Kansas Travel Blog

Chronicling changes to KansasTravel.org and Keith's exploration & photographing Kansas restaurants, attractions, museums, festivals and art. Contact him.
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Wild horses for adoption at Svaty Ranch - Ellsworth, Kansas
Wednesday - May 1, 2024: We are off to participate in the 2024 Big Kansas Road Trip, an annual event to encourage people to visit rural Kansas and get to know local residents and culture. This year's BKRT is in Ellsworth County, Lincoln County and Lucas, Kansas.

We wanted to have all of Thursday (the first day of the BKRT) to visit things, so we left on Wednesday afternoon, driving across I-70 and stopping for supper in Abilene, Kansas at M&R Grill which has a specialty sandwich which I wanted to try to see if it measures up to our Best Kansas Burger List. I ordered the grill signature burger, the M&R PB&B, a burger topped with creamy peanut butter, Sriracha, bacon and pickles on a brioche bun.

A little later the server returned to inform me that they were out of Sriracha. I tried a chicken fried steak instead, which was fine, though nothing that stood out. 

We drove on to Wilson, Kansas to stay at the Midland Railroad Hotel & Restaurant, one of the few places for lodging in the area included in the Big Kansas Road Trip. The handsome 1899 post rock hotel was one of the settings used in the 1973 movie, Paper Moon, with Tatum and Ryan O'Neal. We previously stayed at the hotel in 2012 and our room had been quite small. I wanted something more comfortable for our four night stay, so we in the Queen Jacuzzi Suite, the only suite available the dates of our visit. I was pleased when the clerk checking us in and asked if we were AAA members. It entitled us to a 10% discount.

 


 
 
 
 

M&R Grill - Abilene, Kansas Chicken fried steak
 

Midland Railroad Hotel - Wilson, Kansas Separate sitting room

Thursday - May 2, 2024: Our night at the Midland Hotel was a little less restful than I hoped for. The bed sagged and train passing through a short distance away sound their their horns multiple times when passing through Wilson. Strangely enough the city fire whistle sounds each day at 7 AM, noon and 6 PM. Not necessarily what you want to wake up to when on vacation.

There was a minimal continental breakfast included until 9 AM, though it was largely gone by 8:30 when we came down. Still, I will not count that against them at all, since their website and email room confirmation said nothing about including breakfast.

The first stop of the day was at Svaty Ranch, west of Ellsworth, Kansas. The ranch is one of just four public off range pastures providing a home for wild horses in the United States. There are many other ranches where wild horses are boarded for the Bureau of Land Management, but the others are not open to the public. I had been trying to arrange a tour of the ranch for 3 years without success and jumped on the opportunity to visit this day.

The ranch cares for 225 horses gathered from public range lands throughout the West. They have a large space to range and were in an area of the ranch that cannot be seen from the road, but Jake Svaty took us and Marsha, his new bride of one month, near the horses riding on hay bales sitting on the flat bed of feed truck. The ground was very irregular and the ride was a little bit of an adventure. The horses were standoffish today and we didn't get as close as desired, but it was still fun.

We did see 7 or 8 young wild horses up close, before going on the tour. They are gentled wild horses less than two years old which are available for adoption for $125. There is an incentive program to encourage adoption where the adopter may receive up to $1,000 when they have kept the horses for one year.

We spent more time than I had expected at Svaty Ranch, so I adjusted our schedule and we went into Ellsworth to do some shopping, first at Ellsworth Packing, a family owned meat packing plant. We were surprised to learn that we were the first people doing the BKRT to visit. There was no tour, but the owner,  Kim Schneider, did offer some samples and we purchased sausage and beef snack sticks. She is at least the third generation of the family to operate the company.

We drove to downtown Ellsworth and visited several stores, making purchases at Raised Rustic & Refine design and photographing two nice murals across the street. We stopped to visit the Ellsworth Area Arts Council Gallery, but despite being listed as open at this time for the BKRT, it was all locked up. Other visitors were trying to go to the gallery at the same time.

For lunch we drove a few miles east to Orozco's Portales Cafe in Kanopolis. The Mexican restaurant is in a neat old storefront and has extremely reasonable prices. I had a taco burger and French fries, while Linda had a soft taco and beef enchilada, The fries were so-so, but I enjoyed the large taco burger. We were surprised at how the taco and enchilada filled a plate. We had a lot of food for only $17 including one drink.

While waiting for our meal we talked with another couple doing the Big Kansas Road Trip. They live in Indianapolis, Indiana and come for the BKRT every year. They had started there day with a visit to one of the Missile Silos which was offering tours and thoroughly enjoyed it. They were also staying at the Midland Hotel and we ran into them several times over the balance of the weekend.

From Kanopolis we drove to the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism Kanopolis Lake office where Ranger, Wendy Bowles led a caravan of vehicles to Horse Thief Canyon where she led a two hour hike featuring wild plants, rock formations and canyon walls. The farthest point on the hike was a buffalo jump where native Americans harvested bison by running them off a cliff. We also visited a cave across the canyon where they would process the carcass and skins.

We headed to Lincoln County to continue the day, with our next stop being the Wolf Creek Bridge, west of Sylvan Grove. It was described as a four arch bridge and when we arrived I was surprised it wasn't longer than it was. Of course you can't see anything but the road surface until you park and get over to the side.

It turned out that the arches are not end to end, but lateral arches, two on each end with a stretch or road running across. It is an interesting looking bridge!

We had supper Fly Boy Brewery & Eats in Sylvan Grove. It was early on a Thursday evening, but the restaurant was already quite busy, with a great many of the customers being obviously part of the BKRT. A party of Explorers including our dear friends and great promoters of rural Kansas, Marci Penner and WenDee Rowe.

We ordered chicken alfredo and ribeye (with added mushrooms & blue cheese). All were good though nothing that would lead me to town.

My favorite parts of the meal were an Old Fashioned (which was only $9) and a skillet cookie which was a baked to order chocolate chip cookie topped with vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup.

Before returning to Wilson for the night, we drove north a few miles to see Sage Drive Bridge, an abandoned limestone arch bridge It looked neat, with trees growing out of the roadway, but both side of the river were marked no trespassing, so we couldn't shift around for better views and photos.

Since we were less than a mile from the South Fork Spillman Creek Double-Arch Bridge, I revisited that bridge as well.

 


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Svaty Ranch - Ellsworth, Kansas Wild horses

Svaty Ranch wild horses Wild horses for adoption
 
 

Ellsworth Packing - Ellsworth, Kansas Kim Schneider

Ellsworth, Kansas Mural Mural by David Alexander

Orozco's Portales Cafe in Kanopolis, Kansas Orozco's Portales
 

Horse Thief Canyon Buffalo Jump

Wolf Creek Bridge - Sylvan Grove, Kansas Wolf Creek Bridge
 

Marci Penner and WenDee Rowe - Kansas Sampler Foundation Marci Penner & WenDee Rowe

 

Friday - May 3, 2024: Off for another early stop, we drove back to Ellsworth and south to the Bar J Ranch which normally isn't open to the public. As we pulled in, about a third of the vehicles parked in yard were Model A's from the Wichita A's Model A Ford Club.

The family at Bar J Ranch was joined by their neighbors to brand this year's calves. As soon as we got out of our vehicle we could hear the cattle calling in the distance. As we approached the corral, a group of men & women on horse back brought what looked like about two hundred cattle into the corral, then started separating the calves from their mothers. It was amazing watching the horses shift and dance, moving the mothers into the next space and leaving the calves.

Then the ranch owner and one of his sons started lassoing the calves and bringing them close to the audience where a team would hold down the calves while they were branded, tagged and given shots. The branding was done with two irons, one with the J and one with the bar.

On our way back to Wilson, we detoured north almost to I-70 to visit Oak Creek Mini Jerseys. The farm dairy breeds and raises Mini-Jersey cows. After watching some people playing with the cows, we went to the store where they sell  butter, ice cream, cream, milk, hot fudge sauce, salted caramel, yogurt plus home made soaps, lotions and other products. They hadn't started their soft serve ice cream machine for the day and we couldn't keep hard ice cream frozen for 3 days, so our purchases were limited to hot fudge sauce, salted caramel, and butter.

We have been in Wilson, Kansas many times, but today we were mainly checking out things that are new or normally not open to the public, but first we had lunch at The Snack Shack. The Snack Shack opened in May 1962, but the present owners took over in June 2022.

We ordered a scalloped potatoes with ham dinner and fried chicken gizzards with French fries. The gizzards were rather tough, with a batter which reminded me of deep fried mushrooms. The fries were frozen crinkle cut. The scalloped potatoes and my hot fudge shake were both quite good and I will be back to try them again. Unfortunately the scalloped potatoes was a daily special and not often on the menu.

Then we visited a 1904 stone building which the Wilson Tourism Hub purchased and has a variety of functions. There as a co-working area, the Midland Mercantile and Art Gallery, the Betty Kepka Gallery and Museum, and Native American artifacts gallery. With it being so many things (perhaps an incubator) it is a little hard to define and promote.

I found the Betty Kepka Gallery the most interesting. It showcases the works of the late Betty Kepka featuring original artwork in multiple media and hand painted Czech Eggs.

Leaving our vehicle where it was, we walked over to Wilson Family Foods, a small market and hardware that has its own specialty smoked meats. We had shopped here before and purchased a few items to take home.

Next we visited the First Presbyterian Church and Wilson United Methodist Church, which share together in mission and ministry, worshiping alternate months in each church.

They were followed by a visit to Wilson Heritage Museum, a small museum which is preserving Czech artifacts including dishes, kroje, kraslice-painted eggs, and Czech inspired artwork. Also an eclectic selection of other things which have been donated by members of the community. I don't believe it will interest most people who don't have a strong tie to the community, until there is a significant curating of the collection.

Our final stop in Wilson was at the Immanuel Lutheran Church, which decorates its sanctuary with wheat weaving each year during harvest and had the weaving up for the benefit of people participating in the Big Kansas Road Trip.

After a brief stop at Kansas Originals, we returned to Sylvan Grove and visited the Yesterday House Museum. I had been there once years ago, but as soon as I entered, the docent had said that they were closing early. The museum is a single room and largely photographs. With my not having a connection to Sylvan Grove, it didn't take very long to tour.

A few doors south, we visited the interesting 1887 Union Pacific Railroad Depot. It has a museum of railroad memorabilia and a model train. There was antique farm equipment displayed on the grounds.

Our final stop in Sylvan Grove was at the 1913 Evangelical Lutheran School. The former school is slowly being restored by the members of the adjacent Bethlehem Lutheran Church, who also use the facility. Many of the former classrooms are still set up as they were when it was in use as a school through 1981, including the 7th & 8th grade room which has a time out chair shielded from the rest of the room.

The highlight of visiting the school was some great peach cobbler served with ice cream.

At 4 PM we went a few miles northwest of Sylvan Grove to the Vonada Post Rock Quarry, which is part of the Vonada family farm. An attentive crowd enjoyed a demonstration of how settlers split the limestone using feathers and wedges to make fence posts and building blocks. They also showed a progression of methods and power tools eventually were used. I was particularly fascinated by petrified driftwood and fossil shells found in the stone.

We returned to the Midland Railroad Hotel in Wilson where I got to finally, briefly meet one of the people who is active on the TripAdvisor forums who lives nearby. 

We had 6:30 reservation for dinner at the The Sample Room Tavern in the basement of the hotel and were joined by friends from our church who are also members of the Kansas Explorers. We all went with the Fried chicken special, which is usually only available on Thursdays. For $13.99 you get a quarter chicken (you choice of white or dark) plus mashed potatoes, coleslaw, creamed corn and the dessert of the day. The chicken, corn and potatoes were all good. Service was very slow, but I enjoyed the meal much more than the last meal which I had at the Midland Hotel several years ago.

 

Bar J Ranch - Ellsworth, Kansas Separating the cattle

Holding a calf

Oak Creek Mini Jerseys - Ellsworth, Kansas Mini Jerseys
 
 

The Snack Shack - Wilson, Kansas The Snack Shack
 

Betty Kepka Gallery and Museum - Wilson, Kansas Betty Kepka Gallery
 
 

Wilson United Methodist Church - Wilson, Kansas Wilson United Methodist Church
 
 
 
 
 

Union Pacific Railroad Depot - Sylvan Grove, Kansas Union Pacific Railroad Depot

Evangelical Lutheran School - Sylvan Grove Evangelical Lutheran School

Vonada Post Rock Quarry - Sylvan Grove, Kansas Vonada Post Rock Quarry
 

The Sample Room Tavern - Midland Railroad Hotel Sample Room Tavern

Saturday - May 4, 2024: Our third full day of the Big Kansas Road Trip began in Sylvan Grove where The Stump was to be held on the grounds of the Union Pacific Railroad Depot. It was a cool, windy morning and The Stump was moved into the nearby Warehouse/Farmers Elevator Co where the Senior Center was hosting a burrito breakfast.

The Stump is a series of Kansas travel trivia contests where Marci Penner asks the questions and the first person with the correct answer gets a ticket. Several small gifts were awarded at the end and I won a cosmetic bag with the Big Kansas Road Trip logo on it.

We drove north to Denmark, Kansas, stopping on the way into town to photograph the Indian Raid Monument. Our first stop in Denmark was the Denmark Lutheran Church and adjacent Denmark Hall. Other than three specific events, this is the busiest place which we have visited so far during the BKRT. The most unusual (to me) thing about the church is the model of a sailing ship hanging above the organ. I've learned that they are called votive ships and are common in churches in Scandinavia. They are a carry over from a middle ages tradition of offerings for the protection of loved ones or in memory of ones lost at sea.

Denmark Lutheran Cemetery is behind the church.

Next door at the 1911 Denmark Hall, they were demonstrating cooking Aebelskiver (Danish pancakes) and giving out samples. 

A couple of blocks west is the post rock Anderson Building, which once housed 4 businesses. Two of the store fronts are being restored for use as a museum/cultural center by the Denmark Preservation Foundation. They intend to convert the remaining units into an incubator space for artists & artisans and a coffee shop.

Near the Anderson building is the Trail Creek Limestone Bridge, a single arch limestone bridge over Trail Creek which was built in 1941 as a WPA project.

Lunch was in Lincoln, Kansas at the Post Rock Restaurant. The Himalayan restaurant opened in 2021 and I had a good meal there in 2022. Much as I wanted to try more of their Asian dishes, if I'm going to make a page about the restaurant, I felt I needed to try one of their cheeseburgers as well. Linda ordered the butter chicken (which was highly recommended by friends who ate there the day before). The server snorted when I ordered a cheeseburger and fries.

I wouldn't get the burger again, but the butter chicken was quite good. When I dined there the first time, there was a nice assortment of hot sauces scattered among the tables. This time there was only ketchup, mustard, salt & pepper.
Hot sauces (if desired) must be requested. The dishes I have sampled in the two visits so far have had no heat whatsoever.

Before leaving, I asked to look at one of the motel rooms. It looked clean and in good repair. The couple who own the motel and restaurant, Dil & Bimla Darjee, are originally from Bhutan and found the motel for sale while looking for a business when they were living in St. George, Utah.

After lunch, we drove a short distance east of Lincoln to the "Lincoln's Free House" which went viral on social media a couple of years ago with people from all over the country wanting to save the house. The story of the moving and restoration of the home was told on the TV Show "In with the Old" in an episode titled "The Big Green Monster."

The house (which is still a work in progress) is now the home of Eddie and Julie Flores and their family. It isn't normally open to visitors, but was open as part of the BKRT. We squeezed into the house full of people to hear the Flores tell their story. Julie was so fun and enthusiastic!

Next it was a 45 minute drive to the far end of the two counties, to Holyrood. Our first stop was the historic Santa Fe Depot, which was built in 1887 and restored in 2014-2020. The community was hosting "Pickin' and Pie at the Depot" with a selection of pies for a donation and an acoustic folk music jam circle featuring area musicians. This was similar to fundraising events held to support the depot which have been conducted twice before. I hope they will become an annual event!

After photographing a few of the older buildings in Holyrood, we toured St. Mary's Catholic Church. It is a classic wooden frame church appearing to be from the late 1800s.

Working with the schedule of events across the Big Kansas Road Trip, we now found ourselves driving 50 miles northwest to Lucas, Kansas. Our first stop in Lucas, Kansas (The Grassroots Art Capital of Kansas) was at Dew Dat Den, which is the new studio of Rob Lindsay. The building was originally an art deco service station in the 1930s. Although primarily it is just a drive by of some sculptures, Rob was present and showed us the interior, including some of his art projects and the press he uses for making some of his prints. We ran into Rob several more times while we were in Lincoln later in the day.

On Main street we were in and out of several businesses, including 102 year old Brant's meats, where we bought some sausage. At the library there was a display of art made by folding the pages of books (called concertina, accordions or leporellos). Library users had made them and some were offered for sale. The ones I might have purchased were already sold.

The library's community room had a display of Victorian Geckos. They are High-End Leopard and Crested Geckos which are raised locally and shipped to purchasers around the country.

Other main street highlights included revisiting Switchgrass (art co-op with the work of largely self taught Lucas artists, Erika Nelson's fabulous World's Largest Things Roadside Sideshow Expo and a wonderful chat and tour with Rita Sharp, the owner and publisher of Lucas-Sylvan News and the Lucas Publishing Company.

We had an early supper at K-18 Cafe, which I have been meaning to revisit for several years. We had chicken fried steak with fries, ham and mashed potatoes and peanut butter pie.

We had timed our visit to Lucas to coincide with an after hours open house with Friends of S.P. Dinsmoor's Garden of Eden board of directors. I haven't toured the Garden since the restoration done by the Kohler Foundation. Aside from the preservation of the site, the restoration was mostly not obvious to me, which I guess is a good thing. One thing which has changed since my previous visits, is that the pagoda stone and concrete mausoleum is now kept locked and you need to request that it be opened, so they can monitor visitors and enforce the no photos rule.

Back at the Midland Hotel in Wilson, we changed and went out to the Barn to enjoy big band music and a swing dancing exhibition. It was a lot of fun and enjoyed by the small crowd. The dancers were going on to another location for another style of dancing later in the evening.

 

Big Kansas Road Trip 'The Stump' - Sylvan Grove The Stump
 

Denmark Lutheran Church - Denmark, Kansas Denmark Lutheran Church
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The Big Green Monster - Lincoln, Kansas
Eddie & Julie Flores
 
 

Pickin' and Pie at the Depot - Holyrood, Kansas Pickin' at the Depot
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Rita Sharp - Lucas Publishing Company Rita Sharp
 
 
 
 
 
 

Midland Hotel Barn - Wilson, Kansas Big Band

Sunday - May 4, 2024: For us, the final day of the Big Kansas Road Trip is about the annual meeting of the Kansas Explorer's Club, followed by the drive home. This year's meeting was scheduled to be on the grounds of the Lincoln Court House at 10 AM. The meeting was moved into the nearby Finch Theatre, and an enthusiastic crowd squeezed into the narrow room.

For several years the highlight of the meeting has been the announcement of the location of the next year's BKRT. Today we learned that the road trip format is changing from a four day multi county event to four one day pop up adventures, with each one limited to just one town.

The first of the new Pop Up Road Trips is coming August 24 in Blue Rapids. None of the others were announced, but one of them will be on the first Saturday in May.

I will be sad to see the existing format ended, but understand that it will require a lot less work. We will do whatever we can to support and promote the new format.

As we started out of Lincoln, we stopped by Lincoln Cemetery to photograph the suitcase shaped tombstone which marks the grave of traveling salesman J. S. Jacobs who passed away in 1891. I've known about the tombstone for many years, but somehow never made it there before. 

For lunch, we stopped at Sam's Southern Eatery in Salina, Kansas. I learned that the one year old restaurant is part of a modest chain with about 40 restaurants including Kansas locations in Wichita and Hutchinson.

The fried fish was my favorite dish, followed by the red beans and rice. The shrimp were large and the fried oysters were huge. That is just six oysters cover the basket of fries on the right. I liked the hush puppies, but ate only a couple of the battered French fries.

 

Kansas Explorer's Club Annual Meeting - Lincoln, Kansas Kansas Explorer's Club Annual Meeting
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

J. S. Jacobs Suitcase Headstone - Lincoln Cemetery Suitcase Headstone

 
Monday - May 5, 2024: I'm off for a quick three night trip to northern Michigan to the Straits of Mackinac to do updates for our MightyMac.org website and Facebook pages. I took a nonstop flight to Milwaukee and then it was about a 6 hour drive each way. I spent two nights in Mackinaw City and one on Mackinac Island. The region is having a very early spring after an unusually mild winter.

 

Mackinac Bridge at night - Straits of Mackinac Mackinac Bridge
Friday - May 10, 2024: We had a nice supper at The Peanut on Sante Fe in downtown Overland Park. This is one of my favorite places for chicken wings and I enjoyed the three large whole wings and fries. Linda had a grilled chicken sandwich. The large, meaty wings have a flavorful, black peppery sauce and are among the most popular chicken wings in the Kansas City metropolitan area. The wings and fries are a good value at $13.

With it being a Friday evening the bar and grill was busy and particularly loud. The service was great.

On our way out of the neighborhood, I spotted a new mural on the side of hOMe holistic. In recent years there have been many murals painted in and around downtown Overland Park.

 

The Peanut on Sante Fe - Overland Park, Kansas Chicken sandwich & wings

hOMe holistic mural - Overland Park, Kansas

Saturday - May 18, 2024: I returned to Vader's Bar & Deli in Olathe, Kansas. This time I tried the hand breaded pork tenderloin. It is $14.99 and comes with a bag of potato chips. Not bad! I also got the homemade fried onion straw appetizer, which was my favorite part of the meal. It is a bit too salty, but still very good.

Then I drove south to Gardner to visit the Gardner Historical Museum. It consists of two buildings. The Foster House was built in 1893 and the rooms serve as the main museum. On the adjacent lot, the 1852 Bray House provides an administrative area. It also displays some items from the 1950s and 1960s, but they are not particularly labeled or organized into exhibits.

The museum is free.
  
  


 
 

Gardner Historical Museum - Gardner, Kansas Foster House

Wednesday - May 29, 2024: I still haven't figured out what I want to say in a new page devoted to Buck Tui, the Thai BBQ restaurant which opened in Overland Park, Kansas during Covid in February 2022. I like the concept of this restaurant and believe it has a genuine place in the Kansas City BBQ scene, but haven't found a dish that I loved so much that is what I want to tie a review to.

When I walked in today for lunch, it was smoky inside. I found it fairly pleasant and didn't notice it where I sat by the time my food came, but I think it was enough to bother some people.

I ordered the X Man sandwich, Coke product, and Salted Caramel Brownie Sundae.

The X Man is described as brisket, heavenly pork, Thai sausage, pickle, papaya slaw, and creamy tiger cry sauce. The sandwich is fairly thick to bite into and the serrated knife the sandwich came with makes it easier if you choose to cut it. The brisket was a little tougher than I like. I would go with a little more slaw and a little less meat. on the sandwich, but I may be an outlier there. 

I asked about the tiger cry sauce (which is quite popular and a reason many people order this sandwich). Unlike many BBQ restaurants that refuse to describe what goes into the sauce, I was told it was a salsa verde with mayo and sour cream ranch with horseradish. I liked the sauce better than ketchup with the fries, but liked the sandwich more with a touch more of the mild bbq sauce.

Part of the reason I ordered a sandwich is that is the only way the menu says that French fries are available and the restaurant stresses that, *We politely refuse any modifications or substitutions to our dishes. Thank you! If you are a fan of battered fries you will probably like these. I'm not a fan of battered fries and found them OK.

My server was Anthony, who I learned is one of the managers. He gave very good service! He brought 4 refills for my drink in a timely manner and never made me feel like that was an inconvenience. He offered me a box for my leftovers without without my having to ask. Better yet, he gave good info about the dishes and offered an opinion when I asked him to help me choose between the Thai bread pudding or warm brownie with chocolate ice cream. 

The brownie was a little chewy, which sounds bad, but I liked it because it released more flavor in my mouth with each chew. I thought it a little pricey at $12 (versus $17 for the meal), but I would get it again. It was a nice size, not so big that I ate too much on top of the meal.
 
 


 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Buck Tui BBQ Overland Park, Kansas X Man sandwich

tiger cry sauce and BBQ sauce at Buck Tui BBQ tiger cry & BBQ sauce
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Salted Caramel Brownie Sundae at Buck Tui BBQ Salted Caramel Brownie Sundae

 
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