Saturday, March 12, 2011

Toronto, KS: Crossed Timbers State Park

On Thursday, March 10th, the forecast called for a one-day break in the high winds so we took the opportunity to head farther East. The distance between the two Kansas State Parks, Meade State Park and Cross Timbers State Park is 271 miles. The route is almost entirely two-lane US 54, which is a comfortable highway for motorhome travel with pretty classic Kansas scenery as you see below.


We arrived about 2pm at the Cross Timbers State Park. They have campground hosts this time of year which is a bit unusual. Apparently this nice couple has been there pretty much full time for ten years. Once again, we had the park to ourselves except for the folks that worked there. It turns out it was lucky we arrived early because before it was over with we moved in to 4 different sites—a new record for us!

At Escapade several years ago we invested in a Progressive Electrical Surge and Voltage Protection Unit that Ken hardwired into our motorhome electrical system. He felt strongly about this from both a safety perspective and to keep the coach's electrical systems from getting fried by dirty power. There's now been several occasions where we think this system has more than paid for itself. In this case, it was throwing an error code that there was a bad ground, when Ken hooked up the 50 amp. We tried 3 different full hookup sites with the same problem every time. Finally we pulled in to a 50 amp site where the water was not yet turned on and the electric showed clean. Ken contacted the park maintenance crew and found out we were the first folks to use those sites for months. Since we were the only folks in the park Ken just lined up all his fresh water hose and hooked up across the road to one of the full hookup sites.


Now add to this that what appeared to be perfectly level sites were actually leaning to the left enough that we had to use several boards under the tires on the driver side in order to keep them from hanging in mid-air once the rig was leveled. And, I think, just to add that last little bit of aggravation, this big gorgeous stray dog, all young and frisky, decided to come play in the middle of all of this.


We had put both dogs on tie-outs and suddenly everybody was getting all tied up in each other and a little snippy. Once I got our dogs back inside, ‘Red’, the name we ended up giving the stray decided to adopt Ken and was under foot everywhere he turned. Red had no collar and visited us often in our two days here. It was pretty obvious that if we didn’t already have too many dogs in the family, Red and Ken would have been hard to separate.

Don’t get me wrong, despite the set up difficulties, Ken and I both fell in love with this park. It’s very well-maintained. We’ll give them a pass on the electrical issue since they were give to respond, had someone who quickly understood the issue, and were very apologetic that they hadn’t gotten the electric checked out for the season yet. They have brand new shower houses, a beautiful lake and a swimming beach. We can’t imagine why this park hasn’t had reviews on but we have already made sure to get it out there.

Of course, spending hours at what should have been a five-minute setup were the perfect excuse to eat out. We figured that might be easier said than done in this rather remote area. The park is just outside the tiny town of Toronto, KS, where we found only two small cafes on the short main drag, and only one, Courtney’s Places, was open.


Courtney saved the day! Talk about a gem in the wilderness! Courtney’s turned out to be the best restaurant we’ve visited in our 10 weeks on the road (and if you’ve been following us you know we’ve been to a lot of restaurants!) From the outside you expect to be walking in to a typical smalltown ‘hole-in-the-wall’ cafe. What you find is a pizza parlor on one side with a beautifully appointed Italian ‘pasta house’ on the other.


Courtney apologized at the start that her waiter was out that night but she did her best to cover all the bases. She offers 3 different entrees each evening, one appetizer, salad, homemade breadsticks, several desserts and a full bar. We went all out trying all the courses, except when it came to desert we were sadly just too full. Ken had a special Italian sausage and pepper dish with a really tasty marinara sauce over pasta. I had the chicken alfredo. The food was awesome, even the house merlot was very good. There was one other table filled besides our’s in the pasta house which appears to be able to hold up to 50.


Courtney said that she is usually full on Friday and Saturday nights and has become a destination restaurant for folks several hours away. This is not a cheap place to eat if you are doing the Italian pasta house. If we’d had time we would have tried the pizza which appeared reasonably priced and I’m expecting is awesome based on everything else. If you are going to go to Courtney’s I’d try Wednesday or Thursday evening when you get a chance to meet and talk to this really neat lady named Courtney.

On Friday, we were once again looking at 35-40 mph wind gusts and so planned to explore the state park instead of going back on the road. Ah, the joys of ‘anytiming’ -- no need to hurry, get there when we get there.

The park has many nice walking trails. Ken took the pups for a jaunt down one called Ancient Oaks. He forgot the camera but did take a few shots with his phone so we could get a feel for what it was like.


It was good that I didn’t make an attempt at this trail since it was very rocky and uneven.


The main features of this trail are the post oaks along the way which are up to 300 years old.

These trees only grow to be 40 foot tall and really don’t look any different than any other oaks in the area.

However, they do a good job on the trail of pointing out the ancient oaks and providing historical comparisons to give you a sense for how old they are.


Toronto Dam on this lake is used primarily for flood control. Apparently a few years back there was a 100-year flood here and they used the dam to keep the brunt of the damage (as you see at the left) in the park rather than across the towns and farmland in the area.

At he height of the trail there was a large open area providing a view for many miles across the lake.


Later in the afternoon, Ken opened up the jeep top and we enjoyed a tour of our corner of the lake, checking out the rest of the campground.


They are spending a lot of money on this park. There are new restrooms and shower houses, and several of these cabins that appear to be new. I got nosy and looked through the windows. They have full kitchens, baths, bedroom, living and loft areas in that small space.


This is the view from the cabin above. I’m thinking it would be a gorgeous place to watch the sunset over the lake. It was still pretty breezy when we were there mid-afternoon, as you can see by the whitecaps on the water.


By evening the winds had died down and so we grilled chicken and cabbage while enjoying some time on the patio.

If you are looking for a route across Kansas, other than the interstate, we’d highly recommend US 54 and the Cross Timber and Meade State Parks.

Hugs, C


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