A trip to Kansas

I’ve recently returned from a trip to Kansas for a lovely family wedding. Two (pandemic) years have passed since I’ve seen my relatives and it was well worth the drive. En route to the wedding, and on the return to Minnesota, I carved out some time for exploring and visiting some of my favorite areas.

Near the center of the state, running from north to south, are the Flint Hills of Kansas. This is the largest expanse of tallgrass prairie that remains in the world. Most of this area has a very shallow soil with a subsurface of limestone, all of which made the area uncondusive to agriculture and spared it from being plowed. It is a landscape of big vistas, rolling hills, and grasses.

The Lower Fox Creek Schoolhouse sits on a hill within the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve near Strong City, Kansas. Built of native limestone in 1882, classes were held in the single room from 1884 to 1930. Before arriving at the schoolhouse I had been following an old stone fence line and photographing a white church that glowed in the sunlight under a blue sky, all the time being serenaded by a herd of cows. Within twenty minutes the sun disappeared behind gunmetal gray clouds and the temperature starting dropping. When I arrived at the schoolhouse the flag clearly displayed the howling of the westerly wind. The setting took on a bleakness that I hadn’t experienced before, yet I’m sure was familiar to the early settlers that had tried to sustain a living in this area.

Kansas Flint Hills

KS Flint Hills at sunset_Staats 13167There is a section of central Kansas known as the Flint Hills.  This area is the last large expanse of tallgrass prairie in the country.  During the westward expansion in the 1800’s, the settlers found the land was not good for their traditional crops because of the outcroppings of limestone and flint.  Cattle ranching became the main agricultural activity, so the land was not ploughed over and remained intact.  Due to the abundant rainfall the past few months, everything is wonderfully green.  The hills undulate and roll slowly across the countryside, and at sunset they take on a golden hue.  It is an area where the horizon is a long way off, and one can revel in the beauty of the expanse in an almost 360 degree vista.

A hike on the prairie

This past weekend found us traveling south to Kansas to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday with my family.  Looking for a way to enjoy the unseasonably warm and sunny weather, we ventured west from the Kansas City area to Manhattan, Kansas.  After driving into the Flint Hills we came upon the Konza Prairie, a preserve of The Nature Conservancy that is managed as a biological station by Kansas State University.  The late fall colors were golden across the 8600 acres of the prairie.    It was a joy to hike through this area surrounded by a sea of grasses blowing in the wind, as they must have done when the early settlers came through this same land hundreds of years ago.

Biking across Kansas 2009

BAK_Santa Fe marker_Staats553 miles, 8 days, heat, cold, sun, rain, wind — we had it all on the Biking Across Kansas ride that just finished last Saturday.  It was a great experience, and an adventure of the best kind.  800+ riders travelled from the Colorado border across southern Kansas to the Missouri border.  We stayed in small towns that rolled out the red carpet for this mass of hungry cyclists.  The wheat in western Kansas was golden and beautiful, and the Flint Hills of central Kansas were lush and green.  Wildflowers were in bloom throughout the state, benefiting from the abundance of rain in the past few months.  And I can attest to the fact that Kansas in NOT flat;  the rolling hills of the east side of the state gave us our toughest workout.  This was a perfect way to see and experience my home state.  Bicycling puts you directly into the landscape, and you meet the locals face-to-face.  Everyone (and I do mean everyone) was friendly, giving me a real taste of mid-western hospitality.  This was the 35th year for the BAK ride (www.bak.org), and I tip my helmet to the BAK committee.  The ride was wonderfully organized, the food was fabulous, and the entire experience was a great adventure!