I have loved the Flint Hills of Kansas since my friend Don, who was murdered in Belize, moved there after getting married. He introduced me to this unique part of the Sunflower State while working for Kansas’ water resources. Don put down deep roots and loved his adopted state. I loved driving across The Flint Hills with him but never treated them as a destination like The South Dakota Badlands until 2018.
The drive from Denver to Topeka is a long one, and it’s virtually impossible to be in the Flint Hills until late afternoon. This year Ruth and I arrived at often undulating Highway 177, part of the Flint Hills Scenic Byway, by 6 pm. This road south of Manhattan goes almost to Wichita, is marked as scenic by Rand McNally, and is a good introduction to the Flint Hills. A storm was approaching. We decided to go as far on 177 as we could before it got dark or heavy rain fell. This turned out to be a great decision.
The Flint Hills really contain flint. It lies near the surface. These hilltops are capped with flint-gravel. They are truly hills but not mountains. Their highest elevation is 1,680 feet. Ranchers settled there but not farmers because the soil was rocky. There’s lots of limestone in these hills topped by pure chert, the type of quartz that is known as flint. This flint forms nodules in The Flint Hills’ limestone sedimentary rocks.
This prairie not suitable for farming once extended from Canada to Texas. Today this tallgrass phenomenon is almost gone, but Kansas was luckier than other states. It’s rocky soil saved the original tallgrass prairie from disappearing. There are only 4 natural tallgrass areas left and 3 of them are in Kansas.
Our goal became to reach the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve before it closed or sundown occurred. We arrived at 7:30 just as the lights were being turned off. There are more than 40 miles of easy trails in this National Preserve. They were still in use, so I walked part of one gathering information and memories. The drive to this point included Council Grove, a sweet town and the only population center on this entire Flint Hills Drive. The road had definitely been scenic in an unassuming way, and the fading light and dramatic summer clouds made me vow to return to this Nature Conservancy facility near Strong City next year. I also plan to visit the Flint Hills Discovery Center in Manhattan, KS, that opened in 2012.
So to be continued.