Photographs by: Craig Thompson

I started becoming more aware of the Kaw River when I first worked for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. Back in 1990s, I was involved with water sampling the river for several state programs, including the Governor’s Water Quality Initiative. On some of our sampling field runs, we would collect water chemistry off several Kansas River bridges. I remember one particular time in 1993 when I was sampling off the bridge at Lecompton. I was amazed at all the high water levels I was seeing in rivers throughout the state that year, but especially on the Kaw. When I arrived at the bridge, the river was flooding the north side and I could not cross over. I collected my sample and captured a snap shot with a cheap panoramic camera.

Capturing that particular photo that day and others from the scenic river road only inspired me more to photograph the Kaw River. I became more interested in actually getting on and in the river. I wanted to explore the many sandbars and experience the wildlife that inhabits the Kaw. It wasn’t until 1996 that I saw a friend of mine kayaking down the river near the Lawrence River Front Park. My friend, swim coach in the 1970s and Friends of the Kaw member, Mike Calwell, was on that trip. He recruited me to join the FOK and invited me to join him on float trips on the Kaw. I have floated the Kaw many times, but the most inspiring time I spent on the river was during the monthly moon light float trips in 1999. What a blast and what a challenge, but we floated the
whole 171 miles of the river that year.

Before the 1999 moonlight float trips, I felt disconnected with the Kaw River. I would only observe and experience the river from the bridges that I collected water samples. The 1999 moonlight float trips helped me connect to the river. There are certain segments of the river that I enjoy floating and exploring. The upper Kaw in the Flint Hills area is one of my favorite areas to take photographs, especially on fall float trips. I enjoy stopping on sandbars when I am on float trips. I immediately get out of my boat and start beachcombing. I find so many interesting and different things to collect and to also capture with my camera. There are mussels, mussel tracks, driftwood, bird and animal tracks, artifacts, fossilized bones, beaver activity and interesting shaped rocks. And, there are the sweeping, ever-shifting sandbars that are as long as a football field.

I like experiencing the sights I find on the Kaw River. Like the sunrises, sunsets, and the amazing stars at night when camping on the sandbars. I like hearing the sounds of the rippling waters and the rattling song of the Belted Kingfisher. I feel automatically better when I experience this connection with this living river. The Kaw River has inspired me to work on a book with photographic images I have taken over the years. This is a beautiful river that needs to be protected. It is a great recreational opportunity that is right in our backyard. With the addition of several new boat ramps along the Kaw River, the river will provide everyone the opportunity to connect to the sights and sounds that is unrivaled by any other experience in the state.

Craig Thompson,
Kansas City, Missouri

To order prints,

 contact Craig Thompson at:

 (816) 531-7834.