I’m excited to bring to you a new sale I’m running from now until December 13, 2016! Currently, all prints in my photography galleries are 15% off for my annual Holiday Sale! However, I’ve decided to do something special for a few of my new and best-selling images. The following 12 photos for the 12 days of Christmas are going to be on sale for 20% off! Each day, I will post one to social media, starting December 2nd and running through December 13th. Take a look below and click an image to go to a page where you can purchase prints of any of these images! If you don’t see the one you want, just remember that all other photos are on sale at 15% off! You can view more in the photo galleries.
On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a Pottawatomie Sunset for you and me!
On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, beautiful autumn colors along the Niagara River!
Geese at the Keeper of the Plains
On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a beautiful sunset over the geese at the Keeper of the Plains!
Monument Rocks Milky Way
On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a sky filled with stars above Monument Rocks!
Maroon Bells Milky Way
On the five day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, another star-filled sky, but at the Maroon Bells this time!
Maroon Bells Milky Way
On the six day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, one of the best sunsets of the year in the Flint Hills at Texaco Hill!
Texaco Hill Sunset
On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a gorgeous sunrise at one of the most rugged places Kansas has to offer!
Grinter Farms Sunflowers
On the eight day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a field full of sunflowers at Grinter Farms in Lawrence, Kansas!
Sunrise Fog at the Keeper of the Plains
On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a flower bush and a foggy sunrise at the Keeper of the Plains!
Fall at Watkins Glen
On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a two mile hike up an autumn-drenched Watkins Glen!
The Sunrise Before Harvest
On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a fiery sunrise above Kansas wheat field ready to harvest!
The Sunrise Before Harvest
On the twelth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, one of Kansas’ best waterfalls in full flow!
Our first stop is Kanopolis State Park, just northwest of Marquette, Kansas. Kanopolis is a wonderful place to spend the sunrise. Take a hike on the Horsethief Canyon trail, visit the spillway waterfall and make sure to check out the actual lake!
Mushroom Rock State Park
Mushroom Rock State Park is just north of Kanopolis State Park by a few miles. It’s down a small dirt road. While the main rock that the park is named after is accessed via a quick 2-3 minute walk down the trail to the south of the road, make sure to check out some of the other rock formations in the area!
Wilson State Park
Wilson State Park is one of my favorites in all of Kansas! Wilson Lake is known for it’s amazing clear, blue waters! In fact, it’s known to be the clearest lake in Kansas! A plethora of activities await here, from boating and kayaking, to mountain biking and hiking. The cliffs that jut inward along the rim of the lake make for great kayaking, while the trail above these same cliffs belongs to the Switchgrass Mountain Bike Trail.
Cedar Bluff State Park
To the west of Wilson State Park lies Cedar Bluff State Park. Cedar Bluff State Park is the main attraction of the Smoky Valley Scenic Byway. The most interesting feature about the reservoir is the giant 100 foot bluffs that line parts of the south side of the lake.
Lake Scott State Park
Our final stop is Lake Scott State Park, along the Western Vistas Historic Byway. You’ll want to leave a lot of time to work with at Lake Scott, as there’s plenty to do! Lake Scott is located inside of a canyon. Surrounding the lake are the walls of the canyon, with spring waters from springs like the Big Spring feeding into the lake. While the beauty of the lake is stunning, it’s history is equally amazing! Within the park’s boundaries is the only known pueblo in Kansas, El Quartelejo. It was built by Native American’s who entered the region after fleeing Spanish rule in New Mexico in the 1600’s. To the south of Lake Scott is the beautiful Battle Canyon. At first glance, Battle Canyon appears to be a scenic canyon that cuts through the prairie. Digging deeper into the history of the region presents even more though. Battle Canyon was the site of the last Native American battle in Kansas. Today, a monument stands at the spot where many of the Northern Cheyenne women and children hid during the battle. When visited Lake Scott, make sure to visit all of these areas, as they are truly remarkable! If you have a little time, the hiking trails make a great way to finish off the day. Feel free to stay and camp as well. Lake Scott has some wonderful camping grounds to spend the night at!
Optional side trips: Many of the best side trips are located near Lake Scott. The absolute must are the giant 70 foot tall chalk pyramids called Monument Rocks! In addition, just to the north of the lake lies the Little Pyramids and the badlands of Little Jerusalem. Castle Rock can also be found between Cedar Bluff State Park and Lake Scott State Park.
With all of the recent rain, I thought a nice South Central Kansas waterfall road trip would be just the trick for a great weekend adventure! I’ve picked some of my favorite waterfalls as part of a circular trip that starts and ends in Wichita. Check them out below!
While the main attraction in downtown Wichita is undoubtedly the iconic Keeper of the Plains, the waterfall that sits below it as the Little Arkansas River meets the Arkansas River is impressive in it’s own right! I’ve made this the first stop, as the Keeper of the Plains is a wonderful place to enjoy the sunrise.
Bonus: Just upstream from the Keeper of the Plains from lies another waterfall that dams up the Little Arkansas River before it reaches the statue.
Optional: A few miles downstream from the Keeper of the Plains is the relatively new Lincoln Street Bridge falls. They are quite impressive, as you can see below.
Optional #2: Slate Creek Dam Falls is located in Wellington. It’s one of the more beautiful man-made waterfalls in all of Kansas! If you have a few extra minutes on your waterfall road trip, it’s a worthy stop!
Drury Dam Falls
Near Caldwell, Kansas
After getting your fill of the Keeper of the Plains (and possible side excursions), head south to Caldwell and the Drury Dam Falls. Drury has a pretty amazing history as a tourism locations. The spot I shot this photo at was once a large hotel where people all over Kansas and Oklahoma would visit. A massive flood in the 1900s swept the hotel away. By the 1950s, a fire destroyed the mill across the bank. All that remains is the ruins of the mill and the waterfall you see here.
Cowley State Fishing Lake, Kansas
Cowley Falls are some of the biggest and most famous of waterfalls in Kansas. Dropping 25-30 feet in the spillway of Cowley State Fishing Lake makes for a sight to behold when rains run heavy. The sight you see above is what happens in the spring after heavy rainfall! Even in other seasons, a good rain can get the falls flowing a bit. Once you’ve had your fill of Cowley Falls, it’s time to head east towards the Chautauqua Hills and more awesome waterfalls!
Optional: Osro Falls is just a little further to east of Cowley Falls and somewhat on the way to our next stop. Located along the Caney River, Osro Falls can be a bit difficult to get to after lots of rain. You have to trek it across a farmer’s field on an unimproved road to get to the low water crossing waterfall.
Near Sedan, Kansas
Arriving east into the Chautauqua Hills, we come upon the Red Buffalo Ranch, near Sedan, Kansas. One of the highlights of the ranch is Butcher Falls, which is a large punchbowl waterfall. Various cascades begin the drop to the main waterfall before plunging 20 feet into the pool below. It makes for a great swimming spot and is almost always flowing year-round!
Optional (but absolutely worth it!): One of my favorite waterfalls in Kansas is Chautauqua Falls. Located at the Old Sedan Lake’s spillway, Chautauqua Falls makes a drop of at least two levels. Both drops are impressive in their own right. The first drops 10-20 feet depending on which side of the falls you’re viewing from (there are multiple parts of the waterfall here, splitting off before coming back together). The second is a much shorter five or so feet, but very beautiful.
Elk Falls, Kansas
After visiting Butcher Falls (and Chautauqua Falls if you took the optional side trip), your next stop should be Elk Falls, in the town of the same name. Elk Falls is a popular swimming and fishing hole. The drop of 5-10 feet into a large pool makes a great summer swimming spot. Lots of fisherman also make use of the area. It’s a great stop as you make your way back north and west towards Wichita and our final waterfalls on this road trip.
Near Latham, Kansas
On the southwest side of Butler State Fishing Lake is a spillway waterfall named Butler Falls. The main drops are showcased in the above picture. if you hike downstream, various cascades also make for interesting scenery. It can be rough terrain, especially in high waters, but totally worth it!
Santa Fe Lake Falls
Our final stop is Santa Fe Lake Falls. Santa Fe Lake itself is a hidden gem in south central Kansas completely worth a stop in it’s own right. The lake has great swimming, hiking, camping, boating and fishing. But we’re here for the waterfall! I’ve been here in multiple seasons, and have never seen it dry (not that it can’t run dry). After a good rain, it can be absolutely ferocious! The drop is maybe 15 feet high, but quite wide. Park next to the dam on the east side of the lake to find it and walk along the dam. If water is flowing at all, you’ll hear it before you see it!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this south central Kansas waterfall road trip!
You’ve seen the ultimate Kansas waterfall road trip. Now try a more zoned in waterfall road trip specialized for northeast Kansas in this Northeast Kansas waterfall road trip! This one is made for people in the area of Kansas City, Lawrence and Topeka. I’m going to take you on a road trip to seven (or more if you hit the optional side trips) beautiful waterfalls in northeast Kansas.
Starting in the heart of Kansas City, on the Kansas side, is a beautiful waterfall one would never expect to be in the middle of a city. Located in a place aptly called the Waterfall Park in Merriam, Kansas is Turkey Falls. This waterfall is typically flowing year round. Once you’ve had your fill of Turkey Creek Falls, it’s time to head northwest to Lansing.
One of my favorite waterfalls in all of Kansas is Angel Falls in Lansing, Kansas. To find Angel Falls, you have to park at the St. Francis de Sales church, and walk the beautiful hiking path about a tenth of a mile south to the falls. After checking out Angel Falls, it’s time to head north to Wathena for our next waterfall!
Walnut Creek Falls
South of Wathena, Kansas
One Glacial Hills Scenic Byway, which is a beautiful drive in it’s own right! However, we’re on a waterfall hunt, so they can wait for another day. Just south of Wathena, nearby the Missouri River, is a beautiful little cascading waterfall that creates a sort of waterfall called Walnut Creek Falls. Once you’ve gotten your fill of Walnut Creek Falls, it’s time to head for Lawrence and our next waterfall!
Optional Side Trip #1: Buck Creek Falls – Hidden in the country to the north of Lawrence is this beautiful rippling waterfall called Buck Creek Falls.
Optional Side Trip #2: Bowersock Dam Falls – You will likely see this one just driving to Wakarusa River Falls, as it stretches the Kansas river in Lawrence.
Wakarusa River Falls
Clinton Lake, Lawrence, Kansas
From Walnut Creek Falls near Wathena, you’ll have to head southwest towards Lawrence to get to Wakarusa River Falls. This waterfall is just downstream from the spillway at Clinton State Park along the Wakarusa River. It’s a great fishing spot as well as making for a wonderful place to just relax and enjoy the sound of rushing water.
Southeast of Topeka, Kansas
From Clinton Lake head west towards Overbrook. A few miles north from Overbrook is the historic Swissvale town, where you’ll stop to hike along a rail to trail project called the Landon Nature Trail. It won’t look much like a trail, but rather a line through a farmer’s field that used to be a railroad track. If you hike north from the road for a third of a mile or so, you’ll arrive at Swissvale Falls along Camp Creek. This is one of my favorite waterfalls in Kansas.
Optional Side Trip #3: Santa Fe Falls – In spring and times of high rainfall, this one is worth checking out. On your way back towards Kansas City from Swissvale Falls, stop in at Edgerton, where the dam spillway creates a pretty waterfall.
Cedar Lake Falls
From Swissvale Falls, you’ll head back towards Kansas City until you get to Olathe, where you’ll make a stop at Cedar Lake’s spillway. If rain has been flowing, you’ll find a fairly impressive waterfall here called Cedar Lake Falls. After exploring for a while, we’re off to our final waterfall of the trip! It’s just a couple miles away.
Cedar Creek Falls
Just a couple miles north of Cedar Lake Falls is Cedar Creek Falls. This waterfall is located on the south side of Lake Olathe, where Cedar Creek flows into the lake. It’s a wonderful fishing spot, and a great place to finish off this northeast Kansas waterfall road trip!
The Sunflower State is known for a few different crops. Wheat, corn, etc. But it’s symbol is the sunflower. Surprisingly, depending on the area of Kansas you’re in, finding a sunflower field can be pretty difficult! First off, there’s a difference between wild sunflowers and sunflower crops. Wild sunflowers can be found throughout a number of months in the summer and fall. Sunflower fields, however, have a much smaller window of opportunity. Crop sunflowers typically only bloom for a couple of weeks before the flowers become droopy, black and ugly. If you want to find sunflowers that are in full bloom with healthy, beautiful yellow flower pedals, it might take a little work. Typically sunflower fields start popping up in August and extend until late September depending on when they were planted. I’ve built this guide to keep track of where the sunflower fields are blooming around Kansas.
However, I’m only one person, so if you know of a sunflower field that’s currently in bloom, I’d love to have a report! Same with any reports of the condition of a field. Just send me a message on my contact page and give me any information you have on it! A link to a Google map, a street address or the intersection of two streets that the field sits on would be helpful. In addition, the bloom-stage of the sunflowers would be helpful as well! Are they at peak? Starting to droop? Still a week away from bloom? Those are the kinds of status updates I’d love to give!
NOTE: While at sunflower fields recently, I’ve noticed lots of people that have been ripping off the heads of sunflowers to take them home. Grinter Farms has a donation box that lets you do this, but other sunflower fields that farmers own are private property and not necessarily open to the public! The least you can do if you are taking advantage of someone else’s field is to respect their property. Please respect the property rights of these Kansas farmers. They’re trying to make a living just like you are!
So with that out of the way, here are the known sunflower fields (so far):
This one is the ultimate sunflower field in Kansas. I’ve heard it’s the largest (that’s not confirmed though). But it definitely brings in the most visitors! So much so that the place was shut down on Labor Day because of the amount of traffic blocking up the road and causing accidents! Grinter Farms has become a yearly tourist attraction around the Labor Day weekend for folks from Kansas City, Topeka, Lawrence and even from out of state. Thousands of people flock to Grinter Farms when sunflower season blooms. The best way to get updates on the condition of the sunflowers at Grinter Farms is to visit their Facebook page. I’m about to head up there to check the place out as I update this. Peak is right now, and sunflowers will probably begin to droop by early next week (Sept. 11). However, some of the sunflower fields were planted later and should start blooming soon! So a second peak will likely happen in a week or two!
Between Haysville and Derby
2500 East 79th Street South, Haysville, KS 67060 – Google Map
There’s a sunflower field along 79th street between Haysville and Derby. If you’re coming from Haysville, it’s just east of Hydraulic (16th St). From Derby, it’s just west of where 79th street curves south and turns into Hillside. This one was in full bloom as of Sept 7th! I’ll definitely be checking it out again in the coming days!
South of Pilsen
The intersection of Remington Road and 270th – Google Map
This one is located just south of Pilsen. I visited this one on August 25th and while there were some sunflowers already turning black, there were still a lot of happy colorful flowers as well.
Sept. 7th Update: This one is likely past peak at this point.
South of Marion
Just north of 150th and Sunflower Road – Google Map
A few miles south of Marion, along Sunflower Road (Old Hwy 77), this sunflower field was in full bloom just a week or so ago (August 20th or so). I drove by it on the evening of the 25th and it was starting to fade, but might still have some good flowers through the weekend!
Sept. 7th Update: This one is likely well past peak at this point.
North of Halstead
I found this one in 2015, but can’t remember the exact intersection it was located. It was just a few miles north of Halstead along Halstead Road. I drove it on August 24th in 2016 but there were no blooming sunflower fields. It’s possible I missed it and it had no bloomed yet, or it’s possible the farm didn’t plant sunflowers this year. I will take another drive in a week or two to check.
Sept. 7th Update: Haven’t been up to look recently, but hopefully soon.
Somewhere along Meridian Ave, south of Haysville, on the way to Peck is a sunflower field. I was tipped off by Virginia Scott Norton for this one. I haven’t driven down to check it out, but hope to soon!
Northwest of Lindsborg
1258 Wheatridge Road, Lindsborg, KS 67456 – Google Map
I found this one in 2015 after missing out on the one in Halstead. It was just past peak when I got there, but still pretty vibrant. I visited on September 12th, 2015 and it was maybe 3-4 days past peak. You can see what that sunflower field looked like in the image below. It’s just to the south of Coronado Heights and northwest of Lindsborg.
Sept. 7th Update: I’m hoping to check this one out soon!
This one is located just off of I-35 at exit 78. I found it last year on my way to Colorado for fall colors. It was blooming much later than other sunflower fields I’ve found. This was on the 22nd of September. No word on whether sunflowers were planted there this year, or if the timeframe will still be the same, but it might be worth keeping an eye on!
Lyndon 4H Sunflower Field
17977 U.S. 75, Scranton, KS 66537 – Google Map
Located about 8 miles north of the town of Lyndon, this beautiful sunflower field is in bloom in mid/late August. For more information on bloom times, visit the Lyndon 4H Sunflower Field.
Sept. 7th Update: Looking at their Facebook page, this one might still be going strong, but I haven’t been able to check it out.
While I don’t have any specific fields to report, Goodland is sometimes called the “Sunflower City” for the myriad of sunflower fields that dot the landscape. If you’re heading west, it might be worth driving around the roads around Goodland!
I’ve heard there are a number of fields to the south and west of Hutchinson, but haven’t received exact locations. I’m hoping to drive out that way in the next week to see if there’s anything good out there!
Whether it’s the Perseids in August or the Geminids in December, Kansas is a great place to watch a meteor shower! It’s also a great place to photograph meteors! This guide should help you find some amazing spots in Kansas.
First off, like any good meteor shower guide, dark skies are the key to maximizing how many meteors you will see! That’s not to say you can’t view a meteor shower from a city. Even within cities such as Wichita, Topeka and Kansas City, it’s still possible to see a few meteors this time of year. But the further away from major towns you can get, the skies will become darker, the more stars you will see, and inevitably, more meteors!
Second, not only do you need to keep in mind that light pollution from cities and towns will drown out all but the brightest of meteors, but the moon is a major source of light as well. Even a half moon is bright enough to drown out a large percentage of meteors. Finding a time when the moon is not in view is critical to good meteor viewing. Websites like Time and Date can be really helpful to find out if there will be a new moon or when the moon rises and sets.
Obviously clear skies are the best condition with which to view meteor showers. But even if the sky isn’t perfectly clear, you can still see a few meteors in partly cloudy skies. Be persistant and watch the weather to see what it will be doing on any given night. Also keep in mind that even though a meteor shower may peak on a certain date, many showers will start well before that date, and linger on for a while.
With all that out of the way, I’m going to give you some pointers on some of my favorite Kansas locations to check out!
Kansas Dark Sky Locations
My favorite place to view dark skies and meteor showers in Kansas is the Flint Hills! The Flint Hills are full of so many awesome spots to view a meteor shower it isn’t even funny! I could fill a book on the countless backroads, landmarks, lakes and other places that would make the Flint Hills the perfect place to view a meteor shower. Let’s run through a few spots though!
Teter Rock. This little gem in the Flint Hills east of Cassoday has been my go-to place for years as a night photographer! The skies are fairly dark in most directions from here. There’s a hint of light pollution to the northeast where Emporia is and to the southwest where El Dorado is and you can see the flashing lights of the wind farm to the south, but overall, you’re far enough from all of these that it shouldn’t be a problem. To get there, visit Teter Rock’s page on Kansas is Beautiful for a map and directions to the right location.
Sometimes during major meteor showers, Teter Rock can actually get kind of packed with astrophotographers and other folks just trying to find a dark spot for meteor viewing. So if you run into a small parking lot of cars here, don’t worry, there’s a plethora of backroads in the area where you can park just about anywhere to view the meteor shower. One such road is the open range road out to Texaco Hill, another great spot with views in all directions. This road is just a little further to east from the Teter Rock turn, and heads north for a few miles across gorgeous Flint Hills open-ranch road. View the Texaco Hill and Flint Hills Wildlife Drive for more spots along the backroads in this area of the Flint Hills. Just about anywhere along the Flint Hills Wildlife Drive will produce beautiful dark skies and great scenery for meteor shower viewing! Just remember you are on open range road, so cattle might be on the road.
If you were hoping for a spot closer to a major highway in the Flint Hills, the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve is technically open 24 hours to hiking. Any trail along there would yield great views in all directions, with only the small towns of Strong City and Cottonwood Falls to the south as light pollution competition. If getting out and hiking in the dark isn’t your thing, Lower Fox Creek Schoolhouse is just off the highway in the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve and provides a wonderful place to watch the meteors.
Further to the northeast, as you get closer to some of the major cities of Kansas is another backroad that has great open sky views. Just west of Topeka, near Alma, is a gravel road called the Skyline Drive. It’s aptly named, because it follows along a ridge on the edge of the Flint Hills. Just about anywhere along this drive has views that span for dozens of miles. It makes for a wonderful spot to stop and watch a meteor shower. I shot the photo below during the Eta Aquarid’s meteor shower in May.
Another great spot in Flint Hills are the hills above the eastern side of Tuttle Creek Lake. Chase State Fishing Lake near Cottownwood Falls could make another great spot for meteor viewing.
In northeast Kansas, the northern stretches of the Glacial Hills Scenic Byway are far enough away from Kansas City and the surrounding towns to produce some darker skies. The further west from there that you go into the rural backroads will only get darker and darker as well. Heading to the southeast part of Kansas, many of the state parks could make great dark sky spots for viewing. Somewhere along the dam at Elk City State Park or above Bourbon Falls at Bourbon County State Fishing Lake could make great spots for meteor viewing!
Moving over in south central Kansas, Cowley State Fishing Lake is always a dark sky area. I shot the image above back in February. The lake is down in a valley though, so finding a spot on a hill overlooking the lake would be better than at the shoreline of the lake. Any area down here (as long as you’re a few miles from Ark City and Winfield) should make for dark skies, as Wichita is many miles away.
Further north, into central Kansas lies Quivira National Wildlife Refuge, the Wetlands and Wildlife National Scenic Byway and Cheyenne Bottoms. Full of many ponds, lakes and wildlife, this can be a great place to view the stars as well. Just make sure to bring bug spray if you’re out early in the evening! The mosquitos are thick in these parts! But on a windless night the plethora of stars with meteors and the Milky Way reflecting in the wetlands makes for a wonderful night of star-gazing!
Moving a little further north, the Prairie Trail Scenic Byway has a plethora of fun places to watch a meteor shower from, so long as you stay away from the bigger towns of McPherson and Salina. Near Lindsborg, Coronado Heights is a nice spot high above the surrounding Smoky Valley hills. If you’re from central Kansas, it’s a great place to star-gaze and you’re for sure to see some meteors. Moving further west along the Prairie Trail Scenic Byway will only get better as you move away from the lights of I-135 and it’s cities. Scenes like the ones below will become the norm out in the rural areas along this fantastic stretch of Kansas byway.
Along this byway, a few of the great state parks of Kansas can make for some great dark sky viewing as well. Kanopolis State Park provides a great place to throw down a tent and sit out under the stars to admire the meteor shower. Just down the road, along a small gravel road stretch of the Prairie Trail Scenic Byway lies Mushroom Rock State Park, another great spot to watch meteors fly by.
Moving southwest from here, anywhere in the Gypsum Hills would make a solid spot for dark skies to watch the meteor shower. Anywhere along the Gypsum Hills Scenic Byway or the many backroads nearby make for wonderful viewing spots far away from any major city. Medicine Lodge is the only larger town in the area, and it sits on the east edge of the Gypsum Hills. Get a dozen miles or more to the west, and the skies will be full of stars! If you want to go even farther, head to the western edge of the Gypsum Hills to visit Big Basin for some great scenery and a major lack of light pollution!
And finally, western Kansas is possibly the best bet for great dark sky scenery! As long as some of the bigger towns, such as Dodge City, Garden City, Goodland, etc. aren’t within a few miles of you, you can pretty much park on the side of any backroad and enjoy! Some of my favorite spots include Monument Rocks (please note: I’ve been informed recently that permission is required to be there after dark), Castle Rock, Wilson Lake State Park or Lake Scott State Park. All of these places make for great dark skies viewing!
If you’re feeling really adventurous, a drive out into the Arikaree Breaks of extreme northwest Kansas would make for some serious star-gazing far removed from any major city! Extreme southwest Kansas also makes for wonderful meteor shower viewing. The Cimarron National Grassland is a wonderful place for watching meteors streak by. The best thing about the grasslands is the lack of towns to the north, where meteors should originate from.
Hopefully you’ve enjoyed reading about some of the best places to watch meteor showers in Kansas. While the above locations may be some of my favorites for viewing and photographing the night sky here in Kansas, you can undoubtedly find dark skies in most locations around the state. Just get away from the big cities, wait for the moon to set, sit back and enjoy!
Tips on Photographing Meteors
For those aspiring photographers that would like to try their hand at photographing a meteor, I’ve got a few tips for you. First off, make sure you have a sturdy tripod! That’s the key! With the length of time your shutter will be open, there’s no getting around having some way to keep the camera steady during the shot. Another piece of equipment that’s helpful to have is a remote shutter of some kind. There are both wired and wireless versions out there. Wireless would obviously be best, as any amount of movement can cause even the tiniest of camera shakes.
Once you have your camera mounted up to your tripod, point the camera towards the constellation Perseus. Having a wide angle lens (14mm is great, 18mm, even 24mm will do) to capture as much of the sky as possible will help get the most meteors. Light is precious at this hour of the night, so setting your aperture (f-stop) to be wide open will let in the most light. When it comes to the ISO and shutter speed, you’ll need to practice a little to see what works best.
Meteors are only in the sky for short periods of time. Most streak by in a blink of the eye. So the shutter speed can be a bit of a double edged sword. You need a longer shutter speed to capture more light from the stars and foreground, but you don’t want it too long as the light from the meteor will fade. If you exposure for 30 seconds, and that meteor is only in the sky for 1/4 of a second, it would have to be a really bright meteor for it not to be partially darkened out by the other 29 and 3/4ths of a second of darkness that the rest of the shot will register.
With ISO, some cameras do better at higher ISOs than others. A good rule of thumb would be to start at around 6400 ISO and work down. If you can get by at 2000, the less grainy the shot will be. But the higher the ISO, the shorter your shutter speed can be. Just practice with these two settings and find a good balance.
Also, being able to set your camera up on a continuos burst of shooting can save you some work. If you can set the camera to continuously shoot, eventually you’re almost guaranteed to catch a meteor or two! But with all things photography, practice makes perfect. And just being out there trying to get a photo of a meteor can be quite the fun ordeal!
One more note about shutter speed worth considering is the movement of stars in the sky. Depending on the focal length, you will start seeing something called star trails if your shutter speed is over 20-30 seconds. Star trails look like the stars are moving in the sky. In reality though, the earth is spinning and moving through space, making the stars streak through the sky. Star trails can make for great shots, but when shooting meteors or the Milky Way, it’s not exactly welcoming. If possible, it’s best to keep your shutter speed at 45 seconds or below to minimize the trails.
For years, I’ve watched the various aurora services such as the Space Weather Prediction Center and Soft Serve News Aurora Forecasts, just hoping to get out and photograph even a glimpse of the Northern Lights in Kansas. The Northern Lights have been on my bucket list for years. Last night, I captured them. But the story is more interesting than just capturing a couple photos.
It all began when I left Wichita an hour and a half before sunset on Sunday night, with the intent of driving up to Quivira National Wildlife Refuge to shoot Milky Way shots and a star trail scene. I had been waiting for calm winds and a free night to get out there, in hopes of catching a reflection. I also knew there was solar activity going on through the weekend, so there was always a slight chance the Northern Lights could come out to dance in the skies above. To be honest, they were barely on my mind though. I didn’t expect much, as the prediction was that the best chance was the night before (Saturday into Sunday morning). After getting up at 3 a.m. twice on Wednesday and Friday for other photography trips in the Flint and Gypsum Hills, I drained my energy so bad that I slept like a rock Friday and Saturday nights, not bothering to even attempt to go out. In fact, I fell asleep watching the Brazil-Columbia Copa America match at 9:30 on Saturday night. I had been waiting all day to watch it! But after a good nights sleep, I was ready to go on Sunday!
I arrived on the south side of Quivira 20 minutes or so before sunset to do a little scouting. I had been here a month before and had driven by the Big Salt Marsh on the north side of the refuge at sunrise, so I knew a few locations that could work. But I wanted to scout for half an hour or so prior to see if there was an even better location. I struggled to find a good large body of water facing north for the star trails. I knew the Big Salt Marsh would still work, so I made my way up there. By the time the sun had set and light was beginning to dim, I decided to pull the camera out. Normally I set my old Canon 5D Mark II for star trails on a 14mm lens and let it shoot continuously while I go off to use my newer Sony A7rii to shoot Milky Way scenes to the south and east. But I actually sold the Mark II to my wife’s business (Valerie Shannon Photography) for her to use as a backup camera. As she had a senior portrait session last night, I went up to Quivira with just my Sony. While the Sony is a wonderful camera, I still haven’t picked up a cable release that I can set up to just shoot while I go off to do other things. So for me to shoot star trails with it, I would need to be right next to it either pressing the shutter or using the cheap wireless remote trigger. The trigger is a wonderful tool, but doesn’t let me set it up to just shoot without me pressing anything like the cable release on the old Canon.
The problem was that I was ill prepared for the insane amount of mosquitos (I have nearly 100 bites on my legs right now). To do star trails, I would need to stand outside, being eaten alive by mosquitos. So I concocted a solution. I would put the camera a little ways from the waters edge, then park the car next to it, so I could press my remote shutter every 30 seconds as needed to put together the star trails image. So I did just that.
After taking a few shots, I realized there was still quite a bit of time before the sky was going to be dark enough to really get some shots. So I decided to drive down the road a bit to another pond and see if any fireflies would come out to photograph. I jumped in the car, put it in reverse, but didn’t move. I let out an audible “Oh no…”. I was stuck. Apparently I had gotten just a little too close to the salt marsh. When standing on it at that location, it seemed fine, but the car itself weighed a lot more than I did. I tried using a plank of wood nearby to dig a little out and use as a ramp for one of the tires to back up a little. All I did was make it worse. I finally consigned myself to realizing I couldn’t get out on my own. I tried calling my wife and found that my signal wasn’t strong enough. So I got out of the car. 10 feet away, in the middle of the road (also in the swarm of mosquitos), the signal was strong enough to make a call. My wife gave me the AAA numbers to call and get some help. So I called at 10:30, and was told someone would be out by 11:15 to get me.
I waited in the car for 15 minutes, then realized I might as well make use of my time and get some good shots. The mosquitos were starting to quiet down a little, so I set up tripod up to shoot a Milky Way panorama.
My plan had been to shoot a Milky Way panorama like this from the west side of the salt marsh, facing east, but the salt marsh had dried up in the spot I had hoped to shoot it. I also didn’t know when the AAA guy was going to get there, so I just set up shop in the middle of the road and went to shooting. When I got to the last few frames of my shot, I noticed a heavy purplish/pinkish color. Seemed strange. I knew there was a slight chance of the Northern Lights making it quite a bit south, but hadn’t received any alerts that they were anywhere near as far south as Kansas. I’ve read in the past, the kp index (a measurement of the strength of the aurora borealis) needs to be at least 7 or higher to even have a chance of glimpsing the Northern Lights, even with a camera. The camera can pick them up before the human eye can. So I decided to set the camera up facing north. To my surprise, there was a pink/purple glow directly to the north.
I shot a number of images of it, and you can see the columns of purple and pink moving in the distant north. I was estatic. I took at least 10 shots because I was in disbelief that I was actually capturing the Northern Lights from Kansas finally. This had been a major bucket list item. I knew the photos wouldn’t be amazing, as the aurora was so far off in the distance, and I really only had the water to work with as a reflection foreground. Still, it was extremely exciting to see this!
My next thought was that it would be fun to get a shot of the car, stuck in the salt marsh, with the lights behind it.
It was at this point that I realized it was well after 11:15, when AAA said someone would be there to pull me out. I went back to the car to charge the phone a little (I forgot to mention, I had about 10% battery left at this point, but thankfully brought my charger). After charging, I called back at 11:45, and was told their only driver for the area was 400 miles away on a job. 400 miles?? That’s like, nearly to Denver! They suggested I give the local authorities a try. So I give that a run. Pretty soon, I’ve got a Stafford County Sheriff Deputy on his way to help me out. While waiting, I tried my hand at one more shot of the Milky Way, as the aurora was no longer showing up at this point.
Around 1 a.m. or so, the sheriff arrived. Unfortunately, he didn’t have something that could hook on to anything that could really get me out without pulling my bumper off, so he called up the tow service to help out. He had me wait in the truck with him. When I told him I photographed the Northern Lights, I’m not quite sure if he believed me or not, but it got him talking about his travels up to Montana, South Dakota and Wyoming, and how I really should get up to photograph Glacier National Park if I like that kind of scenery. I really appreciated his help. By about 2a.m., the tow service guy showed up. Within 5 minutes he had me out of the muck. Unfortunately he could only take cash, so I would have to follow him back to St. John to pay at his business. What I didn’t realize is that St. John was another 30 minutes southwest of there yet! Either way, I was just thankful to be out of the muck, and thankful he was willing to drive out and help me out in the middle of the night.
When I got to St. John, I had a notification come across my phone that the kp index had shot back up and the numbers were looking like it was possible to see the Northern Lights in Kansas again. We got to the tow truck guys place and I paid the bill and thanked him for his help. I had about an hour and 45 minutes left to get home, but decided to stop once or twice to see if the lights had come back out. Unfortunately nothing showed up (there was a very slight green glow low on the northern horizon, but I think it was likely just air glow). Just to make myself feel better, I shot the Milky Way one more time before returning to Wichita.
As I got home, I was thankful for all the help people had given me. I was also ecstatic that I finally photographed the Northern Lights from Kansas! I fell asleep that “night” to the sun coming up on the eastern horizon, knowing that I finally photographed the Northern Lights in Kansas and knocked that off my bucket list. While it may not have been during the best of scenarios, at least I’ve got an interesting story to tell!
Moraine Lake to Waimea Canyon: My Top 10 Photo Spots
Posted on December 9, 2015 by Mickey
Everyone has those favorite places they love to visit. Whether it’s hiking in Switzerland, walking in the sand at the Pacific Ocean as waves roll in on a wild beach, or watching buffalo roam the tallgrass prairie in the Flint Hills, we all have our special places! My favorite places to photograph have evolved dramatically over the past 6-7 years as I’ve picked up a camera and photographed the places I travel to. I wanted to share some of these favorite places to photograph with you. This list only consists of places I’ve been too. If I had been hiking in at Torres del Paine in Chile, traveling the countryside of New Zealand or photographing under the stars at Monument Rocks in western Kansas, I would imagine this list would be even harder. But I’m only going off of places I’ve been to over and over again! I really struggled to decide this list. The top three in particular kept changing places as I was writing this. If you were to ask me to name my favorite spot to photograph in any given week, it would probably change weekly.
Also keep in mind that this list is based of my favorite places to photograph, not visit. There are undoubtedly a few spots I would have much higher on this list (Chamonix-Mont Blanc in France, Vancouver Island, the Chateau de Chillon in Switzerland) had my photography plans in those places worked out better. Poor lighting, lack of time and more kept these places off this list. These are simply the top 10 places I’ve had the pleasure of photographing.
1. Moraine Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada
When I visited the Canadian Rockies back in 2012, the place I tended to always gravitate back to was Moraine Lake. While driving up and down the beautiful Icefields Parkway, I probably visited Moraine Lake 5 times in 3 days. It’s a special place, and easily the most beautiful alpine lake I’ve ever seen.
2. Keeper of the Plains, Wichita, Kansas
This is my go-to spot for photography. It’s treated me well. A lot of my best images are from this Wichita icon, and while the mountains are always my favorite terrain, the Keeper of the Plains has become a constant subject in my work that no other place has filled. I’ve shot more images at the Keeper of the Plains than any other place in the world, and I keep going back for more and more!
3. Wengen, Berner Oberland, Wengen, Switzerland
Much like Moraine Lake, the view from the bench at the church in Wengen, Switzerland was a spot I continued to return to on my trip through the Alps for photography. It’s also the spot I long to go back to most in Europe someday.
The Dallas Divide on the north side of the San Juans in the Colorado Rockies have become my favorite place in all of Colorado to visit. There’s a two-fold reason. My hike in 2011 to Blue Lakes in the Sneffels Wilderness produced some of the most beautiful wildflower displays I have ever seen! Second, Dallas Divide is easily my favorite spot to return to for autumn colors, as the vistas along it’s many backroads are unforgettable!
5. Big Sur, California
I’ve now visited Big Sur twice. Once was for a brief morning in early 2012 that produced a spectacular sunrise. The second was in autumn of 2015, which also produced some of the best sunrises and sunsets of the entire year for me. One particular sunset was one of the best I’ve ever photographed! My favorite spot along Big Sur: McWay Falls. Not only does it have a beautiful tidefall waterfall that drops directly into the ocean at a gorgeous beach, but the view back towards the north is also spectacular!
6. Maroon Bells, Aspen, Colorado
I’m not sure why it took me so long to visit the Maroon Bells in my years of visited Colorado, but I’ve been back almost every year since! Once for wildflowers, but mostly for the beautiful fall colors. Pro-tip: Droves of people will line the northwest shore of Maroon Lake to get the classic reflective Maroon Bells shot, but I find walking to the far side of the lake and photographing the various angles there far more rewarding. I don’t know how many times I’ve shown up for a sunrise with 200 other people fighting for rock or something in their foreground at the edge of the lake, only to find views along Maroon Creek completely deserted.
7. Dream Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
If you had asked me in the years prior to taking my photography as seriously as I do now, Rocky Mountain National Park would be #1 without a shadow of a doubt. I’ve since visited some amazing places in the world, but I’ll always hold a soft spot for Dream Lake in Colorado.
8. Waimea Canyon, Waimea, Kauai, Hawaii
There were a few places on Kauai that I kept returning to in the week I spent on the island. The one that produced the best images was the Waimea Canyon. I continued to drive up that road to the canyon and into Kokee State Park beyond. Other spots on Kauai that almost made this list include the Kilauea Lighthouse, Hanalei Bay and the Napali Coast.
9. Teter Rock, near Cassoday, Kansas
Teter Rock has become my go-to spot for shooting Milky Way and star scenes in recent years. Far enough away from city lights, but within an hour and a half drive from Wichita, it makes for an easy getaway to get out under the stars. It’s also a great place to photograph a good Kansas thunderstorm as it rolls across the prairie.
10. The Old Mill, Little Rock Arkansas
I’ve only visited the Old Mill once, but the shots I got for the little time I spent there rank up there as some of my favorites. The one pictured here was a particular favorite. While most of Arkansas is probably inundated with images from the Old Mill (it’s a Little Rock icon), for a tourist looking for a great place to photograph, it was the perfect spot!
Other spots I loved photographing at:
Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park, Canada
Kilauea Lighthouse, Kauai
Lauterbrunnen Valley Floor, Switzerland
Hanging Lake, Colorado
Peyto Lake, Banff National Park, Canada
Mer de Glace, France
Cowley Falls, Kansas
Moraine Park, Colorado
Bear Lake, Colorado
Geary Lake Falls, Kansas
Kalalau Overlook, Kauai
Napali Coast, Kauai
Hanalei Valley, Kauai
Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California
Multnomah Falls, Oregon
Boulder Brook, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
After traveling the state of Kansas for the past few years, hitting up as many waterfalls as possible, I thought it was time to make a fun little Kansas waterfall list! This year, I’ve made it a point, with all the rain, to try and hit most of the ones I’ve yet to visit. I’m up to over 60 of nearly 80 waterfalls that I have on my list. That’s a lot, considering most people don’t even realize there are waterfalls in the state of Kansas! I recently published my map of Kansas waterfalls on my new website, Kansas is Beautiful.
Before I begin, if you just want to view all the Kansas waterfall photography, I’ve set up a gallery of all the waterfalls I’ve visited in Kansas located on my Kansas waterfalls photo gallery!
With that said, here are my current top 10 Kansas waterfalls:
1. Geary Falls
Geary Falls are located just south of Junction City. I’ve now visited this waterfall three times and it’s become my favorite after the most recent trip. In late April, I visited when early morning fog and heavy rains had a very mystical feeling to the falls. The only downside to Geary Falls, like most spillway falls in Kansas, is when the water is running low, they nearly dry up. But when they’re flowing, they’re really flowing! The main viewpoint is from the top of the falls, but if you follow a little path down through the trees and do a bit of rock-hopping on the creek, it leads you to the vantage point from below the falls where this was shot. This was also one of the first Kansas waterfall I ever visited.
2. Prather Creek Falls (Chase Lake Falls)
Prather Creek Falls, also known as Chase Lake Falls, may not be the tallest of all the waterfalls in Kansas, but it’s become one of my absolute favorites! There are three tiers to this waterfall. The middle being my favorite, is pictured above. Prather Creek Falls are pretty easy to find. Just head out to Chase State Fishing Lake to the east of Cottonwood Falls and park at the dam. Walk across and follow the spillway down the creek to stop at each layer of falls. Each of the three tiers seem to offer a new angle to photograph them, and depending on the day of the year and time of day, sunlight can hit these falls just perfectly to light them up! If you’re driving the Flint Hills Scenic Byway, this is one stop that’s absolutely worth the extra couple of miles to visit Chase State Fishing Lake!
3. Santa Fe Lake Falls
Santa Fe Lake Falls might be the best kept secret in the Wichita area! While most lake-goers head towards Cheney and El Dorado for their lake fun, there’s a smaller lake between Augusta and Andover called Santa Fe Lake that offers some really beautiful Kansas beauty. Growing up, I visited this lake on many occasions, as my grandparents lived a mile or two down the road, but I never knew the lake harbored this beautiful waterfall until more recent times. Located in the spillway of Santa Fe Lake, this waterfall is awesome when the water is flowing! These falls shouldn’t be confused with the waterfall of the same name of Santa Fe Lake Falls that are located in the spillway of Santa Fe Lake in Edgerton, Kansas near Kansas City.
4. Cowley Falls
Cowley Falls are my go-to falls when I know there’s been some rain. They almost never disappoint (other than a visit in drought conditions), and when they are in full flow, like the above photo, there’s some great angles to view them from! The typical lookout point is above the falls to the west, near the parking lot. But a sketchy path can take you down towards the base of the falls. It’s worth the hike down, as you get views like the above photo! I would almost consider moving Cowley Falls up above Santa Fe Falls or even Prather Creek Falls, but the amount of littering people have done here has left a lot of broken glass and trash at the site. Still, if you can overlook that negative, Cowley Falls can be extremely impressive! Just be careful of the broken glass if you trek down to the base of the falls.
5. Chautauqua Falls
I found Chautauqua Falls by accident while Google Mapping one day. And they sure don’t disappoint! Located near Sedan, Kansas, these beautiful falls are similar to Prather Creek Falls, as there are numerous drops along the creek. The photo above showcases part of the upper falls during high rainfall. Depending on rainfall amounts, this waterfall has multiple drops, sometimes including a twin or triple set of falls at the top. Below these is a smaller drop that can provide a more intimate waterfall to view, as it drops off a flat shelf and gets wider as more water flows over.
6. Rock Creek Falls
Rock Creek Falls are another set of falls like Prather Creek Falls that have multiple drops within a hundred yards of each other. At the top is the spillway. It’s man-made, but still pretty. But below that are the falls pictured above. And further below that are a number of smaller shelf-like falls that are equally as pretty! Rock Creek Falls can be found by visited Rock Creek Lake west of Fort Scott in eastern Kansas, and following the creek between the lake spillway and Marmaton River. These falls are just a few miles west of the Frontier Military Byway.
7. Swissvale Falls
Located along the Landon Nature Trail, southeast of Topeka, Swissvale Falls are a true natural gem. They’re not the tallest waterfall in Kansas, but they have a certain charm that makes them beautiful! The drop is probably only 4 feet or so, but spans the entirety of Camp Creek. They can be found just north of the small town of Overbrook, Kansas. If you’re trying to visit from the road, it’s a good quarter to half mile walk up the Landon Nature Trail to Camp Creek. Just use the map in the link above to find the location.
8. Butcher Falls
Butcher Falls are located on Red Buffalo Ranch, which is owned by Bill Kurtis, a native Kansan famous for broadcasting. It’s located to the northwest of Sedan, Kansas is some beautiful Chautauqua Hills country! The falls drop a good 10-15 feet between boulders into the pool below. You can even stay on the ranch in the Butcher Falls Bunkhouse! This is one of the few non-spillway natural waterfalls in the state!
9. Angel Falls
Angel Falls are actually located inside the city limits of Lansing, Kansas in northeast Kansas. They make a great stop on the south end of the Glacial Hills Scenic Byway or north end of the Frontier Military Historic Byway. You can find them along the nature trail south of St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Lansing. Angel Falls makes for great photography in the fall when autumn leaves swirl around in the pool below.
10. Pillsbury Crossing (Deep Creek Falls)
Pillsbury Crossing, also known as Deep Creek Falls, are probably the most famous of all waterfalls in Kansas. They certainly deserve their fame, as they are gorgeous in any season of the year! Located to the southeast of Manhattan, Pillsbury Crossing can also be a favorite hang-out spot of folks from Manhattan and surrounding areas. If you visit on a nice day, it’s quite likely you will not have these gorgeous falls to yourself!
Because of how difficult it is to narrow down a top 10 (and the fact that they change on a whim depending on what kind of light conditions I have for photos when I revisit each waterfall), here’s a few more to check out that rival the ones above:
Keep in mind, there are also a few waterfalls I haven’t visited yet that might make moves on this list in the future. When I do, I’ll revisit this list once again to see if they can knock some of the beautiful waterfalls above out of the top 10! For a full list of waterfalls, visit the Kansas is Beautiful waterfall map and don’t forget to visit the Kansas waterfall gallery to view all my Kansas waterfall images!
Bartlett Arobretum lies 20 miles to south of Wichita, in the town of Belle Plaine. It is one of the true treasures of Kansas beauty. The arboretum was created back in 1910 by Dr. Walter Bartlett and still exists today! On Saturday morning, my wife and I spent an hour walking the gardens at the arboretum. Our engagement photos were taken here, and I had been wanting to come back for a photo trip visit ever since. The flowers looked beautiful, and it had just rained, making everything look saturated and colorful. Geese were wandering around the arboretum with their young, and a few other groups were enjoying the scenery. You can see the photos I took below. To learn more about the Bartlett Arboretum, make sure to check out their website and Facebook page!
As you can see from the photos above and below, the gardens at Bartlet Arboretum were alive with beautiful colors! We walked all the way around the pond, listening to the pairs of geese fight and squabble over who could be on the island in the pond. We found a small and colorful garter snake that scurried off into the plants. The place was alive with vivid color everywhere!
I can’t wait to get back here in the fall when the trees are putting on their autumn coats to photograph some more. Until then, I hope you enjoy these photos as much as I enjoyed my time walking through the gardens of Bartlett Arboretum.