Check-in at Matfield Station isn’t until 3PM. By Thursday afternoon I was getting antsy about my trip and didn’t want to wait until 3 to arrive. I remembered reading on the website that early check-in could be arranged, so arrange it I did. I was told that everything was ready for me and I could arrive as soon as I was ready.
Friday morning, I woke up anxious to be on my way. I packed my bags, pulled my camera batteries off their chargers and hit the grocery store. At 9:30AM, with more food and wine than was necessary, I pointed my Subaru south and was on my way to Experience the Flint Hills!
The first 90 minutes of the trip were all interstate, but they passed quickly. In Emporia, with the interstate behind me and the Flint Hills stretching out before me, I began to feel the peace and feeling of home they always offer. With only 37 miles to go, the photographic opportunities began to stall my progress.
Just as you enter Cottonwood Falls, K-177, also known as the Flint Hills Scenic Byway, crosses over the Cottonwood River. Having grown up in Kansas, I never cross a bridge without looking up and down stream to see just how little water there is in our rivers and creeks. As I looked to the west, I saw a waterfall and knew I had arrived at my first stop. With no trouble at all, I made my way to the waterfall and spent the next 30 minutes or so photographing the falls, the river and the town of Cottonwood Falls.
I left Cottonwood Falls with just 16 miles of road between me and my destination; however, the scenic byway lives up to it’s name and I would stop several more times to take in and photograph the landscape. From just about any point in the Flint Hills, you can see miles and miles of rolling hills in any direction. The occasional tree dots the landscape, usually standing alone, making one wonder why or how that solitary tree thrives where others don’t. I had barely begun my trip, hadn’t yet reached my destination and I was beginning to understand those trees and their choice to stand alone and grow in a place few appreciated.
At 12:30, my two hour drive had been stretched into three and I pulled in at Matfield Station. They weren’t kidding when they said it was near the railroad tracks! As I pulled up, I could hear a train in the distance. Before I even unpacked my car, I made my way to the back of the bunkhouse and watched a BNSF train go barreling past, no more than 50 feet from the back patio. I’ve always lived relatively close to train tracks and find the sound of a passing train to be soothing, as I stood there and watched the train pass so closely, I wondered if I’d feel the same way as I slept that night.
As I approached the door to to my room, I remembered I had received no instruction for check in. I tried the door and found it unlocked, another reminder of life in the country. Once inside, I found the key to the room on the table, along with some pamphlets about the surrounding area. Sitting at the table, looking through the information, another train made it’s way slowly down the tracks. I stepped outside to watch it and saw the reason it was moving so slowly is because it was coming to a stop. After a minute or two, I heard another train coming and realized there were actually 2 sets of tracks. Little things like watching a train slow to a stop and then start up again was just the kind of thing I was looking for on this trip.
I made a sandwich to take with me and grabbed the pamphlet with a map of the area. My cameras were in the passenger seat and we set out for the flint covered roads to continue the experience.