Several months ago I saw a news story about a brand new state park opening in Kansas. It had these amazing chalk formations and great walking trails. I sent that article to my husband Dean and asked if we could go sometime. He replied yes and then we went about our regular business as usual.
Here’s the thing about me: I am always planning a million trips to a million different locations. I keep a running list on my phone of places I’d like to travel to one day. Sometimes it kills me that I’ve seen the Eiffel Tower, but I’ve never seen Mount Rushmore or been to Washington D.C. I am determined to see all of this beautiful country before I die!
When we lived in Texas, we had a state parks pass and we camped at least once a month. Now that we actually have campsites on our farm, any time I mention going camping my husband just tells us to set up our tent out back. We’ve done that and it is lovely… but there’s just something about a family camping trip and a change of scenery!
After mentioning the new park to Dean, Covid happened. Churches closed. Museums closed. Airlines closed. You know the rest… In August we had a lovely socially distanced dinner for Dean’s birthday. He admitted to me how much my imaginary vacation planning actually stresses him out. It stresses him out because he actually wants to give me all those trips, but again, Covid had just happened.
I replied, “We don’t have to get in an airplane, but I do want us to prioritize smaller family trips together. You know, places we can go in the car and create new once-in-a-lifetime memories. Little Jerusalem, for example.”
From that moment on, Dean took my suggestion and ran with it. He planned our whole trip! It was a out of my comfort zone to let go of the reins, but I am so glad I did! So, keep reading to get a run down of our recent family vacation to Kansas’ newest state park, Little Jerusalem!
First, we needed to find a place to set up camp. We had heard that there were very little amenities offered at Little J. Dean saw that Lake Scott State Park was just South of Little J on the map. We picked a campsite right on the water and it was perfect! After setting up camp, the boys fished all afternoon. There was also a playground and the “Beach House,” where we were able to rent kayaks one afternoon.
Also in the state park were a few historical sites (a homeschool mom’s dream). The first site we visited was called “The Battle Of Punished Woman’s Fork.” As it turns out, this fork was literally where villagers used to take women out for a good punishing. Later, this fork ended up being the site of one of the last major battles between the Cheyenne and U.S. soldiers. There was a cave nearby where women and children hid, and eventually escaped. The second historical site we visited was called “El Cuartajelo,” which is the remains of an indigenous foundation that dates back to the 1600s. As I’ve been learning about my own indigenous heritage, it was really cool to visit these sites!
We visited Little J two times: once to do the walking trails and once for a guided tour off the trails. The walking trails were great and both ended in the most spectacular views! I swear, those views give the Grand Canyon a run for its money. As good as the walking trails were, the guided tour was amazing. We had gotten a tip from a friend that you just had to schedule a tour through the Lake Scott State Park office. We did the guided tour on our last day and it was so worth it! A trail guide takes you right down into the crevices and right on top of the ridges of the formations. We kept having to remind ourselves that we were still IN KANSAS!
Another friend of mine tipped me off that there was a small fossil gallery nearby. We asked around and eventually found Keystone Gallery. At the gallery, we got to talk to a second generation fossil hunter. Warren thought his fossil hunting van was cool and we were all so impressed by the mosasaurus skeletons. At Keystone, they told us we were just around the corner from Monument Rock, another popular chalk formation in Kansas. We drove by to check them out and they are indeed quite impressive!
By far the highlight of our trip, that one-in-a-lifetime memory I was looking for, was when our tour guide pointed out some actual mosasaurus digits that had yet to be excavated! My little 6 year old paleontologist had been telling us for weeks that he wanted to find a mosasaurus bone. He knows Kansas used to be underwater and that there were most likely mosasaurus dinosaurs here. To say he was ecstatic is an understatement. To be completely honest, our entire family of dinosaur lovers was freaking out. We are so thankful to our tour guide for this moment!
In closing, our trip was absolutely amazing. If you’re in Kansas or even in one of the surrounding states, you should check out both Lake Scott and Little Jerusalem State Parks. Also, I want to encourage all families to cast a vision, do a little planning, a spend some intentional time together! Especially in the midst of Covid, it is so important to get out and experience God’s creation!
XO – Olivia