My husband was off to Eureka Springs for a mountain bike race this weekend, and I wanted to go for a hike. I decided to head out to the Horsethief Canyon trails at Kanopolis Lake near Salina, which is in the beautiful Smoky Hills region of north central Kansas. It was a bit of a drive, but it was a beautiful day for cruising with the stereo blasting. I loaded up the car with my gear, the obligatory road trip snacks and my iPod and headed out.

I arrived at the trailhead to find no other vehicles in sight. Whoo hoo, I had the whole place to myself and could hike in quiet solitude!  The weather was awesome for mid-July Kansas standards: mid 80’s, light winds and low humidity. When I attempted to hike this trail in May, I was stopped by the first deep water crossing (it didn’t help that I saw a snake swimming around in the water).  The water was just as deep this time, so I went upstream about 1/4 mile and found a place where the creek was just a trickle and surrounded by what I thought was ordinary sand & mud. When I took the first step and instantly sank past my knees, I knew it wasn’t ordinary!  I had found a nice patch of quicksand.  I floundered around for about 5 minutes to extricate myself from the muck, looking all the time at the raccoon tracks on top of the sand. Obviously, I was a lot heavier than Mr. Raccoon…  I also was painfully aware of how ALONE I was and that if I continued to sink down to China, no one would know I had been there.  Finally, after 10 feet of struggling through the mire, I freed myself and fortunately didn’t lose my shoes, but I was covered from thigh to foot in dank, stinky mud. I then had to bushwhack back downstream 1/4 mile to find the marked trail. I made the decision to press on and hoped I didn’t have to deal with mud again.

I found the trails a little confusing but did manage to get on the right track. The canyon area is really cool, with rocky outcroppings peeking out among the hills.  Unfortunately, I ran into another water crossing but managed to find a place where I could boulder hop across. Whew!!  Right past this point was a really cool spot with colorful rocks. The one on the right was covered with different colored lichens and was a nice contrast to the red sandstone above.

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At this point, the trail climbed for a bit and turned back to the south, where I was rewarded with a nice view of the lake.

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The rather wet weather we’ve had lately certainly created a lush green carpet of grass in the Smoky Hills. The color contrast between the red rocks and green grass was very pretty.  I noticed when I shot this there were buzzards circling off in the distance. They were probably still looking for me down at the first water crossing!

A little beyond this point, I found a spot on a hillside with a thicket of sumac and a great colorful rock outcropping. I made note of it and might return in the fall. I can imagine it would be very colorful.  At this point, I decided it was time to head back to the car. I found an alternate route to cross the creek the final time, and arrived back at the car, exhausted and filthy.  The trails were in horrible shape – in places, the trail was barely discernable, and weeds were at times waist and even chest high, completely obliterating the trail. I won’t be surprised if I break out with poison ivy/oak in a few days, and I’ve already chased a few ticks off me.  Oh well, a bad day hiking and taking photos is still better than a good day at work!!

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