By July 6, D was his restless self – ready to get up and get going! We were able to delay him a bit with coffee and a Cushman ride out to the secret garden, but then we had to go. Tim took us to a great breakfast place in Topeka where we all enjoyed eating way too much, but it would carry D and I through most of the day.
On the drive west on I-70 across Kansas, we stopped off at Grandma Hoerners and bought a few food items, then kept on driving. Our destination was Beaver, KS (which may or may not be found on a map), and the two prime birding spots in that area (Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area and Quivira National Wildlife Area.)
We almost decided to re-route our trip when we saw the mileage to a town in eastern Colorado…only 225 miles to that location, which was half way to Colorado Springs…D suggested we call our friends David and Carrie to see if they were free to dinner (at Phantom Canyon, of course), but I didn’t have a phone number with me, so we stuck to the original plan.
Shortly after the Salina exit, we headed south on 156 toward Chaflin, which was the Zip code town for Mo’s Place, which is actually located in Beaver, KS. It was another 15 miles to Beaver (turn right off Rt. 4 at the “city” of Redwing – three inhabited homes near train tracks – then go north for 8 miles.)
Beaver is town of less than 100 people, with dirt roads and perhaps no street signs (we didn’t see any); a grain elevator and Mo’s Place are the only operating businesses in town (the bank closed, and the brewery now uses the underground vault – the only underground space in Beaver – to store beer; the gas station owner died and no one took over that business.)
Mo’s Place looked like a smoky dive bar – a long building covered in red and yellow aluminum siding with a soda machine outside and a lighted Coor’s sign in the window. But D had met the brewer on a previous trip to Montana, and he claimed this was the smallest brewpub in America, so we had to go in and check it out. What a gem! First of all, there was NO smoking – it was clearly outlined on the door, and later I read a quote by Len (the brewer) that essentially said “when you sit next to me drinking beer, I have a choice to drink anything I want; when you sit next to me and smoke, I have no choice but to breathe your smoke.” Secondly, while it wasn’t the smallest brewpub I’ve seen in physical space or numbers of brews, it was the smallest I’ve ever seen in terms of brewing capacity. He operated a half-barrel system, which he is able to squeeze approximately 20 gallon batches out of it. It looked like an oversized homebrewing kit with plastic fermenting tanks and brew kettles that looked like something you’d cook with at resident camp.The best thing was seeing the locals and the guys who were out working the oil wells come in. All of them were choosing pints of Mo’s Brews over the commercial products (Bud, Coor’s, Michelob, Miller, etc.) Len told us he keeps his beers unfiltered for better flavor and low in alcohol (everything is under 4% ABV) so that patrons can drink more beer without getting drunk.
Len and Linda Moeder were extremely personable, and shared their story with us. Basically, he is from the area, and she was schooled in Kansas, but they met and married in Orange County, CA, opting to move back to Beaver when things got crazy. They bought the house across the street for $7,000 and fixed it up (at home it would sell for at least $160K), and started the restaurant. They said they never know if they will be serving 10 or 100 people for dinner each day, but they enjoy the variety.
We tried everything they had on tap. Harvest Moon Wheat, Purple Cat Pale Ale, Crazy Hawk Red, Beaver Creek Brown, Elm Street Porter and Lights Out Stout. We also had our lunch there (I was hoping with their California background they would have something really fresh and/or vegetarian, but it was more of a short-order grill…) D had the highly-recommended chopped steak sandwich with grilled onions, and I had a salad with fried okra and fried chicken livers. It was all really tasty!
We took a few photos at Mo’s and of the town, and then headed back toward Redwing and the Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area. There wasn’t any water in the mapped ponds, so the birds were pretty much not available, but we did have our first Burrowing Owl of the trip while observing a prairie dog town. We also began seeing Mississippi Kites when we arrived near towns with trees for them to nest in. A favorite bird to both of us, this was worth stopping to stare, despite the intense heat.
Further down the road we located Great Bend, KS and after exploring long, straight sand roads south of Great Bend, we finally found Quivira National Wildlife Refuge about 20 miles away. This area sits in the heart of the Great Bend Dunes Tract of the Arkansas River – one of the largest accumulations of sand in the United States. Some of the roads would have been extremely difficult if the weather had been bad. It was like driving on the beach, and there were no houses or people to be seen for miles.
When we got to the refuge, it was getting late, but we decided to drive up to the 4-mile wildlife loop to see what we could see. We were so glad we did! We saw lots of great birds, and some interesting mammals including armadillo (it came out of the grasses right in front of me, and as I stood still with my camera, it rooted in the ground a little, then walked right out past me – so close I couldn’t get his whole body in my lens!) and coyote.
We stayed until the sun set, then returned to Great Bend for a room at the Days Inn (I was hoping we’d pick Hutchinson so we could go on the salt mine tour!), and in the morning we drove straight back for a disappointing dawn tour of Quivira. We were so glad we had such a successful previous night!
Our bird list is for Thursday, July 6 and the morning of the 7th is below (new birds for the trip have an asterisk next to them; Quivira is an accounting of all birds seen in taxonomical order.) If I counted correctly, we got 100 birds at Quivira, and 50 of them were new for the trip!
Ellsworth – Horned Lark*Chaflin – Mississippi Kite*Beaver – Tree Swallow*
Redwing – Burrowing Owl*
Quivira National Wildlife Refuge
American White Pelican*
Great Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron*
Black-crowned Night Heron
Mallard*[Crap! I’ve run out of time….there were a lot more birds and I WILL get them listed!]