We've been putting off crossing into Kansas partly because we know it means the end of our journey and this part of our earthroaming life with Big Henry. And partly because we haven't found a great deal we want to see and do along the way.
Knowing this is going to be a big day of driving David finds some waterfalls for me to photograph before we get going. Grand Falls located just south of Joplin on Shoal Creek, this waterfall is a sight to see! It is the largest natural flowing waterfall in Missouri.
It's a freezing cold start to the day and after an hour of photography we need to warm our hands on mugs of coffee and switch on the heated seats.
Anyway, we have to cross this state sometime soon so we best get stuck into it. Big Brutus is our first stop in West Mineral, just off Hwy 400. He is an enormous electric shovel, the second largest in operation in the 1960’s and 70’s. Used in coal strip mining where coal seams were relatively shallow he is now retired and on show where he last dug himself out of the trenches he cut for coal extraction. He is 160 feet high and weighs 11 million pounds. The bucket holds 90 cubic yards or 150 tons. Maximum speed is 0.22 mph. It cost $6.5 million in 1962 when he was shipped in 150 railroad cars to be assembled in Kansas. He was only used until 1974 when it became no longer economical to mine coal at the site. At that time it was considered too big to move and so was left in place. We don’t visit the museum but take photos from the carpark and move on. We have a lot of ground to cover today.
Big Henry & Big Brutus...what a pair they make.
We make a detour to Quivira National Wildlife Refuge in the hope that the Sandhill Crane migration may have started. It's a big hope as we're a couple of weeks early but we're so close - what if it had happened and we'd missed it! Ever since we spent time at Whitewater Draw In Arizona with hundreds of thousands of these birds we have had a fascination for them. And, of course, as our photography skills have improved since then we hoped to get some better photos of these beautiful birds. But, we weren't blessed today. We move on and find a nice, quiet albeit a bit buggy, State Campground on Toronto Lake.
Big Henry on the "hilly" Hwy 254
Next day we head along Hwy 254 towards Wichita we pass dozens of nodding donkeys, tanks and refineries of the El Dorado oilfield. In 1915, the El Dorado Oil Field was the first oil field that was found using science/geologic mapping, part of the Mid-Continent oil province. By 1918, the El Dorado Oil Field was the largest single field producer in the USA and was responsible for 12.8% of national oil production and 9% of the world production. It was deemed by some as "the oil field that won World War 1".
Big Henry and one of the thousands of "nodding donkeys" on the Kansas Plains
The Blonde - Sorghum also dominates the landscape here with its red cone shaped seed heads. We find Sunflowers too! Yay! I had sunflowers on my list of must have photos for this tour and I finally get them. They're not the huge gigantic heads we saw on the Camino de Santiago de Compestela in Spain but they'll do. I'm lucky to find a field full of them so late in the summer.
End of sunflower season....but they always bring a smile to our faces when we see them.
Much of the fields and verges are flooded and there are giant puddles everywhere. It's not what we expected to see in Kansas but we learn that Kansas has had more than 150% the average rainfall this summer. Cows are a fat as mud although we saw many more beautiful cattle in Missouri. But they are all big, round, fat cows happily grazing in knee high green grass.
Big Henry in the sorghum fields....
There are not so many parks in Kansas to choose from for camping but Cedar Bluffs State Park is a very popular weekend site for people interested in all kinds of watersports, situated only 25 miles off the Interstate 70. We almost have the whole campsite to ourselves as it is mid week and off season now.
Agave Ridge viewpoint on the loop trail in Cedar Bluffs State Park.
In the morning after a very quiet night we get a much needed walk after the long driving days we've had. It is a fresh morning and we head out on the Agave Ridge Loop in the Cedar Bluffs State Park. Nothing remarkable but it felt oh so good to be exercising for a couple of hours. The dam has flooded hundreds of trees which stand like silver stalks around the edges. Sunrise was pretty but over in seconds. We had heard some owls last night but not much else feathered. We did come across an Ornate Box Turtle - and boy, can they move. I had to run to get photos. He wasn’t hanging around!
"Mr. Speedy", the Ornate Box Turtle out for a morning....run!
The rest of the day was a bit of a zig zag up and down, back and around dirt roads finding Castle Rock and then Monument Rocks. Castle Rock is a large limestone pillar landmark in the Smoky Hills with some badlands nearby. It took a bit of finding and we nearly gave up until David spotted a sign. It was actually quite a big sign so I’m not sure how we missed it the first time around!
How did we miss this?
Once we found it, it is definitely a ‘stand-out’ and was indeed used as a landmark on the Butterfield Overland Despatch route (Overland Trail).
Big Henry posing by Castle Rock.
Our next stop was Monument Rocks (also known as Chalk Pyramids). We chat to another visitor in this wild open country and he gives us directions. We should have trusted our instincts and gone the way we felt on this occasion - I think we did 3 sides of a square and wasted an hour of our lives! Monument Rocks are a series of large chalk formations rich in fossils standing up to 70 ft with buttes and arches. They were the first landmark chosen by the US Department of the Interior as a National Natural Landmark.
Big Henry peeking through the arch at Monument Rocks
The carbonate deposits were laid down during the Cretaceous Period some 80 million years ago in what was then the Western Interior Seaway, which split the continent of North America into two landmasses. They exist on private land and they stand alone in in the middle of tall grass prairie surrounded by farmland. There’s masses of corn (now only stalks) and sorghum with its red seedy cones standing on sturdy leafy stalks. Combine harvesters, tractors and other farm machinery are finishing the season’s harvest. Huge bales of sorghum stalks are wrapped in big round bales. I think these get used for cattle 'chop', or silage, and building materials. Everywhere nodding donkeys are pumping oil and groups of tanks stand on roadsides waiting for tankers. The landscape is flat as a pancake. The sky is huge and it is hot today. I’m frying taking photos at the Monuments trying to get that sunburst through the arch.
Some Law Enforcement Officers have driven by in full uniform in brand new ATR’s. It seemed a strange and remote location for them. Ahh, now I can see why. It’s a photo shoot. They don’t forget their responsibilities though, and remind us on the way past that we’re on private land and we cannot camp there. I was hoping to hang on till late so we could take a night sky photo through the arch. But hey ho.
"Stand by your ATV's"......"No camping allowed here!"
It’s our last night with Big Henry. David wants a special place....and eventually we find it at Lake Scott State Park.
We have a beautiful sunset on the lake, a warm balmy evening to sit outside until the stars come out.
For two years we have pretty much called Big Henry our home away from home. He has been very faithful to us and taken us to some of the most amazing places we have ever been to, as well as introducing us to some equally special people, many of whom will remain lifelong friends.
Words fail us.....we are so sorry to part company with our trusty steed....but we need to move on. He will always be with us in our photos and our memories....