Midwest adventures: Urban adventures

Part of the allure of the Midwest is its extensive range of outdoor activities. Biking, hiking, bouldering, and caving only scratch the surface. Kansas City, Missouri offers climbing routes only 10 minutes away from downtown. Beginning near The Paseo and Lexington Avenue, the 4.27 miles of road stretch east to Belmont Avenue. Beginners and experienced climbers alike can scale the cliffs year-round, as long as the weather cooperates. 

Joe tackled his Kansas City climbing adventure with a special guest, David. As a native of the Kansas City area, David grew up climbing with his family.

Unfortunately, the weather was uncooperative when Joe arrived. What was supposed to be a mild drizzle quickly turned into sleet. Unphased and accepting of the unpredictability of Midwest weather, Joe and David carried on. While any serious climbing would have been dangerous on the slippery cliffs, they were able to make due. 

Steps from the side of the road led to the bottom of the cliffs. Along the cliffs, there are spots designated for repelling from the top and even chains at the top to clip into for a route. In the name of safety, David just had his eyes set on the lower rock with plenty of foot and hand holds. Keeping the three points of contact rule in mind, David quickly hopped up and started scaling the side of the cliff. Even though he said it had been years and he was out of practice, he made quick work of it. 

Stopping to look around and take in the surroundings, the seemingly out of place cliffs are impressive. They look untouched. The cool, grey stone has streaks of warm beige to give the rocks character and appear more approachable than they may be. Surrounded by foliage, the plentiful, scattered orange leaves added an element of marvel to the scene. 

Cliff Drive is typically closed to motor vehicles Thursday through Sunday, but it is currently closed to all motor vehicles every day. However, it is still open to biking, walking, and climbing. The jagged limestone bluffs in historic Northeast Kansas City have been designated as a State Scenic Byway. Overlooking factories in the East Bottoms, the views provide the aesthetic of original brick buildings, as opposed to the modern buildings of downtown. 

Surprisingly, Cliff Drive is a hidden gem to even Kansas City natives. Back in May, it was featured in the Kansas City Star due to a lack of knowledge surrounding the area and its history. Although it was once described as a “squirrel pasture,” George E. Kessler, the landscape architect who designed Cliff Drive, used his vision to turn the drive into a landmark. 

Notable renovations from 1906 and 1907 include turning a natural spring into a public drinking fountain and installing gas lights every 100 feet. Quickly, Cliff Drive became a sought-out tourist attraction. Its popularity was comparable to the likes of Liberty Memorial, Union Station, and the Country Club Plaza. Unfortunately, rundown roads, illegal dumping, and a landslide in 1998 provided challenges for the sustainability of Cliff Drive. With the help of state funds, it was renovated and reopened Oct 11, 2001.

Since then, Cliff Drive has gained attention once again after the onset of the pandemic. Local climbers can maintain social distancing by climbing outside, as opposed to crowded indoor gyms. Even though the cold rain put a damper on the day for Joe and David to climb, Joe was still able to go for a bike ride to make the most of the trip. 

Besides Kansas City, other Midwest locations with hidden gems include: 

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