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Sand Dunes

PHOTO ESSAY: A SUNSET TREK THROUGH LITTLE JERUSALEM BADLANDS STATE PARK

Calling all photographers, naturalists, and an outdoor enthusiast. A few times a year, Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park staff host special events - this guided sunset hike around the park and down into the formations is a Kansas bucket list experience.


Chalk formation at sunset with thunderstorm cloud overhead


Scrolling through Facebook one afternoon in August I came across a post by The Nature Conservancy of Kansas stating Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park would be hosting a ranger-guided sunset hike. That caught my attention. Continuing to read, following the hike the park would stay open for those wanting to see and photograph the Perseid meteor shower. I had barely finished reading the post, and my hotel stay in Oakley was booked.


Planning a trip to Little Jerusalem? My "What to Know Before You Go" post is a good place to start.

The magic began as the early evening sun cast its warm, golden hues over the rugged terrain, transforming Little Jerusalem into a breathtaking canvas of colors. The park's signature chalk formations, reminiscent of ancient cathedrals, stood tall against the horizon, illuminated by the dramatic play of light and shadow. It was a photographer's dream, and I couldn't resist capturing the ethereal beauty that unfolded with each passing moment.


A group walking through a landscape on a gravel path


At the arrival of Sara Kay, Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park naturalist, we were off. Along with myself and Alan, a couple of fellow photographers and two families from nearby made up our group of 15 or so. Heading west on the Life on the Rocks trail, the group trekked down into the Niobrara chalk formations.


One of the perks of joining a park ranger-guided hike was gaining insider knowledge about the park's history, ecology, and the best spots for capturing stunning shots. Stopping at times in canyon areas, Sara Kay pointed out the different grasses and brush. Explaining the ecosystem and the wildlife that call the badlands home.


A park ranger stands by chalk formations at sunset

Sara Kay's passion for the park was contagious, adding an extra layer of appreciation to the already mesmerizing surroundings. From learning about the unique flora and fauna to understanding the geological forces that shaped the landscape, the hike was an enriching experience for both the lens and the soul.


panoramic view of chalk formations at sunset


As we ventured deeper into the park, the impending drama of an oncoming thunderstorm added a thrilling edge to the expedition. Dark clouds rolled in, creating a stark contrast against the warm tones of the setting sun. This unexpected twist in the weather only intensified the photographic opportunities, with lightning dancing on the distant horizon and the landscape taking on an even more otherworldly appearance.


Commonly asked questions about Little Jerusalem


Towering chalk formations at sunset with thunder clouds overhead


For photographers seeking that perfect shot, Little Jerusalem Badland State Park offers an array of compositions. The intricate patterns of erosion, the contrast of light on the chalk formations, and the dynamic interplay between the stormy sky and the golden landscape create a visual feast that is unmatched. It's a canvas that evolves with the changing weather, providing endless possibilities for creative expression.



people hiking through chalk formations

As we reached the park's panoramic overview, the vista unfolded into a scene straight out of a dream. The sun, now dipping low along the horizon, bathed the entire landscape in a warm, golden glow. The chalk spires stood as silhouettes against the darkening sky, creating a scene that begged to be captured. Sara Kay guided our lenses to the most photogenic spots, ensuring that every photographer in the group was left with a memory card filled with extraordinary images.



photographer photographs chalk formations at sunset

The beauty of Little Jerusalem extends beyond the visual spectacle. The sounds of nature, the scent of the earth after a refreshing rain shower, and the feel of the wind against your face all contribute to an immersive experience. This park isn't just a destination for photographers; it's a sanctuary for those who seek a deeper connection with the natural world. The guided hike, with its blend of education and adventure, makes it accessible to enthusiasts of all levels.



kansas state park ranger hiking towards the setting sun

My journey through Little Jerusalem Badland State Park was a symphony of light, landscape, and weather. From the dramatic golden light of the sunset to the thrilling onset of a thunderstorm, every moment presented an opportunity to capture nature's grandeur. Whether you're an avid photographer or an outdoor enthusiast, this park is a must-visit, offering a visual feast that will leave you inspired and in awe of the wonders that Mother Nature has crafted in this hidden corner of Kansas. Don't miss the chance to explore Little Jerusalem and add its breathtaking beauty to your portfolio of unforgettable experiences.




chalk formations at sunset with thunderstorm clouds overhead


PHOTOGRAPHER FIELD NOTES


In my gear bag, I had my Nikon D750, and Nikon’s 24-120mm lens - the most versatile lens I had at the time. At the beginning of the sunset hike my ISO was 400, by the end I had upped it to 1600. During the night shoot, I was at an ISO of 6400.


My other notable gear included a tripod and a remote shutter release. Night photography is still a work in progress for me. My most successful night shots are composites (one image made up of multiple shots).


If you have specific questions, feel free to contact me. I'm happy to provide any answers.


HOW TO LEARN ABOUT FUTURE GUIDED HIKES


The best way to learn about upcoming hikes and events is following the Little Jerusalem Calendar, kept by the Kansas Department of Wildlife & Parks. Also, follow The Nature Conservancy of Kansas on Facebook.



panoramic view of chalk formation at sunset






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