contest wrapped up in 2010.

So, that’s nine contests altogether, with 24 finalists in each, which totals 216 wonders. In the guidebook, information about each person, place or thing is enhanced by stunning photographs.

These 216 places are not all that Kansas has to offer, of course, but they are crowd favorites, as determined by a public poll. More than 100,000 people voted in the contests. Votes came from every state in the Union and from other countries as well. (Quite a few homesick native sons and daughters live outside of this rectangular container we call Kansas.)

Penner’s glossy guidebook is a treasure in itself. It’s an attractive publication that will make Kansans stand tall with pride when they realize just how much good stuff there is in this state. “8 Wonders” is the size of a coffee-table book, but it has a spiral binding so you can fold the covers back and leave it open to any page, which is especially handy for traveling.

While a person can sit at home and “ooh” and “ahh” over the pretty pictures, many of us have an explorer’s heart. We will go out and see these things for ourselves.

Gas prices are up, so fewer of us will be taking long, out-of-state vacations. Short trips are in order, but that’s fine, because there is plenty to see and do within the Sunflower State.

In addition, when we stay in Kansas, we help ourselves. By traveling in-state, we pay for gas, food and lodging here. Profits stay in Kansas. Sales tax stays in Kansas. And when the state has more sales tax revenue, it helps us all.

So, if you’re ready for a weekend trip, maybe you’ll want to visit the Kansas Motorcycle Museum in Marquette, or the Cherokee Strip Land Rush Museum in Arkansas City, or maybe try Carolyn’s Essenhaus Café in Arlington, which prepares family recipes from Switzerland and Germany.

Perhaps you’ll take your family on a bike ride on the Prairie Spirit Trail between Ottawa and Iola. Or maybe you’d like to check out the round square in Blue Rapids, or the Cimarron National Grassland in Morton County, which features three ecosystems, or the Cross Timbers State Park near Toronto, which includes oaks that date to 1730.

At the book event, while introducing Harland Schuster, Penner said, “Let me tell you, I knew this was not going to be an easy assignment because what we were looking for was one photographer to go to all 216 places and take pictures, 216 places across the entire state from May to November (2010). And he also had to pull calves and plant corn. He’s a farmer, he’s a stockman.”

Schuster, from Brown County, has 821 incredible photographs in the book. Penner arranged whatever he needed for the shots. In Blue Rapids, that included a helicopter. At Castle Rock, he requested a horseback rider. In Plains, 83 people stood across Main Street to show just how wide the widest street in the United States is.

The photographs are gorgeous, the book is gorgeous. And heck, you already know that Kansas is gorgeous. Choose a place you’ve always wanted to see, or visit one you’ve never even heard about. Or, if you’re a free spirit, open the book at random and go wherever that page takes you.

*The “8 Wonders of Kansas Guidebook” by Marci Penner ($29.95) is available at Town Crier Bookstore in Emporia, Emma Chase Café in Cottonwood Falls, Eureka Greenhouse in Eureka, and the Coffey County Historical Museum in Burlington.

Copyright 2011 ~ Cheryl Unruh

Karl Weissenback, Director of the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum, and Marci Penner cut the 8 Wonders of Kansas cake.

Kansas Explorer Von Rothenberger. Several years ago he suggested the Seven Wonders of Kansas idea to Marci Penner. Marci turned it into 8 Wonders – and off they went.

On exhibit at the Eisenhower Library are artifacts from the actual 8 216 Wonders of Kansas. Above is an expedition pith helmet from the Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum in Chanute. (8 Wonders of Kansas People)

Rocks from Mushroom Rock State Park and Rock City. 8 Wonders of Kansas Geography.

Kansas Explorers Frank and Nancy Thompson. (Frank Thompson’s Kansas Journeys.)


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