This Western Kansas county has a few surprisingly cool stops despite being the 15th least populated county in the state.
Gove County isn’t one of the places you have to be going to, to get there. It also isn’t exactly a destination many people are heading to either.
U.S. Route 40 has run through the very northern part of this square county for many years, connecting the few towns here to the east and west. However in 1956 Kansas built what is debated as being the first of the U.S. Interstates, I-70, combing it with Route 40. Like all interstates it created a new path that traveled around the towns, meaning more people than ever had a chance to check out some of the cool stops in Gove County, but also even more would just pass by never knowing what lay just off the exits.
If you’re like me, you may have managed to stop somewhere in Gove County because you had been traveling on some back roads, like the original route of U.S. 40. Or if you’re also like me, a sucker for a good vintage ice cream stop, you may have seen a small billboard along I-70 advertising for an old fashion soda fountain at Ray’s Pharmacy in Quinter, Kansas.
With roughly 1,000 people Quinter is the county’s largest town and right on Main Street is where you can find Ray’s Pharmacy. It’s a nondescript building that you’d probably pass up if you were hunting for unique stops, but it’s worth going inside, especially on a hot summer day. Ray’s has what you’d expect from a pharmacy; school supplies, toys for the kids, obviously your medicine, but also things you typically only see in small towns, like t-shirts for the local high school team, hunting supplies and ammo.
However the real reason to stop at Ray’s is the vintage wooded bar they’ve installed to give a real old school soda fountain experience while slurping down a shake or eating an ice cream sundae.
The friendly folks working at Ray’s the day I visited told me that while the wooden bar was not a replica, its previous location was in someone’s home in California. No word on where it originally came from, but the owner of Ray’s had been looking for an honest-to-goodness counter for the soda fountain and when they finally found one, they had it trucked to Quinter and installed. Now it’s one of only a few dozen soda fountains in Kansas, and worth a stop.
The heart of Quinter is on Main Street, but the interstate exit is on Castle Rock Street which skirts the western edge of the town. While the north-south road will get you into town from the highway, taking it south of town will bring you to one of Gove County’s other must sees, Castle Rock and the surrounding badlands.
The chalk formations are from when this area was part of a shallow inland sea during the Cretaceous period (80 millions years ago). While wind and water eroded much of the sedimentary rock, this formation and the surrounding badland cliffs to the south remain and offer a unique chance to venture off the beaten path onto what would normal be private property.
Things to know before heading to Castle Rock
- This is private land, but is open to the public.
- No admission, or reservations needed.
- There is working industry here, stay clear of oil wells, and keep an eye out for farm equipment & livestock.
- There are no restrooms, garbage cans, or amenities for that matter. Bring what you need, leave only footprints.
- AWD or 4×4 is recommended, but a Toyota Corolla made it down here while I was visiting. If it’s wet don’t chance it without 4 wheel drive. Be careful if you don’t have high ground clearance. Some paths have washout areas.
- There are two paths down the cliffs. If one looks rough, try the second option.
- Signs going there are up, but don’t expect a big brown historical marker type sign with an arrow. Look for the welded iron arrows.
With U.S. Route 83 (an amazing Mexico to Canada trek everyone should take) running just west of the county line, you can actually take a quick detour down some country roads to see Monument Rocks, a much larger chalk formation on the western edge of Gove County.
Even though Monument Rocks is designated by the U.S Department of Interior as a National Landmark, it is on private land and just like Castle Rock you should act as such. That being said, Monument Rocks is much easier to get to as the gravel roads leading there are pretty flat. If you have time to see only one of the formations, this is the one.
As like many Lost Americana destinations, Gove County has seen better days. Like most rural counties in the Plain States, Gove has lost over 50% of its population since the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s. Quinter however has seen some growth for the first time in decades as it looks to have grown by 15% (about a 140 new people) since 2010.