The Flat Flint Hills of El Dorado

El Dorado Lake (click image for slideshow)

Kansas has now passed Missouri in days hiked for me since I started tracking my day hikes in July 2009, but that certainly reflects proximity more than trail quality. The flat topography of the Sunflower State means most of its trails are rather boring, and today’s hikes at El Dorado were no exception. I’m pretty lucky that the Table Mound Trail and Elk River Trail at Elk City, the best ones I’ve seen in Kansas, are so close.

I’d never been to El Dorado, so I presumed it was pronounced like Colorado, but the Kansas incarnation is pronounced El Duh-RAY-doh. The Spanish conquistadors never found their El Dorado, or City of Gold, but I did spot black gold outside of town at the large Frontier Refinery after a 2.5 hour drive northeast.

I was lured to the state park at the reservoir just east of town because it boasts seven trails amidst the Flint Hills. Well, what they call Flint Hills we call Osage Hills, but the El Dorado area is pretty darn flat overall. Frankly I’ll take our Osage Hills state park over the one at El Dorado since even though ours is much smaller, with a pathetic 30 acre lake compared to the 8,000 acre El Dorado reservoir, my interest is hiking trails, and the trails at Osage Hills are far more interesting. The season did not help today’s photography, of course, since there are few signs of spring as of yet.

Before turning off to the park I drove by the Butler County Courthouse in El Dorado, which has a silver figure of justice high above the front veranda. Then I drove over to the lake, locating a self-pay station at the park office where I could purchase the requisite $3.70 daily vehicle permit required to hike any of the trails. My first target was the 3/4 mile Teter Nature Trail, named after the family which owned the area until the reservoir was constructed in 1974. The trail winds through eight acres of riparian timber just east of the Honor Farm, a minimum security correctional facility which closed in 2009.

Like almost all nature trails, the signage was useless. Some was of the numbered type which means little without the never-provided key. Others were small signs denoting tree species, but all but one were broken.

I was glad that the trail quickly left the mown path through a flat grassland to dive down into a creek area, or “riparian” area as the pretentious would have it. I managed to extend my hike here to 1.33 miles by following a side loop until it was completely blocked by a large fallen tree. I bushwhacked back to the main loop and continued on from there. The trail climbed back up the hill and, as it was noontime, I almost lunched on a hillside bench. But the surroundings were so bleak that I decided to wait for a different trail location. The trail soon exited back onto the flat grassland south of the dam and I returned to my car. I decided I should try the nearby trails in the Walnut River Area.

A friendly guardhouse guy at the campgrounds swapped my handwritten day pass for a preprinted one he said would let me drive on through past the other guardhouses, and he gave me a color Lake Guide. I first wandered over to the Big Oak campground, where I parked at the restrooms and walked over the river to the Walnut Hollow day use area. There were a few geese and a few fishermen, with an ADA bridge and concrete trail. I quickly drifted off onto the soft ground beside the trail and made a 0.8 mile loop. The only part of the trail I found particularly photogenic was the campground with its tall trees.

I drove over to the other side of the campgrounds, crossing the river again to take the Walnut Ridge trail. Another bridge took me to where someone had built a stick shelter out of a fallen tree. I startled a deer, which made a gorgeous leap across the brush which I naturally could not capture in the camera. I found a big tree with bridge and bench which made a decent lunch spot. A stream had eroded its bank to show two trees with intertwined roots.

Sadly the trail was soon over and the next section was a wide concrete path snaking over to the aptly named Linear Trail. The daunting perspective looking either way along the trail was less than appealing in my hiking boots. I was glad to find a grassy trail paralleling the Linear Trail and followed it while freight trains rolled by on the busy Union Pacific railway to the northeast. I reached the dam and climbed up top, taking another series of out-of-focus shots with my camera. I am eager for the new Canon superzoom camera to be released this month so I can assess its reviews and see if it can replace my dysfunctional Panasonic one.

The camera behaved better when I drew abreast of the Linear Trail, allowing me to shoot its straight shot to the southwest. I descended, determined to stray from the line, which I did by ducking off to the Black Diamond bike trail. Soon I was surrounded by birds flitting from branch to branch ahead of me as I walked past tall trees in the bottomland. Soon I was back at my car, having hiked 2.5 more miles.

I drove east to the lake overlook, built with more style than most. I had to agree with some graffiti since I love “summer” too, although I do always seek an escape from the scorching heat in these parts. The shelter did its best to make the lake view more interesting. I drove over to the Shady Creek trail, but it looked very short and dull, so I turned about and drove up the western shore of the lake to the far north end of the Boulder Bluff Equestrian Trail, lured by a note of a Rock Quarry Area.

Sure enough, an old quarry there had been flooded by the lake, and a fisherman was plying its depths from one bank. The eroded limestone along the shore was interesting, with stumps and other flooded tree remains poking up out of the water out past the quarry cove. Leaving the flooded forest, I crossed to the other side of Quarry Cove, climbing up over the hillside and down to a point with huge eroded slabs of pockmarked rock.

I’d tacked on another 0.9 miles, bringing my total at El Dorado Lake to 5.5 miles. I exited the area, passing a wading fisherman. I wasn’t tired of hiking, but I’d exhausted everything but the long equestrian trail, which made an unappealing run beside the railway. So I drove back to Sedan, Kansas where I’d passed hiking trail signs at the city lakes.

It turns out that there is an old road from the Old Sedan City Lake to the new one a couple of miles to the south which has been turned into a hiking trail. I turned off at the north entry road to the old lake, finding it was a 1935 relief project for local and transient laborers. They’d built up long rock walls with interesting buttresses and caps. The spillway creek area had some nice erosion. I climbed down for a closer look, but the confounded camera loused up all of those shots.

I hiked down the old road toward the new lake in the dimming light, reaching the north end of the lake to capture the sun lowering through the overcast sky and shooting the smoky clouds. Then I trotted back along the road since dusk was approaching, managing to slip on the trail once and fall, muddying my jeans. An ignominious end to a somewhat disappointing day, but I did manage to boost my hiking total for the day to eight miles.

I’ve done enough Kansas hikes to last me awhile. Geography has led me to conduct most of my hikes to the southeast of Bartlesville, and my focus shall now return there, except for a possible expedition to Black Mesa during Spring Break.

Click here for a slideshow from this day hike

About Granger Meador

I enjoy day hikes, photography, podcasts, reading, web design, and technology. My wife Wendy and I work in the Bartlesville Public Schools in northeast Oklahoma, but this blog is outside the scope of our employment.
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1 Response to The Flat Flint Hills of El Dorado

  1. Pingback: » Road-trip notes

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