Mushrooms, Frogs, Wolves, and Gods

Leaving Kansas | Van Life

Goodbye, Kansas.

As we left our first home on Wednesday afternoon, the yellow door, bare garden, and newly planted Maple tree faded, paired with tears of joy and sadness.

The house we wanted to live in forever was no longer where we wanted to stay. After traveling for a large chunk of last year, we learned so much and knew that Wichita, Kansas, though it offered so much, didn’t provide what we desired most – to be closer to nature and away from the city.

Indeed, we are grateful for our time with Wichita. It is where we met, fell in love, got married, started a garden, adopted Quinn, found our footing, lost family, gained confidence, and battled life’s challenges together.

Our months and months of hard work, planning and dreaming were shifting into our reality.

We purchased Noah Kahan concert tickets for Wednesday evening in Kansas City at the last minute, shifting our route from Wichita to Colorado to I-70 across the state rather than the more chill Highway 50. Driving any interstate is dreadfully boring. While I-70 is no different, I have always loved the beautiful Smoky Hills, especially the wind farms seen right off the road. Another gem is Mushroom Rock State Park. My sister and I visited a few times as kids, and I remember being enamored with the formations. Taking Jared was special.

Rocks and dinosaurs are two of our favorite reasons to stop at any location along our route. Driving through Hays, Kansas, we knew that we needed to stop by the Sternberg Museum of Natural History. This is another spot I have memories of visiting as a kid. Once when SUE the T-Rex was on tour and another time for a school field trip. 

It was a quick stop to stretch our legs and meander through the museum. When we compare it to the Museum of the Rockies in Bozman, Montana, Sternberg is far behind the level of coolness on the dinosaur scale. But for a Kansas classic, it’s neat to have in the state. Our favorite part was the live animals they had featured. As a kid, I went through a pretty strong frog phase, so seeing the poison dart frogs was a winning experience.

Free camping is available in Colorado by the hundreds. We found a spot in a National Forest north of Woodland Park and Colorado Springs. It was pretty busy on a weekend in June, but nonetheless, the time spent there was beautiful. It gave us a good starting point for a Friday stop by the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center, a Saturday morning farmers market stop in Old Colorado Springs, and a long hike around Garden of the Gods. 

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Listen to the Wolves Howling

Colorado Wolf
& Wildlife Center

If you know anything about Jared’s and my first trip to Yellowstone National Park, you’ll know that watching for wolves in Lamar Valley is hands-down our favorite thing to do there. We had never seen a wolf closer than one mile away. The wolf and wild-dog conservation and education center north of Colorado Springs changed that for us.

I will be totally honest in telling you there is heavy information shared – the education part – when visiting this center. Wolves are highly villanized and wrongfully killed and tortured (*trigger warning for animal abuse in this news article*) for sport and some sort of sadistic fun. The CWWC does not shy away from sharing this data. 

Although I don’t think it’s a great place for young kids to visit, it’s somewhere everyone should visit and support. They are doing important work for the protection of this keystone species.

We have actually visited the Garden of the Gods together before, but no trip to Colorado Springs is complete without it. We opted to leave Quinn in the van with the AC running since we had to park a distance away, and the temperature was starting to reach a point where her old body wouldn’t have done well. She napped in the cool air while Jared and I ventured to the garden.

The last destination before we settled in for the week to work was the Royal Gorge Bridge & Park. Jared can’t remember if he had visited before, but I was here last nearly 15 years ago. So much has changed, including the fact that there is now a gondola ride across!! It was a quick ride included with the cost of admission and was an incredible way to view the gorge, Arkansas river, train tracks, and bridge. I wish we had remembered to grab our GoPro 360 so I could have popped it out the window for an even better look at the ride across.

Up next is to visit and cross the last three Colorado National Parks off our list.