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Little Falls on the Prairie

posted Oct 14, 2018, 1:34 PM by Justin P   [ updated Oct 25, 2018, 3:34 PM ]

The second week of October, we headed to the Kansas City area to get waterfalls in Kansas and Missouri, 2 more on the 50 states waterfall challenge.  We got to Kansas City Saturday evening and drove to Topeka.  After checking in to the Hampton Inn, we had sushi for dinner at Mizu and soaked in the hot tub before heading to bed.  Sunday morning, we headed south towards Overbrook, and parked along 129th Street next to the bridge over Camp Creek.  We picked up the Landon Nature Trail and hiked north through a field.  The trail was very overgrown and it was lightly drizzling so we wore water shoes for the short hike.  In about a half mile, there was an old railroad bridge.  Turning left, we followed the creek upstream a short ways to Swissvale Falls.  Despite the rain, the water level was quite low.

The water tumbles about 5 feet over a creek wide ledge.  A bit of fall color was showing to make up for the low water.

After a few pictures, we headed back.  Driving west, our next stop was Pillsbury Crossing Wildlife Area.  Pillsbury Crossing is a low water ford of Deep Creek that is protected as a small nature preserve.  Just downstream of the ford is the waterfall.  The creek drops about 6 feet over a creek wide ledge.  Although not very high, it had much better flow than the previous one.

We forded the creek and found a path to climb down to the base for some pictures.  Spanning the entire creek, Deep Creek Falls was very scenic.

I scrambled up to the very base of the falls to get a panorama of the waterfall.

Then we headed back to the car.  Our next stop was Geary Lake Falls at Geary State Fishing Lake & Wildlife Area.  This one is not a  natural one, it's the outflow from the lake and can dry up completely.  I was concerned there might be no water at all, but we would give it a shot.  We parked at the north end of the lake and hiked across the dam.  It was raining now and the lake was very foggy.

Across the dam, we could hear falling water and took a path right to the top of the falls.  There was definitely some water flow although it was not a torrent.

Continuing on the path led down to creek level and then upstream to the Falls.  It was quite scenic, even in low water.

But the rain started picking up, so we just got a couple pictures and headed back.  Our last waterfall for the day was Prather Creek Falls at Chase State Fishing Lake, about an hour south.  Again, we parked near the dam and then hiked across, following the spillway downstream.  The waterfall has three sections, but unfortunately, there was almost no water flowing.  The middle section is the most scenic if there was decent water flow.

But today, only the lowest section really looked anything like a waterfall.

A bunch of branches and limbs had fallen down here, so we moved them away to get a couple pictures.

Just a little fall color was starting to show.  As we made our way back, we stopped to see some of the wildflowers blooming along the dam.

Smooth sumac, goldenrod and even some azure blue sage were blooming along the dam.

The rain had cleared so we could see the lake well.

Across the dam, we returned to the car.  From here we drove through the cute little town of Cottonwood Falls.

After getting gas, we drove a short ways north to Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve.  After getting our passport stamped, we headed out for a hike, hoping to see some bison.  A ranger had indicated that they had been spotted along the Bus Tour Road about a mile or so in.  So we followed that trail towards Windmill Pasture.  There were some blue sage blooming along the trail.

It drizzled a bit at first, but quickly ended.  The prairie was quite beautiful and more hilly than I expected.  We passed a small pond shortly into the hike.

After about 1.5 miles, we saw our first bison - two enormous males grazing off the trail.  One kept an eye on us as we passed, but were otherwise mostly uninterested.

We planned to hike the loop with Davis Trail and maximize our chance of seeing Bison and we saw two right away.  But there were a lot more to come.  After about 2 miles, we came to a large herd right across the trail.  There must have been 40 or more bison here, including a number of calves.

We stopped a safe distance and watched them and got some pictures.  We thought they might eventually move along, but this was not the case.

So after a while, we just turned around as there was no safe way to get past this herd.  Passing the first two bison, one had moved on and the other was resting.

We continued hiking back on the Bus Tour Road.

Just after leaving Windmill Pasture, we turned left on Davis Trail and headed down to a stream crossing.  Just past here, some thistle was blooming and a spotted cucumber beetle was on one of the flowers.

The views of the prairie were just beautiful in the late afternoon light.

At the intersection with Schoolhouse Spur, we turned right and headed to the Lower Fox Creek School.

Built in 1882, this one-room schoolhouse had been restored and was part of the preserve.  Then we took Southwind Nature Trail back towards the visitor center.

Near the end, we spotted a green stink bug.

Southwind Nature Trail ended at the Spring Hill Ranch Complex.  The house was really beautiful and not what I'd expect from a ranch house.

It was built of cottonwood limestone quarried from the Flint Hills.  A beautiful old stone wall ran through the complex.

We walked around the area for a bit and checked out the really impressive 19th century ranch buildings, all built of limestone.  The barn was enormous and even the chicken coops were made of limestone.

We were starting to get hungry at this point, so departed the preserve and headed to Emporia to the Hampton Inn and checked in.  For dinner, we drove into downtown and had dinner at Radius Brewing.  It was a really good dinner and the Octoberfest Ale was delicious.  I was glad to try some Kansas beer.  Then we headed back to the hotel and retired for the evening.