PHOTO ESSAY: SUNSET HIKE AT LITTLE JERUSALEM BADLANDS STATE PARK
Updated: Mar 20, 2022
Traversing amongst the chalk formations on a guided hike at sunset is the ultimate Kansas badlands experience for photographers and hikers.
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.
With the tour kicking off at 6:30 pm, I arrived at 6. Using the time to pack up my gear, douse myself with bug spray, and change into hiking boots. My confirmation email let me know the hike would begin at the Ramada Overlook. At the Ramada (it looks like a pavilion), I met Kansas photographer Alan Hutchins, whose work I've been familiar with. He was also heading out for the sunset hike.
At the arrival of Sara Kay, Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park naturalist and lead guide, 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.
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. For an hour we hiked around to the rugged terrain. The weather and light were ideal. As the sun dropped to the horizon it cast a striking golden light on the formations, adding in the impressive and ever-changing clouds above, it made for a dramatic sight.
As the warm glow of daylight quickly darkened, Sara Kay led us back to the top rim. From there photographers went out and staked their location for the Perseid meteor shower. Knowing I would have to walk back in the pitch darkness, I stuck closer to the first overlook - verses venturing all the way to the second. For the next two hours, I sat quietly snapping the shutter hoping to capture a couple of meteors. While watching planes flicker across the wide-open sky.
Commonly asked questions about Little Jerusalem
It’s truly impressive how dark the night sky over Little Jerusalem gets. There is no light pollution, but you can see town lights on the horizon in the distance. I’ve thought for some time it could be considered an International Dark Sky Park. So far, no parks in Kansas have been recognized. While I had been worried about being in the park in the dark, I underestimated how well human eyes adjust. I was able to hike back out without using the flashlight on my phone.
Hands-down I would jump at the opportunity to do another sunset or sunrise tour. Any specialty tour for that matter.
SUNSET PHOTO ESSAY IMAGE GALLERY
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.