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Sand Dunes

HISTORIC LAKE SCOTT STATE PARK: Where History & Adventure Come Together

Updated: Dec 30, 2021

The oasis of Western Kansas. Historic Lake Scott State Park is a place where history, outdoor adventure, and tranquility work together, giving visitors an experience unlike any other.

man kayaking on lake scott
A kayaker relishes the water on a warm summer evening

To unsuspecting drivers heading south on Hwy 95, taking a slight swerve on a downhill, the road dips into Ladder Creek Canyon, and Historic Lake Scott Park is there to welcome them. More than once I’ve heard others describe Lake Scott as the oasis of Western Kansas. I couldn’t agree more.

Filled with natural springs, groves of trees, steep bluffs, and abundant with wildlife. It's a place where people for centuries have sought seclusion and peace. Today it's an idyllic lake escape, where you can disconnect from the outer world and recharge. A haven.


Remains of El Cuartelejo, a seven-room pueblo

As far back as the 1600s, the area has been a refuge. Documented by the fact a group of Taos Indians fleeing Spanish rule migrated to the region in 1664. Constructing pueblos and cultivating crops on the land - by developing a system of irrigation ditches from a nearby spring. They made their home at the base of the canyon for 20 years, before returning to their homes in the Southwest. The remains of the pueblo are the northernmost known in the United States.

El Cuartelejo or El Quartelejo? The Spanish spelling of the name uses the letter "C", as in Cuartelejo. The anglicized spelling is Quartelejo. From the pueblos came the name El Caurtelejo, meaning “old barracks" or "building.”

While the El Cuartelejo was briefly reoccupied in 1701 when a group of Picurie Indians settled, nature reclaimed the land over the next century and a half. Leaving a slight earth mound where the dwellings stood. Noticed by Herbert Steele in the mid-1890s, H.T. Martin and Prof. S.W. Williston from the University of Kansas were the original excavators of the site. They exposed what remained of the stone walls. Along with the seven-room pueblo, artifacts such as bone tools, ornaments, and pottery were recovered.

This site was designated as the El Cuartelejo Archeological District National Historic Landmark in 1964. Over the next decade, Kansas Historical Society archeologists carried out an extensive program of excavation, restoration, and interpretation of El Cuartelejo. More than 26 archeological sites have been documented in or near the park.

Today, following a short paved, ADA accessible sidewalk, visitors to the park can see the restoration work. There are additional signs interpreting the site around the remains, but those on natural grass terrain. For those wanting to learn more about the site, visit the El Quartelejo Museum in nearby Scott City.

More images of El Cuartelejo


stone pioneer home surrounded by trees
Pioneer limestone home of the Steele Family

With the western expansion, pioneers moved across Kansas planting their roots and homesteads on the frontier. One such couple was Herbert and Eliza Steele. Settling in Scott County around 1890. Eliza purchased the land around present-day Lake Scott in 1893 for $225, roughly $6,948.70 in today's dollars.

SIDEBAR: That seems like a steal for the beauty surrounding them. But I cannot begin to imagine the hours of labor and the amount of resources it took to build their lives in this wilderness backcountry.

Nestled in a grove of trees, the limestone home, renovated from an original dugout in 1894, can still be seen at the park today. At times, the park opens the seven-room house museum to visitors. Brick paths, uneven in some spots due to the rugged terrain, lead away from the home. Also on the property is a stone springhouse to the north of the home. Be mindful of where you step. Watch for critters, snakes, and vegetation.