Archive for Wednesday, October 6, 2004

Shouts and Murmurs

Destination: Tonganoxie Cliffs

October 6, 2004

This is the time of year to take a drive to see the Tonganoxie Cliffs.

For those of you who don't know what they are, the cliffs are natural sandstone bluffs along Stranger Creek northeast of Tonganoxie. Because of water erosion, there are a couple of cave-like structures along the cliffs.

Although the landmark is on private property, the cliffs can readily be seen from the bridge that crosses Stranger Creek just east of the intersection of 193rd Street and Mitchell Road.

With the leaves beginning to turn, this is the most scenic time of the year to view the cliffs. And, because the sandstone bluff faces the east, morning light gives the best view.

Several weeks ago, Alice Purvis, who is the pastor of the Jarbalo Methodist Church, contacted me, saying she'd seen a postcard with a picture of women in old-fashioned dresses, walking along the cliffs. She asked for directions and promptly took her family to see the place.

Thanks to John Lenahan for lending us his copy of the picture postcard to show to Mirror readers.

Fred Leimkuhler owns the property where the cliffs are located. He and his wife, Martha, used to scour the cliffs and surrounding land for Native American artifacts.

In the cliffs they explored the two cave-like structures. The indentations are large enough to accommodate several people.

"We cleaned them out and we found pottery and Indian artifacts in there and evidence of fire," Leimkuhler said. "So it was used as protection from the wind and weather as much as anything."

And in the early part of the 1900s, especially before Tonganoxie had a swimming pool, the cliffs were the place to go on a hot summer's day.

"It used to be a picnic grounds for people to come out and camp," said Leimkuhler, whose parents bought the property in 1929.

Through the years, rumors have surfaced that the area of the cliffs, long inhabited by Native Americans before settlers moved into the area, was somehow, a sacred place.

"I've spent my life up here trying to decide what is legend and what is history," Leimkuhler said.

Although today the cliffs themselves are as scenic as ever, the view beneath isn't.

The area has become a dumping ground for trash. Used tires, and even an old window air-conditioner, litter the bottom of the creek.

Leimkuhler, who described his age as "83 and going on vitamins," said the creek that he swam in as a child is now polluted -- and dangerous.

"People should really stay out of it," Leimkuhler said. "I think it's very contaminated."

He's sad that the area has been mistreated, and said sadly:

"I wish you could have seen it in its heyday."

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