The gravel snapped and popped under the Jeep’s tires as we turned onto the lane that would take us to the lake. I knew that I had come here to photograph a well known waterfall but did not even know where to begin looking. The wind was getting stronger as it was funneled through the hills that bordered the lake. The gray stones lay like debris throughout the hillsides with the larger stone around the crest, like a crown on an ancient king’s brow.
There were several jetties protruding into the lake where several men sat with their heads and hands pulled into their jackets. The morning was cool but the wind was bearing down on the lake with a chill of its own. The grass, finally green with spring, was lain nearly straight over.
At the end of the road there was a swamp-like area that was the intake for the lake but no waterfalls. Failing to find the waterfalls here, I decided to drive back to where the dam held back the waters from the valley below. Half way there I parked the Jeep on the side of the road, ensuring I would not be blocking traffic. There was an outcropping at the apex of the tallest hill that begged to be explored. It looked as though a burn had taken place and the vegetation had only begun to strive to its former glory. The rocks stood there as a testament to the decades that had passed while the prairie winds bared the long-standing stones.
Two stones stood like a gateway to the very top of the tor. There was a “room”, enclosed on three sides by natural stone walls and provided a welcomed, even if short, relief from the blustery wind.
Parking on the side of the road, I started across the dam, leaning into the wind so as not to be blown down the side. With no stones or trees to provide a break, the wind thundered over the earthen dam. I decided to take a left and followed a natural trail a short distance, stumbling upon the first surprise of the day. The first waterfall was not the one I was looking for but was an interesting one on its own. Hopping down a couple of feet to a rock protruding from the pool I began making my way to a better vantage point, hoping to capture the beauty with my camera. The second step almost proved to be a mistake, nearly dropping my equipment and falling into the water as my foot slid on the almost invisible layer of muck. Regaining my balance I moved downstream to the second waterfall, which was the one I was looking for. A nearly thirty foot drop and my fear of heights was starting to take hold as I stood there wavering on the rim.
Fighting my way through some undergrowth and debris from recent flooding, I managed to find a trail on the other side that took me to the base of the second waterfall. The ground was still squishy from recent rains and I could feel the water seeping through the fabric of my shoes. And behold there was yet a third, yet smaller, waterfall a short ways downstream. Of course compared to the other two, there was not much bluster with this last find.
I had come to Chase State Fishing Lake
to find a waterfall to photograph and walked away after finding three. There was only one thing that made this excursion more worth it and that was a treasure I found in the nearby town of Cottonwood Falls, Kansas.
Kansas City Zoo6800 Zoo Drive Kansas City, MO 64132
Finally a day that was not raining and although cool, the weather was nice enough to be outside. None of us felt like a simple hike at the state park that we always go to so we decided to go to the Kansas City Zoo instead. The kids had wanted to see the polar bear exhibit anyway so we packed some sandwiches and began the hour drive to the zoo.
One milestone we hit this year, it is the first year we did not have to push a stroller around, though after lugging two cameras and lenses I would have gladly pushed a stroller just for those.
A small surprise was that there were no lines at the ticket booths so we got our pass and were inside the gate within a matter of minutes. The kids immediately ran to the North American River Otters habitat only to find them sleeping on top of some stacked gray stone. With not much happening here, we strolled over to the Polar Bear Passage.
I figured there would be a larger crowd than there was at the Polar Bear Passage, but the kids were able to get right up to the glass and watch Nikita swim by in the semi-clouded blue water. Nikita is one of the Zoos more recent additions and was a big hit with all the kids that stood there laughing every time he would flip around in the water.
The Tiger Trail (Asia) and Australia are pretty close together. The youngest orangutan stole the show while climbing to the top of the enclosure, he was using some type of red rod to snag a branch that was just out of reach. The Red Panda was sleeping in the top of a fallen tree in its habitat and the tigers were chilling in the cool air, just close enough to get some decent photographs of them.
Australia is home to a large mob of red kangaroo that are allowed to run free and seem quite content lounging around the pond, well out of reach of curious children. New Guinea Singing Dogs can also be found running amongst the freshly bloomed trees in their environment. A small petting zoo for the kids has a few sheep running around, but they only allow themselves to be petted when you are bearing food as payment. Around the bend from that are the camels, their pen sits atop a small rise which can make it difficult for small children to view them. After that my son had decided he was tired of waiting to ride the train so we hurried to the train stop and boarded the train which took us back around towards the entrance. Since we wanted to go to Africa, we rode the train halfway around and disembarked beginning the walk to Africa. Of course we could not go any further without stopping and seeing the African elephants.
In Africa the kids were tickled to see the lions lounging lazily in the shade and the warthogs lying in the mud pits. A troop of baboon calls Africa home along with some African Wild Dogs and of course the meerkats scurrying around trying to get the attention of the onlookers.
Africa will soon be home to the Sky Safari, which will take you from the marketplace to the chimpanzee habitat and back again. This new addition should allow for some interesting photographs of the African animals that it will travel over. Unfortunately, the construction means that the rhino, chimps, zebras, and the giraffes are temporarily off display.
All in all the kids were extremely tired out when we left and to be honest, my feet were quite tired as well. The rain that was supposed to come didn’t and the day actually warmed up very nicely.
The muddy Missouri River snakes its way through bluffs that reach high above it. Through the dense woods you can catch the occasional view across the surging river into Kansas. Straying from the marked trails is the only way to truly enjoy the pristine condition of the natural landscape. From the towering limestone cliffs that run the length of the bluffs to the immense mounds that compose the highest peaks, there is a beauty that cannot be found anywhere else. During the soggy spring weather, mushroom hunters scour the bluffs looking for the much sought after morel mushrooms. Other times of the year most visitors stay on the trails, leaving the bluffs for those of us that seek the solitude that only nature can offer.
The Topeka Zoo finds its home in Gage Park on the Northwestern side of Topeka. It is very easy to get to from Hwy. 40. It is a very clean park and the zoo is well kept and the landscaping is impressive once everything blooms out. The gorilla environment was well thought out and designed. The gorilla was sitting on the ground leaning against a small tree. As a few families gathered at the window and were pointing and whispering their observations, the gorilla casually glanced over at the window, the look in his eyes was unmistakable. I have seen that same look in my son’s eyes right before he does something he knows he’s not supposed to. No one even noticed his hand slowly coming towards his face until his finger was buried knuckle deep in his nose. Some of the parents chuckled and some of the children let out a very audible “ewwww”.
The zoo is also home to a pride of lions. Two were out laying in the warming sunshine, looking like they had not a care in the world. Contentment is what comes to mind when their eyes meet yours. Photographers will like the fact that the design of the exhibit allows them to get closer than some other zoos.
The rain forest was home to several species of birds and a couple of otters that were playing in a hollowed out piece of wood. A sloth was napping just above eye level and two flamingos were roaming free through the walkways. A small taste of tropical wildlife is what the Rain Forest delivers.
A “small” surprise waits in the Animals and Man building. The hippopotamus was swimming in the indoor pool. After watching for a few moments, a baby hippopotamus’s head surfaced from beneath the dark water. Everyone watched as the baby walked part way up the ramp and with a small misstep plunged into the water and swam over to its mother.
No trip to Topeka would be complete without a visit to the Museum of the Kansas National Guard. On display are vehicles like the M113A2 troop carrier, to helicopters, such as the UH-1 Huey and the AH-1 Cobra, to a couple of aircraft, F-4D Phantom and the Canberra bomber. All of these aircraft and vehicles stand as a testament to the men and women that, throughout the last century have served, fought and died. The work horse, the CH-54 Skycrane looks like a giant metal wasp standing guard over its cargo. The M1 tanks stands proud in its service. I can only imagine the memories that these machines hold of lives past.
Inside the museum are exhibits ranging from the Civil War to the Gulf War. There is now an exact reproduction of the M.A.S.H. 4077 tent inside the museum. Anyone who remembers the television show will truly appreciate the realism and the effort and time that went into creating this exhibit.
The museum also displays an actual Medal of Honor, which is nearly impossible to obtain, making it a treasured part of the museum. The F-4 gun pod shows the magnitude of the firepower of the F-4 sitting in front of the Museum. Paintings and photographs show almost the entire history of National Guard units from Kansas. There is a Civil War encampment and even a covered wagon of the 35th Division. The weapons of war, the awards and sacrifices for fighting in them and the memories of so many Guard members are displayed here that is it difficult not to be affected by the atmosphere.
The old gate stood like it had for years. The bottom rungs buried in the ground making it difficult to open it any further to allow access to the field beyond. The sun made the brown weeds shimmer with a golden hue. The lightest breeze stirring the grass and leaves ever so slightly across the gentle sloping hill.
In the distance the sound of traffic can barely be heard through the quiet rustling of the trees. The occasional bumblebee buzzes by, curious by the stranger walking through. A hawk circles lazily, intent on finding its next meal amongst the tall grass and felled limbs. After a few moments, the red-tailed hawk lands ever so gracefully in the lone tree atop the highest hill, like a king overlooking his kingdom.
The trees are just beginning to unfurl their leaves to bathe in the warmth that spring is bringing. The grass is lush and green, insects flying about their business, minding not that there is a strange being amongst them.
With the uncertainty of Midwest weather, one learns to never let a warm day go by wasted and to take advantage of each and every one.
Today is proof that sometimes the best paths you take are the ones you make yourself.
After visiting the National World War I Museum, I must say that it is an extraordinary monument to the achievements and hardships faced by the Allied soldiers during The Great War. In addition, the museum now shows the “Man and Machine: The German Soldier in World War I” exhibit so we can see the war through the other side. It was truly amazing how the museum was laid out with the central circle being a chronological timeline that takes you from the beginning through all the important events and then to the end. Along the way there are personal writings and the thoughts of people who were actually there and experiencing what we can now only read about, imagining what these soldiers went through trying to survive such a dark and violent war.
The first thing that caught my attention was the glass bridge that extends over a poppy garden. There are 9,000 poppies planted here, each one representing 1,000 combatant deaths in WWI. The greeters are a wealth of help and knowledge about the museum so don’t hesitate to ask them any questions you may have.
Going right takes you to the exhibits that date from 1914 – 1917 and include the first half of the “Chronology of War”, a trench that allows visitors to see the conditions soldiers faced while living and fighting there, the “Interactive Tables” where anyone can learn about the technologies used throughout the war, and the “Air & Sea” galleries. Everything is neatly laid out and displayed, including a section of floor that is constructed of glass, allowing you to look below to see other artifacts. Lining the main walk are the different types of artillery guns that were used. Uniforms, handguns, rifles, heavy machine guns, awards, medical gear, chemical warfare equipment, and ammunition are a small fraction of what you will see here. A Whitehead Mark 1 torpedo and a DeHavilland DH2 demonstrates the air and sea capabilities used.
The “Horizon Theater” shows a 15-minute video about what made the United States enter the war. Below the main screen is a debris field with a British patrol making its way through. I have never been to war, but I can imagine that this is very much how it looked walking through the devastating destruction after a fierce battle.
The 1917 – 1919 section houses artillery, medical technology from the time period, a horse drawn 75mm gun caisson from 1918, and a French Nieuport N12 hanging from the ceiling. See what happens when a building is hit by artillery by walking into a crater scattered with charred debris. In the basement, reachable by elevator, is a research library that boasts 60,000 archival documents and 6,000 titles. You can also see the base of the Liberty Memorial Tower while you are down here. The exhibit that I believe really shows the experience is the Renault FT17 Tank that has a hole in the side of it from being hit by a German shell. It is almost unfathomable today to imagine what driving that tank into battle was like.
The National World War I Museum really drives home how dark and bloody the war was. The equipment was so primitive compared to what we have today and I must stand in awe and respect of the soldier that fought and died during WWI, they deserve the honor that this museum bestows upon them, and rightfully so.
Finally, a warm day is upon us. After a cold and snow filled winter, the sunshine feels exhilarating and the green grass is a welcome sight. We decide to take the kids to Rochester Falls, about ten miles northeast of St. Joseph, MO.
The grass along the Platte River is only beginning to show hints of green. Dried brown leaves still cover most of the ground. There is no sign of the small purple and yellow flowers that warmer weather usually brings quickly and the yellowish brown of limestone dominated the riverbank and the small island that split the river in two.
Today, a fathers spend time with his two young children, showing one how to send rocks splashing into the surely still cold water while the other hops up and down on the uneven shelves of rock.
On the opposite side there is a old bluish car protruding from the river bank, been there for a couple of decades judging by the mud and growth piled on top of it. The falls were not impressive since the river level was up. During the dry season, the river abates and the falls are a bit more remarkable.
A quick drive into St. Joseph and we decide to visit Krug Park. The warm weather has brought nearly everyone to the park. The lagoon is a blur of activity as cars vie for parking places and families line the railing to feed the geese in the lagoon. We drive on around to the Italian style castle that houses several stone steps, a playground, and the remnants of a fountain that had to have been grand in its day. Children hurry to get their turn at the slides and swings while the parents sit at the picnic tables watching.
It was nice to get out of the house on such a day. The kids play and have fun and I get to play with my new lens and enjoy the sunshine. It is a good day indeed.