Learning about tapas at The Med in Boulder. #tourdeheartland

Fun day on the Colorado River with guide Logan from Colorado Adventure Center and Rock Gardens Rafting. What an amazing 14 mile adventure through Shoshone Rapids and on down to West Glenwood. First time for Hannah and Naomi, who were happy and proud.

Thanks to Hannah Bug for the quick spot on these elk. As we were flying down a state highway west of Meeker, Colorado, she saw this herd fording the White River. A quick U-turn and some nav assist from the Audi GPS took us down a dirt road where I was able to capture this image. (c) 2014 Tom Kelly Photo

Smoke from Utah fires fills the Wyoming sky as Tour de Heartland comes to a close.

Larry Farmer loves his job! It’s been 44 years since Larry started collecting small change in return for a view of prairie dogs and a bobcat on the family farm. Today, he’s an iconic figure in Americana tourism, collecting somewhere around $9 a person to visit one of the most eclectic collections of animals and, of course, the world’s largest prairie dog.

Countless times we’ve passed by the Oakley, Kansas zoo on I-70 without stopping at Prairie Dog Town. A friend reportedly visited the big prairie dog in a garage one winter day.  But today we shelled out $25 (with a friendly discount from Larry) and actually felt pretty good about it.

Talking with Larry is worth the price of admission. He’s proud of what he’s done with Prairie Dog Town. Proud of the t-shirt he gave Al Roaker, the stories in Wall Street Journal and the parade of visitors from around the globe.

The pit of rattlesnakes starts the tour, Outside, the yard is pocked with prairie dog holes. Russian boars roll around in the muck while goats flock to the fence for handouts. Geese roam freely while the five-legged and six-legged steers rest next to each other.

At the far end of the park you can see the bright white belly of the world’s largest prairie dog, freshly painted and standing 17-feet high - all 8,000 reported pounds. It’s like a lifetime achievement to come to Prairie Dog Town, posing for pictures with the giant dog.

Yah, it’s corny. But it’s America. Promoters like Larry Farmer are, sadly, becoming a thing of the past. But 44 years later, his energy, passion and twist-your-arm tourism are still bringing people to Oakley for a little break while driving the flatlands of Kansas.

Frankly, the world would be better off with a few more attractions like Prairie Dog Town and entrepreneurial promoters like Larry Farmer who simply love people.



Lunch in Topeka

Carole is back to imaginary jump roping.

Son Chris and his family have a wonderful life at their new home in Black Swan Lake outside Shawnee Mission, Kansas. It’s a short walk through the woods on a wonderful trail to the lake where the boys swim, fish and canoe in an idyllic setting. It’s a very relaxing outdoor environment for a close knit family.

North Star Homestead Farms, with its Farmstead Creamery & Cafe, has become another new gem of an attraction in the Hayward, Wisconsin area. Situated in the Chequamegon National Forest 20 minutes east of Hayward, it’s a working farm managed by mom and two sisters. Opening in 2012, we discovered it on a trip a few months ago and made it a point to stop back during the Cable Hayward Area Arts Council Art Crawl.

The farmstead sells its organic products regionally and brings them all together in a wonderful cafe. In our visit this week we were able to visit with local artisans including photographer Stephen Ross. During lunch, the Farmstead’s Laura Berlage took a break from serving lunch and homemade gelato for a weaving demonstration.

The Farmstead is located just east of County A, between 77 and B, not far from the Chippewa Flowage - an easy and scenic 15-20 minute drive from Hayward.