26 Kansas State Parks in One Year
A HIKE in ALL 26 KANSAS STATE PARKS in ONE YEAR
By: Mary Gage
Monicka and I came up with a brilliant idea one day. We thought it would be challenging, but doable, to undertake a quest to see more of Kansas by visiting all the 26 state parks in one year and taking a hike in each of them. It didn’t sound too outrageous. We would have a year – twelve whole months. With twenty-six parks, that means two state parks a month, with a third park thrown in every now and then. No problem, right?
We met for a strategic planning session at the end of 2014 to block off dates and map out some routes. We had a full measure of Kansas books to refer to including Rex Buchanan’s Roadside Kansas and Marci Penner’s Kansas Guidebook for Explorers, and we were anxiously awaiting the upcoming publication of Jonathan and Kristin Conard’s Kansas Trail Guide. When it finally came out in April 2015, we relied upon it heavily and it saved our bacon more than once.
Meanwhile, it was February before we finally got started, and as the year went along and life started pulling us in different directions, there were moments of panic that maybe this wasn’t so doable after all, that maybe our quest was more challenging than we thought. But ultimately, we didn’t let momentous life events like a daughter’s high school graduation, another daughter’s college graduation, intense work deadlines, a welcome job promotion, an alarming kitchen fire, dogs, cats and (Monicka’s) horses to be fed, as well as wonderful trips to Hawaii, Chicago, Milwaukee, Kiawah, Cape Cod, Niagara Falls, St. Louis and Peru stand in the way. We got it done.
We crisscrossed the state and along the way we got lost, got found, forgot shoes, got stopped by high water, got hot, got cold, got bit, got muddy, got tired, thirsty, hungry and sweaty, and thought we might not finish. But we also opened our eyes to big, wide prairies and impossibly blue skies; we saw lizards, butterflies, wildflowers, meadowlarks, bluebirds, hawks, ducks, geese and a whooping crane. Waving prairie grasses and rustling cottonwood trees became companions on earthen paths next to creeks, down hollows, up hills, past caves and around stunning sandstone outcrops. We studied maps and mileage and puzzled over trail heads and trail markings. We traveled hundreds of miles and still weren’t sure when we were going to fit in the six-hour drive to Meade SP, in the southwest corner of the state. But somehow, by December, we made it. We were giddy. We were relieved. And the only thing we wanted to do was start over and do it all again.
Our condensed story in brief and mysterious notes penned on the road:
JANUARY - Zero hikes. It was the beginning of the year! We had plenty of time. Haha.
FEBRUARY - 2/10 - Prairie Spirit Trail – cold and windy, sunny, flat, boiled egg
3/11 – Pomona – warm! shorts (me), Mon’s horsey friends
3/11 – Eisenhower – archery trail, historic bridge
3/26 – Clinton – very muddy road, kind of cold, big group, George Latham trail
4/14 – Perry – Old Military trail, nice hike by water, up & down, couple places lost-ish, took 2 cars, left one at end, didn’t have keys! Amber saved us, had beers
4/24 – El Dorado – lots of white flowers on mowed path, walk along campsites, tree trunks sticking up
4/25 – Cheney – 74 & sunny, nice breeze, 2 big longhorns, cedar trees, cottonwoods, silver-gray fur grass, meadowlarks, wooden bridges, scared the horse across fence
4/26 – Sand Hills – misty, cloudy, cold, dog following us, 3 men on horseback
5/5 – Hillsdale – lost-ish, dark clouds & storm, woohoo, the car!, cinco de mayo margaritas and beer, Mon. makes friends with mule keeper woman at bar
5/28 – Kaw River – 100 year cicadas, forest bathing trail, rainy at end, capital building-incredible!, THS-Hogwarts!, Bobo’s-yum!
6/23 – Milford – forgot tennis shoes, walked in flip flops, warm & sunny, little lizards, large butterflies, lots of wild flowers, dragonflies,
6/23 – Tuttle – frog smashed in car door, high water, tacos for lunch
7/9 – Wilson – giant windmills, 2 hikes, lizards, snake, houseboats, bluffs & trail along shore, sandstone towers, Lucas, Linda’s diner
7/9 – Cedar Bluff – 1 mi. access trail, Smoky Hill R. dry, shelters far from water, spent night in Oakley, stinky!
7/10 – Lake Scott – Quartelejo ruins, hike around lake, bluffs, oasis in canyon of broad flat plains, drive to Colo, Mon. takes prius on dicey road to castle rock
AUGUST - Too busy. No hike. Panic! 15 down, 11 to go, only 4 months left
9/15 – Lovewell – Rock City, Concordia. Taco John’s, CCCC-Mon. memory lane, pelicans!, lots!, 30-40mph (at least) wind from SW & 95, big cottonwoods, short hike along shore
9/15 – Glen Elder – Wind! Waves! short hike, giant lake, lots of seagulls, big ball o’ twine, center of U.S.!
9/16 – Prairie Dog – spent night in Norton, big blue sky, 85, trail loop, one room schoolhouse, prairie dog town, Nicodemus- park ranger said 8th least visited Nat’l Park
9/16 – Webster – picnic by Coyote Trail, trail signs, boardwalks, prairie, warm day
9/23 – Crawford – Baxter Springs, Route 66, Big Brutus, charming lake, 1930s WPA built, old style walls, path, over eager park ranger on phone twice, waiting for us at entrance, Chicken Mary’s
10/27 – Mushroom – nice, little rain, big mush., most pics per acre
10/27 – Kanopolis – stealth bombers overhead, beautiful hike, almost there hit HIGH water, try to get around, retrace steps, Lindsborg, Farley’s bar, beers, Coronado Heights at sunset, beautiful
11/8 – Cross Timbers – warm & sunny, me- forgot shoes again!, 100+ year-old trees, forest walk, Ancient Trees trail, got lost-ish
11/8 – Fall River – took wrong way, went out to point, picnic at water’s edge, cat claw trail, Independence, found shoe store! bought shoes, talked to waitress at bar & grill, played pool, spent night
11/9 – Elk City – got taxi to drop us at trailhead, leave car at end, 9.5 miles of wonderful-ness, warm, sunny, walk between big boulders, BEST HIKE IN SPs!
12/9 – Meade – spent night in Dodge, scenic Gyp hills drive, Greensburg, big well, sonicka Monicka, warm, hike around water’s edge, cattails, Kismet