After being confined to the house by COVID-19 for several weeks, my wife was more than ready to be somewhere else, anywhere else, as long as she could still be safe. 

I decided that it was time to take a road trip. 

We both love to go exploring, and we both love waterfalls. We decided to visit Butcher Falls, a beautiful spot located about 40 miles northeast of Ark City. Due to all of the dry weather, we were pretty sure it would not be running, but it would still be fun to make the drive.  

Our journey took us by the Cowley State Fishing Lake, so we stopped to visit the waterfall at the west end. Just as we had expected, the hot, dry weather had reduced the fall to a small and unexciting trickle of water. 

We climbed back in our vehicle and headed east toward the road to Butcher Falls. 

We have visited the falls before, so we thought that we had a pretty good idea as to where it was located. On our previous visit, the GPS in our vehicle told us exactly where to turn. But for some reason, all it was doing on this trip was searching for signal.

We ended up missing the turn.

After traveling several more miles, we eventually realized that we had gone too far. The most intelligent thing I could have done at that point would have been to turn around and head back to the correct road. 

Unfortunately, I don’t always make intelligent decisions. 

I thought it might be fun to explore a little bit, so we followed a country road north. It was my intention to take the first intersecting road that headed west so that we could meet up with the road we had missed. 

But that road went on and on and on and it seemed to wind around all over the place. We drove past some scenic green pastures and through a beautiful valley. But there were no crossroads. We drove quite a few miles before we finally found a road that would take us back west. 

Well, we hoped that it was west. We had driven so many miles on roads that wound around so much, that we had lost all sense of direction. Our GPS was no help. It was still searching for signal. I tried the app on my phone, but I had no signal of any kind. I could not make a phone call or even send a text to let my son know we were lost somewhere in a Kansas version of the twilight zone.

We pushed on through the beautiful but unfamiliar countryside, occasionally passing by beautiful ranch homes. I thought about pulling in and asking for directions, but I didn’t want to look like a complete greenhorn fool. 

Add that to the list of my other not so bright decisions.

We were surrounded by wide-open spaces. I searched the horizon for any sign of civilization — a radio tower, a grain elevator, a water tower. All I saw were cows and more cows, trees and endless pastureland.

We began the trip with a full tank of gas, which was now down to a quarter of a tank, and we still had no idea where we were or where we needed to go. I was starting to get a little worried. Running out of fuel out here would not be fun. I had no gas can, no cash and no clue which direction to go to find more fuel. 

After more miles of dirt road, we arrived at another crossroad. But we still had no sense of direction. Do we go left or right? With the fuel gauge now at less than a quarter of a tank, a wrong decision could send me on a long, hot walk. 

We knew we had traveled north for quite a distance and we both felt that we needed to be going south. But neither of us knew which direction south was. I tried the GPS, it was still searching for signal. My phone was also useless. 

It was now late afternoon and the sun was starting to set. It had moved just enough that we were able to establish which direction was west, and from there, figure out which way was south. I never realized how much comfort one can receive from simply knowing what direction you are going. 

Eventually our travels brought us into Elk Falls.  Seeing some form of civilization again was a huge relief. But there was no place to purchase fuel. We headed south on the first paved road we found, but we still had no idea how far it would be to the next town or even what town was ahead. 

As we drove along, the gas gauge dropped almost as fast as the sun. If there was a town up ahead, we needed to find it soon.

After a few more miles, we came to another paved crossroad. Much to our relief, there was an information sign.  If we went left, we would end up in Sedan, a right turn would take us to Moline, which was in the general direction of home. 

We gassed up in Moline and finally made it home.

As much as my wife wanted to leave home, I think she was even happier to return. 

I have no idea why my GPS was malfunctioning. Having installed it myself, I have a few ideas, but troubleshooting that problem will have to wait for cooler weather.

Eventually I will get it fixed. But even when I do, my vehicle now will carry an old-school paper map, and a compass in the glove box. The next time I travel down a remote country road, I want to make sure I can find my way back home.


CourierTraveler reporter John Shelman can be contacted at (620) 442-4200 or

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