Josh Rouse: Echo Cliff one of most beautiful places in Kansas

DOVER — People wrongly believe Kansas is nothing but flat farmland — a flyover state, they say.

 

That assertion couldn’t be further from the truth, as the state has an overwhelming abundance of beautiful land features, including the majestic Flint Hills, the Big Basin Prairie Preserve, Rock City and the Wakarusa Wetlands.

Among the natural landmarks dotting the map is the native stone scenic byway along K-4 and K-99 highways, in particular Echo Cliff Park, 24927 Echo Cliff Road. The area is made up of sandstone bluffs that wind along Mission Creek in Wabaunsee County, about a 1 1/2 miles west of Dover. It has a rich Indian history, according to the Kansas Sampler Foundation, and arrowheads have been found in the area that date back to 800 to 1000 A.D., when the Woodland Indians resided in the area.

My grandpa, Henry Rouse, found the area one day by chance as he was working for an electric company. With Goodyear on strike, he was working a temporary job clearing land for power lines when he noticed the beautiful rock feature. He later took my dad and uncles to the spot to fish, along with my grandma, Bonnie, and eventually they ended up taking us grandkids to the spot.

It has changed a lot even since then, with the park being preserved by the public and picnic tables made of scrap iron and cement located above the creek. An old bridge that vehicles used to drive over has been preserved alongside the new bridge and is a great spot to fish off, or under. Nature trails in the area allow visitors to follow the creek and see the beautiful sandstone, and a large sculpture decorates the entrance of the park. A roughly 6-inch-tall waterfall made of rocks creates small rapids in the creek, filling the creek bedwith the calming sounds of rushing water. The cliffs used to be even larger, but a partial collapse of the rock face in 1977 caused part of the bluffs to deteriorate.

In the fall, the park is even more beautiful, with fallen leaves accentuating the gorgeous rock cliffs and giving the creek a red and brownish hue.

During a recent trip to the scenic area with my girlfriend, Nichelle, we stopped to do some fishing under the bridge. We used worms and bobbers with a weight tied on to keep the worm from floating downstream. I hadn’t had my pole in the water more than a few minutes on this hot, humid evening before the bobber began to take off upstream. As it submerged under the high, muddy water, which was filled with sediment after recent rains, I yanked the pole back and set the hook on a small channel catfish. The hook went up through the roof of the fish’s mouth and then hooked back into the top of its mouth, about where its nose would be. I scaled the fish up the bank, which was several feet above the water.

Soon after, while I was fishing from on top of the old bridge and Nichelle was fishing below the new one, she saw her bobber move a bit and hooked one of the smallest fish I’ve ever seen caught on a worm. It was a baby bluegill, no bigger than a minnow, and it was hooked perfectly through the mouth to the point where I told her just to throw it back in the water with the hook attached to try to catch something bigger. She did, and soon the bobber went under completely.

This time, the minnow-like bluegill was gone and replaced instead by a green sunfish that had been hooked through the belly. The whole time this was going on, the worm stayed attached to the hook, as it had been pushed up to the top of the hook to make room for the new baits. This only added to the hilarity of the situation, as I rehooked the sunfish through the back and told her she’d keep catching bigger and bigger fish until finally she had a 20-pound catfish on her hook.

Sadly, she didn’t catch her 20-pounder, as the overwhelming humidity eventually made us decide to pack up before the park closed at 10 p.m. We drove back to Topeka and had a nice meal at Jose Peppers, which coincidentally was the same place I ate at after my last creek-fishing adventure on the Shunga.

Luckily, I didn’t fall down any creek beds this time, but I came close a couple times on the rocky area under the old bridge.

The drive home was equally as beautiful, with the sun setting behind large thunderheads that were rolling in from the west, casting a pink glow over the grasslands, limestone fences and cornfields below.

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