Thursday, September 29, 2016

Monument Rocks

About 200 miles due south of the Golden Spike Tower and North Platte, Nebraska, which puts you well into Dorthy's Kansas, is a pretty cool place called Monument Rocks which is, apparently, one of the 8 wonders of Kansas

I didn't know there was such a thing as 8 wonders of Kansas, but in my ignorance I've still managed to sample one of them before, the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve and I almost made it to another, the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, but lack of camping spots and high prison walls had me moving on without checking the museum out.

Unless you count unpaved roads and cattle-guards, there were no such impediments keeping me from checking out Monument Rocks.

Now, to manage expectations and keep you from going all touristy-postal on me when you get there, I guess I should clarify my own personal definition of coolness.

Nobody is going to be breaking out the Panaflex and using these Monument Rocks as the unaccredited background character in their sweeping cinematographic masterpiece. There will be no buzzing swarms of helicopter tours for those with money but no time. You will find no fleet of shuttles attempting to alleviate the crushing influx of auto-born drive-by's. And if you were looking forward to overpriced, watered-down refreshments and $10 snacks that taste like cardboard left out in the rain for a few days, well then you better bring your own because there's no circling of greedy vendors out here either, in fact there's no vendors of any kind for nearly 20 miles in any direction.

And in case you haven't figured out my own personal quirks yet, for me any of the above would only tarnish the coolness of Monument Rocks.

Many, many years ago I was in Kansas for some reason that's no longer important. By the way, that's what those of us that are old enough to start finding our 'stuff' in museums say when we can't remember that far back anymore. Though I contend it's not because we forget, it's just that after enough years there's just so much to remember!

Anyway, I found myself on a network of dirt roads in the middle of miles and miles of blooming sunflowers. You would think I would have taken the opportunity to burn up several rolls of film - told you it was a long time ago! - but if I did, and I have the feeling I wasn't smart enough back then, I no longer have those images and now every time I get anywhere near Kansas I think about that lost opportunity and keep my eyes open for those sunflowers, but so far I haven't been able to find the right curtain to pull back and those bright yellow, smiling faces have been even more elusive than Dorthy's Wizard.

Though the remnants of overnight showers railing against the rising sun did provide their own version of curtains as I headed south.

Which was a bit of a concern because there's no pavement where I'm headed and I know, up close and personal, how slick some of these unpaved Kansas roads can get.  (Don't ask!)

But fortunately the showers dissipated as the sun climbed, picking up their skirts and slipping off to wherever prairie clouds go to build  up strength for their next dark and blustery sweep across the hills.

and it wasn't long before the only thing marring the view through the windshield was mashed bugs.

Which was good because almost exactly 20 miles from the Centrex station at the intersection of US highways 83 and 40, I hung a left onto seven miles of unpaved road.

About five miles after leaving the highway I came around a rise at the corner of what my map, giving up in this maze of faint, dusty trails, lists as Local or Rural Road and Local or Rural Road, and got my first glimpse of Monument Rocks.

A mile and half and one turn later I realized the road actually runs right through the Rocks.

There's no gated entry shack manned by a T-shirted volunteer out here, just a couple lonely cattle-guards, one just to the south and another a couple miles to the north.

And this is as close as it gets to a Visitor's Center.

You see, this formation is actually on private range land and it's only through the courtesy of the owner that I'm allowed to get off the county road and wander around for a closer look.

Not surprisingly, that's called The Eye of the Needle right there in front of The Van.

For perspective, Monument Rocks rise about 70 feet from the prairie grasses.

These crumbly chips, soft enough to grind to dust with my fingers, are laying all around the base of the rocks. This used to be sea-bottom layered with eons of carbonate deposits, but now some 80 million years of tectonic upheaval, wind and water has left only the strongest spires.

Think of the White Cliffs of Dover. Now think of the spectacular videos of chunks of the cliffs falling off into the sea.


This stuff is really fragile and these formations will only last another blink of the geologic eye. From my own puny perspective I can intellectualize, but I can't truly conceive of how long that will be. I only know that my own personal time is not even a speck of talc-like dust on the finger of the Universe, but I rejoice that I had the opportunity to use a few hours of my brief spark to ponder in their shadow.

Once the crop-duster, working somewhere out of sight to the north when I first got here, finished up and left the area, the only sound was the unbroken ringing of tinnitus that is my constant companion. (To paraphrase Ed and Patsy Bruce's song; 'Mammas, don't let your children grow up to work in a 70's era shipyard'!!)



It was so quiet

I actually heard this guy's footsteps before I saw him.

Though, given that this was the only side he'd let me see, I take it he would rather I not have seen or heard him at all.

The tiny Kestrel Hawk is supposed to hang out around here but I didn't see any.

I did see several of these Horned Larks messing around on the ground, though I couldn't seem to get any of the males with their tiny little feather-horns, barely larger than a gnat's eyelash, to pose for me.

And these Sparrows, (Vesper??) had the high ground.

I'm not sure who builds these nests as none of the current winged wildlife seemed the least bit interested, but they're all over the formations on the east side of the county road. (For some reason I didn't see many of these on the formations on the west side of the road. Maybe not enough overhangs?)


Other than fences, in this greatly zoomed view to the south was the only visible indication of human inhabitants. Judging by the power poles that suddenly stop their marching advancement down there at the creek-bottom, there must be a dwelling of some sort nestled in the trees off to the right of the photo, but I couldn't see any roof-lines, sun-on-glass glints, or movement down there at all.

As far as this part of the world was concerned, though scared and marked by others of my species, at this point in time I was the only human intruder. But the day was wearing on so it was time to leave this place to get on with the business of being undisturbed.

OK, when I drove down this road three or four hours ago to get to Monument Rocks it was empty horizon to horizon.

But as I was trying to leave there were cows everywhere!

Including this little guy that, just as I was trying to get by, decided this particular piece of road was a great place to play around on.

But he wasn't the problem, a little patience and he got tired of this game and moved off, it was the white bull there to the right that was the problem! (You'll have to zoom in for a glimpse of the tackle because I wasn't getting any closer than I had to!!)

You see how he's giving me the evil eye? Well he never broke eye-contact the whole time I was within range.

I don't know if he thought I was looking at some of his ladies with just a little too much interest, or if he just has a mean streak in him and was working up to something I wasn't going to like, but he was freaking me out!! (A bull recently killed an experienced rancher out in an open pasture a few miles from our place.)

But eventually I managed to squeak on by, staying way over there on the left. And after that - well - all I had to do was make it to the next cattle-guard before the bull could. Though - come to think of it - a few years ago our neighbor's bull learned to jump over the cattle-guard at the end of their driveway. . .


  1. What an amazing trip! Great pictures!

    1. Thank you. The Universe has definitely blessed me with the opportunity to get out and experience a few of the amazing things lurking out there.