We’re a 2016 Kansas Notable Book!

Two days after National Trails Day, it is official. The Kansas Trail Guide is on the 2016 Kansas Notable Book List! See the full list here.

And for more info on the list itself:

The Kansas Notable Books List is the annual recognition of 15 outstanding titles by Kansas authors or about Kansas. It is the only honor for Kansas books by Kansans, highlighting our lively contemporary writing community and encouraging readers to enjoy some of the best writing of the authors among us.

Press Release



Elk River Trail: saving the best for last

In what will likely be the last hiking day for 2013, I decided to hike the Elk River Trail near Independence earlier this week.  This trail is consistently ranked among the top trails in the state and so after hiking my way across the trails of Kansas for the past year I wanted to see if it lived up to the high expectations.

Venerable patriarchI was accompanied by the venerable patriarch of the family; official photographer, reliable shuttle driver, and all around great trail companion.

Luckily, we caught a break with the weather and enjoyed a balmy December day which made for perfect hiking conditions.  Actually, some of my best hiking days have been during warm days in the winter. No ticks, no crowds, no poison ivy.  Not a bad combination for a hike.

I started at the east end of the trail around 11:00 and set off in high spirits.  The trail did not waste any time getting to some amazing scenery and rugged ascents.  The rock bluffs are truly like nothing else in Kansas and within the first 1/2 mile the trail was going right through the midst of these spectacular formations.  Rock bluffs along trailAfter winding for several miles along the rocks outcropping along the edge of the bluff, I stopped for a power lunch (think: PBJ, trail mix, and Clif bar) before continuing on down the trail.  The entire route had a nice wilderness feel, there were no intersecting roads, no views of civilization, and we didn’t see another hiker the entire trip.

Continuing along the top of the bluffs, the trail soon began to switchback across a series of ravines, each complete with small stream crossings that could be negotiated by using the native rock as stepping stones.  Around 9.5 miles and 4 hours later, the trail crossed an old paved park road through the former Oak Ridge Public Use Area; I thought about pushing to the end of the trail, but decided that this location would make a good spot to stop for the day and break the hike into two sections.  Despite what Google Maps may show, this is really the only spot on the trail that is intersected by a passable road, and so it does make a good location to resupply, camp, or catch a ride back to the trailhead.

Starting the next morning from this point, my legs were protesting a bit from the 9.5 miles logged the day before.  I suppose thisHiked our soles off isn’t unreasonable, since I had spent most of the last month at my desk job and the trail is technically designated as “rugged”.  Despite the designation, I thought that there wasn’t any single section that is unreasonably “rugged”, but the rock trail does require a cumulative effect to repeatedly ascend and descend through the limestone formations and across the steep ravines. However, before writing the trail off as less than rugged, in all fairness I should note that it did produce several pairs of sore feet and lay claim to one boot sole (see picture).

IMG_5223After a solo hike on the first day, I was joined on the second part of the hike by my Dad (aka: venerable patriarch and designated photographer), which was fortunate since we soon reached one of the most scenic spots on the hike.  Before reaching mile 10, there was a stream running slightly off the trail, in which a stately sycamore grew up out of the banks of the stream under a rock ledge.  Although some guidebooks would have you believe that the western part of the trail is less scenic, the section between miles 10-13 was actually my favorite part of the hike.  This section parallels the Elk River as it flows towards the reservoir and there are several overlook points and an area where the trail passes through rivulets of trickling water cascading over a wide broad-brimmed rock ledge.  Over the last several miles, the trail parted ways with the Elk River and crossed through oak and cedar woodlands before reaching the western trailhead near US-160.Hiking on Elk River Trail

All told, I tend to agree with the outstanding reviews about this trail.   It’s one of the few trails in the state that could provide a legitimate backpacking experience, the rocks are flat-out amazing, and the views are sublime.

In fact it just might be the best trail in Kansas.


Well, let’s just say you’ll want to read the book to find out.

Happy trails!

Gunn Park Trails: Interview with Frank Halsey

A lot of people think I’m just plain nuts, but what they fail to realize is the sanity I gain from the simply being out in the woods and creating something.

In Gunn Park in Fort Scott, down by the river, you can find a well-maintained mountain bike trails. I was lucky enough to get a chance to meet with the trail designers while I was mapping out the trail for the upcoming book. Frank Halsey worked hard to develop these trails, starting without permission, but carrying on. He opens up here about what it was like to create, from nothing, an entire set of trails.

Kansas Trail Guide: What inspired you to create the trails?

Halsey: My brother-in-law sent me an email video of some downhill riders flying through the woods and it looked like fun.

Kansas Trail Guide: How long did they take to build?
Halsey: It took me a couple of months to build the first mile or so, and we’ve been working on the other three to four miles for a couple of years. Maintenance takes up a lot of time that we could be building more trails.

Kansas Trail Guide: When did the process begin – the planning stages?

On the trails at Gunn Park

On the trails at Gunn Park

Halsey: I actually started building in the fall of 2009 without much planning or even permission.  The city made me stop for all of 2010 while they did their due diligence.

During this time I worked on maintaining the original mile loop, and scoped out other areas of timber in the park.  In the spring of 2011 the city granted permission to proceed, and a few great volunteers got involved.

We built about 2 ½ miles during the spring and summer of 2011, and then another mile or so in the spring of 2012.  Because of ongoing maintenance, there really hasn’t been much opportunity to build the additional two miles that we have planned.

Kansas Trail Guide: Do you have a favorite part of the trail?

Halsey: I actually have a couple favorite sections of trail.  The “North Ridge Ride” was our first attempt at building on the side of a hill.  It’s downhill and only slightly tricky, but fun.  The “River Ride” is cool because it runs right next to the river and has some fun rolling runs, and finally the “West River Ridge” because we initially didn’t think it could be done.

Kansas Trail Guide: What are some factors about trail building and maintenance that people should realize?

Halsey: I love it, but it’s a big commitment!  Much more than I ever imagined.  My wife (she’s an angel) is really the only person that truly understands how much time I spend on the trails.  Gunn Park is practically in my back yard, so for me it’s close by, relaxing, therapeutic, most of the time spontaneous, so I tend to lose track of how long I’m down there.  Probably like gardening for somebody that likes gardening. I spend a lot of time, by myself, maintaining and improving what we have.  Kind of like weeding a big garden.

We had a tremendous group of volunteers help build the trails initially.  Sadly, volunteers wear out after a while, and they don’t share the same passion.  We try to have regular work sessions but only a couple of us show up.  I get that, many of them still have kids activities, and other hobbies, I don’t.  This has become my hobby.  My golf game is suffering, but that’s OK, this is better for me.

A lot of people think I’m just plain nuts, but what they fail to realize is the sanity I gain from the simply being out in the woods and creating something.  I get a lot more credit than I deserve, because really I’m selfishly doing this for me.  That others can take advantage is just a bonus.  However, whenever I see anybody else on the trails, riding, jogging or hiking, it gives me a tremendous feeling of satisfaction.

Probably what I would caution others about is the “volunteers wear out” part.  The city does not have the resources to maintain what we’ve built and likely never will.  I have a couple of guys I can expect to show up 50% of the time.  Other than that, people have other commitments.  So, if planning to build trails, be careful what you ask for, you might get it.  Also, if building next to a river that floods occasionally, be prepared for lots of cleanup time.

The answer is…

Prairie Spirit Trail

This mural is DSC05838near the Old Depot Museum in Ottawa, which is the northern trailhead for the Prairie Spirit Trail. It runs for 50 miles from Ottawa to Iola where it links with the Southwind Rail Trail for another 6 miles or so from Iola to Humboldt.

For those who voted for the Flint Hills Nature Trail, well, I guess that could be argued as the right answer as well. The still in progress Flint Hills Nature Trail runs east – west, and it passes through Ottawa, though its route doesn’t take you past this trail mural in Ottawa.

The Prairie Spirit Trail is completely finished and in good condition, with an easy grade and wide path perfect for cyclists, equestrians, or runners, and after heading through Ottawa, the trail takes you through the Flint Hills. If you’re on the trail in the morning or evening, you’ll be under shade, and there are bathrooms and trail stops along the way as you head through or past the towns of Princeton, Richmond, Garnett, Welda, Colony, Carlyle, Iola, Bassett, and Humboldt.

If you go:

Daily passes are $3.50 and can be purchased in at self-pay stations at the Ottawa, Princeton, Richmond, Garnett, Welda, Carlyle, and Iola trailheads. Annual-use permits are $12.50 and can be purchased in Garnett and Ottawa.

Smoky Valley Ranch Long Loop | Garmin Adventures

One of the cool features about Garmin is that with their BaseCamp software, you can check out other trails and create “adventures” from the trails you’ve been on that include the photos taken with the GPS and all the waypoints. Publishing the adventure through BaseCamp means that others can download it and use the information.

Below is an example of the adventures – our trip through the shortgrass prairie and Cretaceous chalk formations at Smoky Valley Ranch: the answer to last week’s “Do you know where this is?“. It’s also a kind of preview for the book. We’ll be including detailed maps, made with Garmin GPS devices, that include important waypoints along the trail. What’s missing in the adventure that you’ll get in the book is the description of the area and the trail itself, but the map gets you halfway there.

Check it out and let us know what you think.

Smoky Valley Ranch Long Loop | Garmin Adventures.

Review of Garmin Oregon 650t

Moving from the Garmin eTrex to the Garmin Oregon 650t was like moving from a rotary telephone to a smart phone. Don’t get us wrong – the rotary telephone still gets the job done, but the shiny new Garmin Oregon 650t’s that we have on loan to use for the book are just, well, they’re just amazing.

It’s hard to know where to begin. Some of the highlights:

Oregon 650t

Oregon 650t

  • Color touchscreen that changes orientation based on how you’re holding it – horizontally or vertically
  • 8 megapixel camera
  • USB connection to charge from a computer or an outlet AND the ability to swap out the rechargeable Garmin batteries with double A’s if you run out of juice on the trail – the device will beep to signal that it’s low on battery, and there’s ways to set the screen to help preserve battery life
  • Already loaded topographic maps
  • Easy to mark waypoints and space to take notes
  • A carabiner attachment to clip it to a backpack or belt loop
  • Waterproof – anyone who’s been in Kansas over this summer knows just how important that is
  • The ability to save 200 tracks and 4000 waypoints

Best of all – this handheld device hasn’t lost signal for us once, even in heavily wooded areas. So you always know where you are and what direction you’re headed in (or should be headed in.) You’re also guaranteed to know exactly how far you’ve gone and the accuracy of the track since the signal doesn’t drop out.

One of the convenient benefits that we found for making maps was the option to pause the track, so if you go off the trail, you won’t have a messy map when you upload your trail back home.

On the Trip Computer screen, you can easily find out how long you’ve been hiking/biking/riding, how fast you’re going, your overall average, etc. And along with following your track on the Trip Information screen, you can check out your elevation profile, and you can remember where you were on a certain day with the calendar. While sunrise and sunset are given, if you happen to get caught out after dark, there’s a flashlight.

Uploading information from the GPS is easy with a Mac or PC – the free BaseCamp software lets you design “Adventures” (one to be shown off on this site soon!) from the tracks you’ve recorded, the waypoints you marked, and the pictures that you took and then you can share that Adventure online.

Minor complaints

  • It’s easier to plug in the USB cord after taking off the carabiner attachment. It’d be a touch more convenient if it could easily be plugged in while the carabiner was still on
  • Sometimes the carabiner can get in the way of the camera – hold it down to make sure it’s out of the way

Yes, it’s pricier at $549, but you really do get what you pay for with this bad boy. I hate to have to give it back once the trails are mapped, and I’ve already started saving up to buy my own.

“Float Your Boat” – Cardboard boat races today at Milford Lake

From the 2009 race

From the 2009 race

If you’re around Milford Lake at all today (Saturday, August 17), if you head down to the south boat ramp, you’ll be able to check out the cardboard boat races. From noon to 4pm, you can watch (or participate!) in the “Float Your Boat” race where participants ride in boats made entirely from cardboard and duct tape. If you want to whip up your own creation that can hold two people, there are cash prizes available!

Your opinion wanted on the Kansas parks

Sundown - February 24, 2010 - Kansas City

Sundown – February 24, 2010 – Kansas City (Photo credit: CoolValley)

The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism is looking for your input on Kansas parks. If you go to http://ksoutdoorrecreation.blogspot.com/, they’re looking for specific comments and there’s also a survey that you can complete.

Four topics will be covered:
  • June 21- July 4 TOPIC:  Which outdoor recreation facilities are most in need of renovation or replacement at state and federal parks in Kansas to best enhance outdoor recreation experiences?  Specific examples are welcomed.
  • July 5 – July 18. TOPIC:  Share a story of a meaningful outdoor recreation experience that you or your family had in Kansas and how the site where that experience took place contributed.
  • July 19 – Aug 1. TOPIC:  Which of the following local outdoor recreation experiences would you like most to be within walking distance of your home (if you live in town)?   Trails/picnic areas/sports venues/natural areas/playgrounds
  • Aug 2 – Aug 15 TOPIC:  Improved access to natural outdoor experiences, particularly those water based, is important for urban dwellers.  Please provide suggestions on how this can best be achieved and examples of success stories.

Your opinions matter and will help shape the direction of the state’s Outdoor Recreation Plan!

Finding and cooking wild Kansas edible mushrooms

We’re in the midst of mushroom season in Kansas, and they’re one of our favorite wild plants on the trail.

If you’re in Lawrence the second Saturday of every month from April to October, you can go out with the Kaw Valley Mycological Society and hunt for mushrooms. The following Wednesday, you can check out what was collected and learn more about the mushrooms of Kansas.

And if you want to head out on your own, here are 5 Kansas mushrooms you can eat with cooking recommendations.

As a disclaimer, mushrooms can be toxic and easily confused with many that look alike, and this should not be used as an authoritative identification guide. Be confident that you know what you have before biting into a wild mushroom. When in doubt, throw it out. Use a field guide, like the one published by University Press of Kansas to help you.

Morel mushroom. Photo by Michael Hodge

Morel mushroom. Photo by Michael Hodge


One of the most popular and well-known wild mushrooms in Kansas as well as one of the first of the season, morels can be found in wooded areas, particularly near creek beds and dead and dying trees. The surface will be deeply pitted and the inside will be hollow.

To cook: Clean them by soaking them in cool, slightly salty water and rinse them thoroughly.

Then saute in butter or olive oil for about 5-7 minutes. For a gourmet twist on the flavor, saute some minced garlic for a few minutes in the olive oil before adding the mushrooms.


Chanterelle. Photo by Ole Husby

Chanterelle. Photo by Ole Husby

Frequently found in forests near mature, living trees and growing out of the ground (not from the trees themselves),  these mushrooms are a uniform bright yellow or gold color with wavy tops and smell fruity – a bit like apricots. You can typically find them in Kansas from mid-June to October.

To cook: Popular with gourmet chefs around the world, chanterelles need to be carefully cleaned to remove dirt with a small brush or cloth, using water if necessary. Avoid soaking. Eaten raw, they have a peppery aftertaste and can be used in green salads, but they taste better cooked.

Saute them in butter or oil for a few minutes – they should be lightly browned and still firm and they can then be paired with sauted green beans or with scrambled eggs and chives. They’re also a good topping for grilled chicken and steak.

If you end up with a lot of chanterelles and you can’t cook them up in a few days, you can dry them in the oven (be prepared for a strong smell in the kitchen) overnight on low heat.

Maitake. Photo by Ben Harwood

Maitake. Photo by Ben Harwood

Maitake or Hen of the Woods

Growing along the base of oak trees, these mushrooms are characterized by their overlapping growth. A pale or dark brown on top and white underneath without gills, they have wide, flat fronds and you can find them in Kansas in the late summer and fall.

To cook: Take the time to thoroughly clean the mushrooms, and remove the core of the stem before cooking.

Pan roast them in olive oil for a few minutes after they turn golden brown and then add fresh rosemary and a dab of butter and some salt and pepper and cook for about another minute. Drain off any excess oil before serving them up.

They can be frozen fresh, but don’t thaw them before cooking. Toss them straight into the pan from the freezer.


Oyster. Photo by Dominic Alves

Oyster. Photo by Dominic Alves

These white or gray mushrooms grow only on trees, often on elms or willows. It has a broad, fan or oyster shaped cap and firm white flesh. They can smell a bit like anise if harvested from a tree. There are some lookalikes, so be careful. You can find them in Kansas in late October and November.

To cook: Cut off the stem and run them under water quickly to flush out any bugs or dirt in the underside crevices. These mushrooms are ideal in stir fries as they cook quickly.

Cook them in hot sesame or peanut oil with minced garlic and ginger for a few minutes, and then add some chicken broth and soy sauce and simmer for a few more minutes, and then serve over rice.

They can also be dried and stored – they dehydrate quickly. Rehydrate by soaking them in boiling water for 15 minutes.

Black trumpet. Photo by hr.icio

Black trumpet. Photo by hr.icio

Black trumpet

With a funnel like shape, these small gray and black mushrooms can be found in moss and near oak trees and other hardwood trees.  They have a fruity scent, and they are close relatives to chanterelles. Find them in Kansas through summer and early autumn.

To cook: Clean by dunking them several times in cold water and squeezing them dry.

Saute in butter and then serve them with cooked pasta and topped with parmesan cheese and fresh chives.


What are your favorite wild Kansas mushrooms? Share those along with any favorite recipes in the comments below!

Free fishing the first weekend of June

Kansas fishing. Photo by Kansas Poetry (Patrick)

Kansas fishing. Photo by Kansas Poetry (Patrick)

No license required to fish June 1 and 2, 2013

Typically, if you’re between 16 and 74, you have to get a license to legally fish in Kansas. But for the first weekend in June, you can fish for free! Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism has put together recommended spots to fish throughout the state. With over 10,000 miles of streams, rivers, and creeks, 40 state fishing lakes, and over 200 smaller fishing ponds, there’s plenty of opportunities for fishing.