Not Far From the Freeway – Monument Rocks, Kansas

Monument Rocks in western Kansas

Monument Rocks in western Kansas

Thanks to everyone who commented on last week’s post about some of your favorite places in the Great Plains.  I’m going to dedicate the next several weeks to “showing off” the places you mentioned!

Just south of I-70 in Gove County Kansas are a series of abrupt rock formations rising 60-70 feet above the otherwise fairly flat terrain.  These are the Monument Rocks, and they were designated a National Natural Landmark in 1968.  They are also known as one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas.  

The rocks are remnants of an ancient sea bed that once covered the central part of North America from about 140 million years ago to about 65 million years ago.  Fossils of ancient sea shells are commonly found there.

What to do:

There are no formal hiking trails, and in fact, you can drive right up to most of the formations.  You could, however, choose to walk the informal roads.  There are two main clusters of formations less than 1/4 mile apart.  Probably the best thing to do at Monument Rocks is just to take in the silence, and imagine just how much the earth has changed over the eons.  There are not many places in the world where geology and geologic time can be so transparently viewed.  Monument Rocks is one of them, and just another example of how cool the Great Plains are.


Twenty miles south of Oakley (Exit 76 from I-70) on U.S. 83, then 4 miles east on Jayhawk Road, 3 miles south, and 1 mile east (dry weather road only)  


Eighteen miles north of Scott City, east 2 miles on Dakota Road, 1 mile north, 3 1/2  miles east, and 2 1/2 miles north

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What Are Your Favorite Great Plains Sites?

Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, Nebraska - One of my favorite Great Plains places

Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, Nebraska – one of my favorite Great Plains places.

Pawnee Buttes in Pawnee National grassland is another one.

Pawnee Buttes in Pawnee National Grassland, Colorado is another.

2015 – The Year of the Great Plains

As I have brazenly declared, 2015 is The Year of the Great Plains, and I’m dedicating this blog all year to providing information for anyone on where to go to enjoy some Great Plains scenery and recreation.  I’ve started the year by mentioning some places that are not far from major Interstate Highways such as Badlands National Park and Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Special Places

Not that I’ve run out of ideas, far from it, but I thought now might be a good time to open it up to anyone out there who wants to mention their favorite spots in the Great Plains.  I don’t have too many criteria, just that the places be in the United States, east of the Rockies, and west of the 100th meridian (or close to it).  Other than that, they could be federal, state, local, or even privately operated areas.

All you have to do is mention it in the comments section.  You can just give the name, or if you’re inclined, tell us more about it, and why it’s special to you!

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Not Far From the Interstate – Cross Ranch

The bison herd at Cross Ranch

The bison herd at Cross Ranch

Cross Ranch on the Missouri River in North Dakota is not too far from Interstate 94 (about 30 miles north of Bismarck).  It consists of a smaller unit (600 acres) that is actually a state park, and a system of larger nature preserve units (6,000 acres) that is administered by the Nature Conservancy.  There are plenty of things to do and see at Cross Ranch.   There are over 16 miles of trails, campsites, cabins, and interpretive programs.  Due to the importance of the Missouri River riparian habitat, the park teems with birds and other wildlife, including a bison herd!

Admittedly, I’ve never been to Cross Ranch, but in this little bit of research I’ve done, I’m now itching to go!  If anyone reading this has been there, I’d love to hear some first hand accounts.  Just leave a comment!

Follow this link for the best information on what to see and do in the park:  Cross Ranch

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Found WInter Photo: Bison

Originally posted on Old Road Apples:

I’ll admit it.  I went looking for this one.  The American Bison evolved with their massive heads and necks so they could plow their way through the prodigious snows of the American Great Plains.  You probably know these animals colloquially as “buffalo,” but that is  a misnomer. Buffalo are a very different animal.

In 1900, an estimated 50,000,000 bison roamed the Great Plains, but they were hunted for meat, for their skins, to undermine the Native American cultures that traditionally depended on the animals, and often for sport.  Within a few decades the population was reduced to less than a thousand animals.  Yep, that’s how we roll.

They are magnificent animals–more impressive, I think, than the great predators (Griz, Wolves) that hog the wild west spotlight–and certainly more charismatic.

View original

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Just Off the Interstate – Palo Duro Canyon

Palo Duro Canyon

Palo Duro Canyon


The escarpment at the edge of the Llano Estacado

Not far from Interstate-40 as well as Interstate-27 is Palo Duro Canyon near Amarillo, Texas.  It’s been called the “Grand Canyon of Texas,” and for good reason.  The canyon is more than 70 miles long, and approaches 1,000 feet deep.  Its red rock walls are similar to features you might see in the Grand Canyon, just on a slightly smaller, more Great Plains type scale.  Palo Duro Canyon forms part of the eastern escarpment edge of the Llano Estacado, a giant, table flat plain in western Texas and eastern New Mexico.

Historically, the Llano Estacado is where the fabled city of Quivira was said to be.  In the 1500s, Spaniard Francisco Vasquez de Coronado went in search of Quivira, which legend had it was a place a vast gold riches.  I’m guessing it was just a ruse to get him to go away.  There was, of course, no city of gold, just the featureless plains of the Llano Estacado.  Three centuries later, the canyon and the plains became one of the last stands of the Comanche nation, and where Quanah Parker honed his skills as a warrior.

Today, at the northern end of Palo Duro Canyon you will find Palo Duro Canyon State Park.  Being not far from Amarillo, it’s a well developed park with lots of things to do.  There are over 30 miles of hiking, biking, and equestrian trails.  Most of them are fairly short in length, but you could combine several of them in one day and feel like you had a diverse adventure.

There are campsites, cabins, guided trail rides, and ranger programs.  The following link from Texas Parks and Wildlife is the best one to inform you on all there is to do in Palo Duro Canyon:  Palo Duro Canyon State Park 

Although there are no cities of gold, Palo Duro Canyon is a gem on the Great Plains!

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Just Off the Interstate – Konza Prairie

Konza Prairie in summer

Konza Prairie in summer

Continuing with our series of cool Great Plains sites that are easily accessible from major interstates, we come to Konza Prairie in Kansas.  In fact, Konza is so close to the Interstate 70 that its southern border is the freeway.  Konza Prairie is just south of Manhattan, Kansas, the home of Kansas State University.  It consists of about 3,500 acres of tallgrass and mixed grass prairie, as well as wooded areas in the lower valleys and ravines.  It’s owned and operated jointly by the Nature Conservancy as well as Kansas State University.  The university uses it for research purposes.

Despite the private ownership and management, Konza still has some trails as well as educational programs that are available to the public.

Hiking – Konza has three main trails that total about 12 miles in length:

The Nature Trail (2.4 miles) – Perfect for the interstate traveler who wants to stretch their legs without loosing too much time.  Great views!

The Kings Creek Loop Trail (4.4 miles) – For the person with more time, the Kings Creek Trail offers excellent views and a chance to spend more time in the prairie.  There are some nice wooded areas too.

Godwin Hill Loop Trail (6 miles) – For the more adventurous, Godwin Hill Loop allows you to really experience the full effect of the area, and to spend some quality time in the prairie environment.

Hokanson Homestead Trail (< 1 mile) – Take your time and check out the old limestone homestead dating from the late 1800s.

Education – Follow this link for educational tours of the prairie: Konza Education

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Just Off the Interstate – Badlands National Park

Photo taken during Spring 2009 Artist-in-Residence in Badlands NP.

Badlands National Park

Continuing with our easy-to-get-to sites in the Great Plains, we come to Interstate 90 runing east-west across South Dakota.  If you’ve read the very first post in this blog, High Plains Drifter, you’ll know that this freeway has a long history with me, and crossing it is something I always look forward to.

Well, right off the freeway, to the east and south of Wall, you have Badlands National Park  – perhaps the crown jewel of all Great Plains parks.  It’s big, impressive, and even enjoys a level of fame not usually associated with other Great Plains sites.  Next time you’re in the area, make sure you stop and experience it.  Here are some things to do in the park:

Badlands National Park


There are only about 20 miles of trails in the park, which is not much considering its size, but off-trail hiking, and camping, is allowed.  Follow these links for more information:

Hiking Trails

Backcountry Hiking and Camping


As with any national park, you’re welcome to bike, but you have to stay on designated roads.  No trail riding is allowed.

Biking in Badlands


Far from city lights, Badlands is an excellent place to view the stars.  The dramatic and sometimes strange scenery of Badlands provides an other-worldly backdrop while your viewing other worlds.  The park offers ranger-led activities in the summer for your astronomical adventures.


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