Bison, cowboys, and more: Lunchtime learning with the Flint Hills Discovery Center

From 12 to 12:45 pm starting this Friday, April 10, the Flint Hills Discovery Center in Manhattan will be running live sessions on various Flint Hills topics. It’s interactive, so if you have any questions – they’ll be answered right then and there!

 

Tomorrow’s session is on Bison. It will run every Friday for the next several weeks on their Facebook page, and there are printable worksheets for kids ages 5-9 and 10+. Check out their page here.

Seeking solace

Seeking solace

Trails have always been an important place to find solace and a good hike allows time and space for reflection.  As the rising tide of anxiety and concern reach new levels each day, it is a wonderful time to refocus on what is truly important in life.  While trails are valuable, they are certainly not the most important thing.  But they can be a pathway to help recenter, regroup and refocus on what does really matter to each of us.  While park offices are currently closed through at least April 6th, all of our Kansas state parks and wonderful trails are still open at this time.

Social distancing doesn’t have to mean sitting at home 24/7. The trails in Kansas have always been a wonderful place to find solitude, and here are four of our favorite places to go without a lot of crowds:

  1. Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, Strong City – hike one of the last great stands of Tallgrass Prairie.  The visitors center is closed but the trails are good to go!
  2. Agave Ridge Trail, Cedar Bluff State Park – You can hike for mile along this trail and rarely encounter another visitor.  A wonderful scenic hike along a little-used but beautiful trail.
  3. Little Jerusalem / Badlands State Park – The guided tours have been been cancelled through mid-April but the trails remain open, a great opportunity to explore your newest state park!
  4. Flint Hills Nature Trail – the longest trail in Kansas has plenty of room to explore, our favorite stretch is the wild Flint Hills from Council Grove to Allen.

If solo hiking, make sure to notify a responsible party of where you are going and when you will return.  People care about you & cell phone service can be spotty on some trails.  Have fun, be responsible, pack a trail lunch and go for a hike this spring!

Start 2020 on the trail: Kansas First Day Hikes

Start 2020 with a hike! The cold weather is abating a bit and if you bundle up, it should be an enjoyable way to start the new year.

Guided First Day Hikes are being led around the state on Wednesday, January 1, sponsored by America’s State Parks. There are hikes all around the state, including at the new Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park.

Cedar Bluff State Park from 10am to 2pm

Trail: Bluffton Area
Meeting Location: State Park Office
Details: Water, snacks, appropriate winter clothing, good walking shoes/boots, binoculars, cameras. Hot chocolate after hike.
Restrictions: Pet Friendly – On Leash

Clinton State Park at 10am

Trail: X-Country Ski Trail
Meeting Location: Entrance of Campground 3
Details: Warm clothing, good hiking boots or shoes, water, binoculars, cameras, trail easy in difficulty, 1 mile in length, daily vehicle permit required
Restrictions: Pet Friendly – on leash

Crawford State Park at 10am

Trail: Spider Leg Bridge Trail
Meeting Location: Beach Shelter House
Details: Warm clothing, water resistant boots/shoes, water, binoculars, cameras, trail moderate in difficulty, 2 miles in length
Restrictions: Pet Friendly – on leash

El Dorado State Park at 1pm

Trail: Walnut River Trail
Meeting Location: Walnut River Cabins
Details: Dress warm and bring a camera for wildlife pictures. Easy to moderate 2 mile hike. Hot Chocolate and coffee will be provided.
Restrictions: Pet Friendly – on leash.

Fall River State Park at 2pm

Trail: Post Oak Trail
Meeting Location: Fall River Maintenance Shop/Trail Head
Details: Warm clothing, good boots, water, trail easy in difficulty, 3/4 mile in length, Refreshments provided. What you might see: winter waterfowl, eagles, tallgrass ID, and other KS wildlife. The hike will also feature the Cross Timbers ecosystem, with oak savannas that are part of gold growth forests.
Restrictions: Pet friendly – on leash

Green Property, Pratt at 1pm

Trail: Green Recreational Trail
Meeting Location: Barn/Shop, Pratt, KS
Details: Water, snacks, appropriate winter clothing, good walking shoes/boots, binoculars, camera  easy to moderate difficulty, 1 mile. Hot cider and hot chocolate after hike
Restrictions: Pet Friendly – on leash

Kanopolis State Park at 10am

Trail: Split Boulder Trail
Meeting Location: State Park Office
Details: Water, snacks, appropriate winter clothing, good walking shoes/boots, binoculars, cameras, easy 1.6 miles. Coffee and hot chocolate provided at the park office before and after the hike.
Restrictions: Pet Friendly – on leash

Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park at 12pm

Trail: Life on the Rocks Trail (on-trail hike) or Little Jerusalem Badlands (off-trail hike)
Meeting Location: Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park
Details: Dress warm, water, snacks, and bring binoculars or a camera for wildlife pictures.  On-trail hike easy difficulty, 1-2 miles.  Off-trail hike advanced difficulty, 1 mile, may want hiking poles.
Restrictions: Pet Friendly – on leash for on-trail hike.  No pets for off-trail hike.

Perry State Park at 10am

Trail: Jack-O-Lope Trail
Meeting Location: Wild Horse Equestrian Day Use Area in in Wild Horse Campground
Details: Dress warmly; warm gloves and head covering; good walking/hiking shoes; walking/hiking poles, if desired; water and snacks provided.
Restrictions: Pet Friendly – on leash

Pomona State Park at 1pm

Trail: FHNT and Campgrounds – 1.5 to 2 miles
Meeting Location: Pomona State Park Office
Details: Weather appropriate clothing, camera and water, easy 1.5 to 2 miles. May see Eagles on hike. Hike along POMP roads and bike on FHNT.  Hot chocolate and coffee served.
Restrictions: Pet Friendly – on leash

Wilson State Park at 1pm

Trail: Cedar Trail
Meeting Location: Parking Lot across from Cedar Trail Trailhead – Otoe
Details: Dress warm, water, and bring a binoculars or camera for wildlife pictures. Hike will be 1 mile and easy in difficulty, daily vehicle permit required.
Restrictions: Pet Friendly – on leash.

Whooping Crane vs Sandhill Crane: How to tell the difference

How can you tell the difference between the endangered Whooping Crane (under 400 wild birds left ON THE PLANET and Kansas is a place where you can see them) and the more common Sandhill Crane ? Both species use the Central Flyway over Kansas during their migration, particularly preferring the wetlands of central Kansas, and the two species may even fly or be seen on the ground together.

While both species have long necks, long, black legs, and long, straight bills (they are both crane species after all), there are some key but sometimes subtle differences. Here’s what to look out for:

Size

Whooping crane with sandhill cranes. Photo by USFWS Midwest

Whooping Crane: The tallest of North America’s birds can be around 5 foot tall and with a 7 to 8 foot wing span.

Sandhill Crane: Still big, but around 4.5 foot tall max and with a 6.5 foot wing span.

Color

Whooping Crane: Adults are mostly a bright white with a red face. The black wingtips that can be seen only when the wings are extended.

Juveniles have a rusty, cinnamon color to their body and wings. — This is what can be tricky — without the characteristic size and color of the adults, a juvenile Whooping Crane could be thought to be another species.

Sandhill Crane: Adults are a slate gray with a small red cap.

Juveniles may have reddish, rusty feathers on their body but won’t yet have the red on their heads.

2019 Holiday Gift Guide

We’ve been busy this year and not posting as much, but we haven’t forgotten about you!

We’re excited to offer free shipping of a signed copy on the Kansas Trail Guidebook (a savings of around $5) throughout the rest of the month, year, and decade! (So through the end of December 2019). Buy it here now!

Along with our book, which we think is a great gift for really anyone on your holiday gift list, here are 10 awesome gifts for the trail lover in your life.

*Disclosure, for some of the links, we may get a small return, and all prices were accurate at the time of writing.*

1. Raw Elements Reef Safe Sunscreen

If you’re going to be out on the trail, you want to keep yourself protected from the sun, and you might as well do that in the most eco-friendly way as well.

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, I know there aren’t any reefs in Kansas; however, sunscreens that make for healthy reefs also make for healthy people. My favorite is the Raw Elements brand. It works well, and one tin lasts a long time.

We’ve reviewed it more in-depth here, but some of the highlights for me include options for plastic-free packaging, lip balms, and kid-friendly options. Plus it would fit perfectly into a Christmas stocking!

From $15.99 for sunscreens.

2. IceMule Cooler Bag

If you want to ensure cold food and drinks at the end of a long day on the trails, the IceMule Cooler Bag does the trick. With its sling backpack style, it’s easy to carry if you want to hike it in to have a picnic, say along the Rocktown Trail along Wilson Lake.

It comes in options of colors as well as 10L, 15L, and 20L sizes. Plus it’s waterproof!

From $59.95.

3. Membership to Flint Hills Discovery Center

In Manhattan, the Flint Hills Discovery Center celebrates the iconic tallgrass prairie. They have a membership program which includes a year of free admission, discounts at events and the gift store, plus free or discounted admission at other science centers and museums that includes the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, Science City at Union Station in Kansas City, and many more.

Contact them here for information on pricing and to purchase the membership.

From $30 for an individual adult membership, $27 for a senior, and $80 for a family membership.

4. ENO DoubleNest Hammock

Portable and easy to set up, the hammock weighs in at only 19 ounces, but it can hold up to 400 pounds.

It extends from its 5″ by 5″ packed size to 9′ 4″ by 6′ 2″ and it’s ideal for relaxing after a long hike or ride.

*Note that it doesn’t come with hammock straps.

From $69.95.

5. Garmin Forerunner 935 Watch

We used Garmin devices to help map out the trails for the guidebook, and they were absolutely invaluable. You can read our reviews of some of their products here. Plus, I love that it’s a Kansas based company, with its headquarters in Olathe.

If you’re a hiker, runner, or triathlete with an extra $400 or so, the Garmin Forerunner 935 watch does all kinds of things. There are color maps, an altimeter, compass, and barometer. It provides training analysis as well as information on things like stride length, time and the ground, and more.

From $394.95.

6. Oiselle Flyte Long Sleeve Tee

Style isn’t at all the most important thing in life or out on the trail, but there’s nothing wrong with wanting to look nice. The Oiselle Flyte Long Slee Tee is an ideal mix of style and substance.

It’s comfy thanks in part to its seamless design. With anti-odor and wicking properties, you’ll be able to wear and rewear it out on the trail. It’s got thumbholes to help keep the sleeves from riding up, and the overall flying bird pattern is beautiful. It may have a high starting cost, but it will last a long time.

From $68.

7. Polar Bottle Insulated Water Bottle

Keep your water cool on a long ride with the insulated water bottle from Polar Bottle. It’s got double wall insulation with an added layer of foil to reflect the sun’s rays.

Made in the USA, all of the bottles come with a lifetime guarantee. Bonus – they’re dishwasher safe. With 20 and 24 ounce options, you should be able to find one to take along on your ride, and you’ll be glad you did when instead of a hot swallow of Gatorade, you get a nice, refreshing one instead.

From $10.95.

8. Heartlandia Stickers and Accessories

These stickers made our gift guide last year, and thanks to the expansion into other items including pins, magnets, and keyrings, they’re on this year’s list as well. All represent Kansas pride and landmarks, particularly in Wichita – think Joyland, RiverFest, Douglas Ave.

But they also have other locations featured, like in the range of “I Bike _____” stickers with locations including El Dorado, Newton, Hutchinson, Lawrence, Emporia, Hesston, Salina, Humboldt, McPherson, and Great Bend.

The stickers can take the beating of being on a water bottle that you use daily, like mine has, and I assume their other products are as just of high a quality.

Buy online or see where they’re sold near you.

From $3.

9. GoPro Hero 8

You can strap it to your helmet while you’re out on your horse or your bike (always wear a helmet!), and you get a chest mount for when you’re on foot. But you’ll always be able to remember your trip with your GoPro footage. If it starts to rain or snow, no worries since it’s waterproof. There’s video stabilization, and it’s got a touchscreen as well as voice activation. What seems really cool for a long trail is that it has a time-lapse mode.

From $349.

10. Lost Trail Soda

Hopefully you don’t ever get lost on the trail (our guidebook should help!), but whatever happens out on the trails, you should be able to enjoy a one of the Lost Trail sodas.

Brewed at the Louisburg Cider Mill bottling plant, the Lost Trail sodas were inspired by an 1848 journal entry from Joe Marshall (great-great grandfather of Shelly Schierman–one of Louisburg Cider Mill’s founders).

That quote from their website, “I been a lookin’ for the Santa Fe Trail three days now. Met up with some good folks. They give me some grub and something to wet my whistle. Say they call it ‘Root Beer’ — been a makin’ this brew from roots and herbs. Think I’ll forget the trail and just settle here.”

Along with root beer, they have cream soda, sarsaparilla, black cherry, strawberry cream, and ginger brew.

From $7.95.

9/15 — Free day at the Flint Hills Discovery Center

From noon to 5pm on Sunday, September 15, 2019, it’s a free day at the Flint Hills Discovery Center in Manhattan. If you’ve never been, now is the time to go.

It’s an amazing space with interactive exhibits for the entire family. From auctioneering contests to the displays of just how deep the roots are of the prairie grasses.

Plus at the community day event, there will be extra bonus activities around to enjoy. And remember, it’s free! Regular price for adults is $9. No excuse to miss it! Enjoy!

Celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo Moon Landing

July 20, 1969 was the day that a man first walked on the moon. 50 years later, the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson is going all out this summer for the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.

Through the summer

This includes showing the APOLLO 11: First Steps Edition film, watch the trailer below, an Apollo 11 scavenger hunt, a selfie station, and perhaps coolest of all — an authentic Apollo-era Mission Control back room console in the Our Universe Gallery. Designed and built by the Cosmosphere, this exhibit was funded by the NASA TEAM II Grant.

Anniversary Week 7/15 to 7/20

For anniversary week, there are loads of special events with more details here. Presentation and book signing by Rick Houston, author of the book Go, Flight! The Unsung Heroes of Mission Control on Monday.

Tuesday is the world record attempt for most rockets launched in a day, an initiative by the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, and in the evening, a free presentation on what it was like to be one of the 600 million people watching footage on the moon landing.

Opera Kansas will perform moon-themed songs in the Grand Lobby from 10:30 to 11am on Thursday.

And on the anniversary day itself, Saturday, July 20, at the Cosmosphere, there will be a screening of the Smithsonian documentary The Day We Walked on the Moon, 11:00 am, 1:00 and 3:00 pm docent led tours that are Apollo 11 and Apollo-era focused.

From 6 to 11:30pm on the Hutchinson Community College Lawn there will be a free “Landing on the Lawn” event with hands-on space themed activities, 1969 original moon landing footage, a screening of the Smithsonian documentary after dark.

The grand finale will be moon and planet observations through a giant 16” diameter telescope, led by Cosmosphere Space Science Educators. Learn more about the event here.

The Cosmosphere is a space museum with over 13,000 spaceflight artifacts, the world’s largest combined US and Russian collection of artifacts. It has the Apollo 13 command module, the Liberty Bell 7, the Gemini 10 space capsule, the backup of the Russian Sputnik 1, moon rock from the Apollo 11 mission, and much, much more.

Stay safe with safe sunscreen

Happy 4th of July! I’m hoping that you’re staying safe not just with fireworks but by using sunscreen. There are sunscreens and then there are reef-safe sunscreens. Reef-safe sunscreens, or mineral sunscreens, use non-nano zinc oxide or titanium dioxide to protect people from UV rays, and they don’t use chemicals that damage coral reefs and contribute to coral bleaching like oxybenzone and octinoxate.

So admittedly there are zero reefs in Kansas, but sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate have now been banned in various parts of the world. A lot of that is to take steps to help protect coral reefs, but you should consider using non-chemical sunscreens when you’re in Kansas too. Here’s why.

Impacts of chemical sunscreens

UV filters, the chemicals used to block our skin from absorbing UV rays, have been found in water systems around the world; they can’t be filtered out by waste-water treatment plants. The chemicals have also been found in fish and other aquatic animals. There are studies being done to see what the long-term impacts of chemical exposure are on the wildlife, ecosystems, and in turn humans, who may be eating certain seafood.

Image from Raw Elements

For our own health, the FDA is taking a look at ingredients for sunscreens, and it’s currently in the process of figuring out how sunscreen chemicals impact human health. Oxybenzone, for one, is absorbed through the skin and can cause hormone disruption. Methylisothiazolinone, another common ingredient in traditional sunscreens, can cause allergic reactions. Here’s a link to some of the FDA’s recent published work.

Obviously sunscreen serves a purpose – protecting our skin from harmful UV rays. But if traditional sunscreens are also harmful? Go for natural sunscreens that use non-nano zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, the only ingredients the FDA has recognized as generally safe and effective.

Profile and review: Raw Elements, a mineral sunscreen

But do the mineral sunscreens actually work? I had a chance to try products by Raw Elements, a company committed to protecting people from harmful UV rays and also protecting the planet.

Brian Guadagno, who’s an ocean lifeguard, founded Raw Elements. He started by experimenting with different ingredients in his kitchen, and now the line has expanded to include lip balms, a revitalizing skin tonic, and baby+kids products. They use non-nano zinc oxide along with other organic, natural ingredients. A bonus is that many of their products are also in plastic-free packaging. The company was instrumental in spearheading the inaugural World Reef Day, celebrated in Hawaii on June 1, 2019, dedicated to helping people better understand, care about, and protect coral reefs.

Again, I get that as Kansans, we don’t have coral reefs in our backyard. But we do travel! And we have freshwater lakes and rivers and our skin absorbs some of the chemicals in traditional sunscreens.

If you know me, you know I’m very pale, and I was worried that the white cream wouldn’t rub in and it would leave me looking more ghost-like than usual. But it goes on smooth and rubbed in easily. After working outside in the summer, no sunburn. Not even a little hint of red! Plus, even with all the sweating I was doing, it didn’t run – no stinging eyes!

When you’re out celebrating summer here in Kansas or traveling, take a moment for a look at the ingredients in your sunscreen. Look for non-nano zinc and titanium dioxide as the active ingredients. Keep yourself safe from the sun with natural ingredients that work and help keep you and the planet healthy.

Celebrate Rail Trails National Opening Day on April 13

From the Prairie Travelers:

Celebrate National Opening Day for rail trails with Prairie Travelers! It’s a national series of events organized by the Rails-to-Trails Conversancy, and this year is the 7th year!

Meet at the Goddard Park Trailhead of the Prairie Sunset Trail at 9 a.m. for a 12 mile round trip ride to the covered bridge and back. No registration needed.

After the ride, meet at the Goddard Pizza Hut (approx. 10:45 a.m.) for lunch.

PLUS!
Join us 12-4 p.m. for “Pathway to Ride” with Pathways Church in Goddard – a free kids bicycle clinic. Free shirts for registered youth. Register here.

Where to see bald eagles in Kansas – 2019

Where to see bald eagles in Kansas – 2019

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Bald eagle pair in Kansas. Photo by Bo Rader.

The return of the bald eagle has been a remarkable success story.  After being pushed towards extinction, the eagle steadily recovered under the protection of the Endangered Species Act.  In Kansas, nesting eagles made a return to the state in 1989 at Clinton Reservoir and have been increasing in numbers ever since.

As the winter cold sets in, eagles push south in search of open water.  In Kansas, mid-January is typically the ideal time to search for eagles along secluded coves of major reservoirs in the eastern half of the state.

For a good hike with a chance to see bald eagles, we recommend the Eagle Ridge Trail at Milford State Park or the Chaplin Nature Center trails by the Arkansas River.  Throughout the month of January there are events throughout the state that celebrate the recovery of this iconic species. Each of the following events offer educational programs and guided viewing tours for the public.

January 5th: The first opportunity for guided eagle viewing is at Tuttle Creek Reservoir with a program and vehicle tour starting at the Manhattan Fire Station (Kimball & Denison Ave) from 9:00 – 12:30.

January 23rd: Kaw Valley Eagles day celebrates the natural history and recovery of the bald eagle in Kansas with a family-friendly event at Billy Mills Middle School in Lawrence from 8:30 – 4:00. There will be presentations, activities for the kids and viewing expeditions.

January 26th: Eagle Days at Milford Lake. The nature center at Milford Lake hosts an annual eagle day event that includes programs and guided bus tours running from 9:00 – 4:00 to view eagles along the lake. Admission to the state park is free for the event and there’s also hot chocolate and popcorn for all!

January 26th: Chaplin Nature Center will offer a short educational program and guided hike along the nature center trails to view eagles along the Arkansas River.  Meet at the visitors center at 10:00 to join the fun.