A Buffalo Soldier monument in Fort Leavenworth initiated our recent trek up the Glacial Hills Scenic Byway. The monument pays tribute to the 9th & 10th Cavalry Regiments. These groups of Black soldiers got their nickname in the Indian Wars. Native Americans said they were brave and fierce in battle - like the Buffalo. Since my son is a huge fan of the Civil War era Cavalry, this was a great way to start an historic and picturesque drive up the eastern edge of the state.

The Glacial Hills Scenic Byway meanders near the Missouri River  on K-7 from Leavenworth through Atchison before ending north of White Cloud at a four state lookout where Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri can all be seen on a clear day. The 63-mile drive is a beautiful fall escape.

Leavenworth is home to the historic Fort Leavenworth, which is actually where you will find the Buffalo Soldier Monument as well as the Frontier Army Museum. It was the first army outpost in Kansas, and remains one of the oldest continually operating military installations in the United States. When you visit, bring a photo ID in order to enter the base.

While you are there, the name “Leavenworth” may also conjure up thoughts of the Federal Penitentiary that calls the town home. You cannot actually tour any of Leavenworth’s prisons, but the penitentiary is a beautiful building to drive by. The First City Museum is worth a visit to learn more about the history of Leavenworth’s famous jails. For a lighter history, you might also try the National Fred Harvey Museum or the C.W. Parker Carousel Museum.

North of Leavenworth, Atchison also lays claim to early history of our state. It was actually the spot where the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition celebrated its first Independence Day on July 4th, 1804. The city has a nice river front park area that remembers the occasion. My family enjoyed walking along the river and one of the displays where they could actually touch a small remnant of the U.S.S. Arizona. The boys also had fun at a free kid-size train near Atchison’s Santa Fe Depot Museum. The depot has a nice display on the early history of Atchison. While you are in town, you can visit the home of Amelia Earhart and see some really amazing architecture in the area from the days when Atchison was a booming river and rail hub.

Driving north on K-7 you will find some interesting detours and sites along the way. Visit the historic Doniphan County Courthouse in Troy or drive to nearby Highland, where you can take a self-guided tour of the Iowa and Sac & Fox Mission State Historic Site. You will also pass through the tiny town of Sparks along the way. This town swells twice a year for a flea market that draws thousands of antique, knickknack and bargain seekers. In 2012, they are celebrating 30 years for this event. White Cloud also hosts a flea market on the same weekends - the three days before the first Sunday of May and Labor Day weekend. When you are in White Cloud’s National Historic District Downtown, follow signs to find that 4-state lookout.

This is a nice day trip, or if you plan to stop at a lot of the museums, I would recommend making an overnight stay in Atchison. Have fun!

Karen Ridder is a freelance writer living in Topeka. A former News Producer for KSNW-TV in Wichita, her work can also been seen in print publications including: Topeka Magazine, TK Magazine and the Topeka Capital-Journal. She has written for several national blogs and was recently recognized as one of the 2011 winners in the Annual Kansas Factual Story Contest. Karen has lived in Kansas for 15 years and married a native Wichitan. Together they are raising two little sunflower boys and a dog named George.