On our way back from Tulsa the other day, one of the teachers in the group shared a tragic story about two former students. One of them had murdered the other some miles away and had then driven the victim’s car out to Cowley Lake. Perhaps thinking to somehow hide the real crime scene, he pushed the car into the lake.
On a much brighter note, she then said, just as we passed by the lake on Route 166 several miles east of Ark City, “There’s a waterfall.”
Considering the setting of these low rolling hills, I imagined a small creek dropping a slow trickle over a few feet of exposed outcropping. Still, a waterfall is a waterfall, especially in a place where it is not expected.
On a gorgeous afternoon, with mostly clear skies and the temperature just above seventy, Randa and I went out to investigate the waterfall rumor.
Native grasses bent in the wind of passing cars and trucks, reflecting the subtle colors of early fall in southern Kansas. Bits of stone gleamed gray in the bare places of hills and fields stretching out for miles. Along the ditches, cottonwood, elm and prairie oak staked their dark shapes. At the eastern end of a flat valley, I pointed out the big barn on its limestone base built into the side of the hill and nestled against the trees.
Up the hill and around another curve, we turned down the gravel drive south of the highway and wound our way back past the campsites. The state fishing lake in Cowley County looks as if it was built into the abandoned bed of an old rock quarry. Vertical bluffs rise up along the north and south boundaries, especially toward its west end, opposite the small creek running in from the east. A turnabout marked the end of the gravel drive. Ceresa lespedeza lined the parking lot, along with shrubs and trees. A fence drifted along the edge of the bluffs, above a wide flat of stone that spanned north and south, varying from a hundred feet wide to maybe three hundred feet or more as it stretched east, ending at the water a quarter-mile away. I stood for a while taking in the view of stone bluffs and the dark greens of trees and bushes with a touch of autumn color just beginning to brush the leaves and grass.
It was lovely and totally unexpected, a microcosm of Vermont or New Hampshire transported nearly to Oklahoma. It is a rare and rich blessing to bask in the goodness of certain moments, scenes and events and then discover that something even better is just around the corner. I was about to find that this was one of those moments.