The Chalk Pyramids – Scott City, KS

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Monument Rocks

We’ve often heard that because of the flatness of the Sunflower State and the monotony of driving through it, it’s best to just breeze through and be done with it.  And the fact that we’re traversing Tornado Alley can produce some anxiety, too.  But like every state in our great nation, there are many things to see and do if you just get off the main routes and look for them.

It’s true that the great western plains of Kansas consist of seemingly endless stretches of flatness, but did you know that the state is actually ranked as the 7th (with Florida being #1) flattest state?  Florida also ranked first in the highest average number of tornadoes per 10,000 square miles – Kansas comes in at #2.

Monument Rocks

The long gravel road to Monument Rocks

Several times we’ve been asked questions such as, “What are you going to do in Kansas”? Heck, we don’t know, but we’re here to find out!  With a constant eye to the sky we’ll be exploring the state for the next 3 weeks or so.  Some suggestions from one of our followers, aptly named Dorothy, will get us started (thank you, Dorothy).  Plus, John and Pam gave us a heads-up about some cool rocks we had to investigate.  With that, and some of our own research, off we go across the 41st state of our adventure!

Outcroppings on Western Kansas

A dramatic outcropping

Seemingly in the middle of nowhere, and called “the badlands of Kansas”, is an area of chalk bluffs, chalk flats and chalk pinnacles.  Several outcroppings of these features from the Cretaceous Period, scattered where Niobrara Chalk and Dakota Sandstone are exposed, made for a dramatic display as we approached from the west.


Monument Rocks

Eighty million years ago this region was an open ocean brimming with calcium-shelled microscopic animals (foraminera), giant oysters, sharks, bony fish, and reptiles swimming and flying overhead.

One of the best-known of these formations is the one called Monument Rocks, sometimes referred to as the Chalk Pyramids.  It is officially recognized by the National Park Service as a National Natural Landmark.  These chalk formations tower above the surrounding prairie, sculpted over hundreds of thousands of years via erosion by the waters of the Smoky Hill River.

Monument Rocks

Tea Kettle rock behind me

Eye of the needle- Monument Rocks

Eye of the needle

Some new-to-me feathered friends were also out there enjoying the badlands, posing and just waiting for me to snap their picture.  So far, birding has been surprisingly good in Kansas!

Keeping its distance, the pronghorn was curious about our presence.


Since Monument Rocks are on private rangeland, we also saw some man-made structures dotting the prairie.  But thanks to the landowners, the rocks are open to the public for closer inspection.

Monument Rocks

We were the only ones around on the morning of our visit, so we had ample time by ourselves to check them out.  We thought these amazing formations were definitely worth the drive!


Next up:  Riding with the bison

It’s a rocky situation at Glass Mountain

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After talking about scenery,  lava tubes and caves, it’s time to show some rocks that really rock.  Volcanic rocks, that is.  In our first two blogs about the Lava Beds National Monument we explored the hidden world of the lava caves and the rugged surface encompassing the monument.  This time we highlight the naturally occurring volcanic glass – obsidian rock.  It’s a form of Rhyolite that has the highest content of silica.  It is a volcanic glass prized by Native Americans for making arrowheads, knives, spear points and other tools.


Is this really sharp?

Obsidian Roc kFile

A huge pile of Obsidian Rock

This excursion took us about 30 miles south of the Lava Beds as we continued our geologic adventure at Glass Mountain.

Glass Mountain has been designated a Special Interest Area in Modoc National Forest because of its geologic formations.  The area is a 4,210 acre lava flow of glassy black obsidian boulders ending suddenly in white pumice soil.  Wandering around at the top of  Glass Mountain, we encountered prehistoric obsidian mines along a glass flow and were amazed at the ancient quarry remains evident today.  Being there was kind of surreal and made us wonder what it must have been like when this amazing landscape was being formed.  Estimates are that the most recent flows of pumice and obsidian at Glass Mountain occurred less than 900 years ago.

Glass Mountain

Glass Mountain

Ancient Rock Quarries

Ancient Rock Quarries

We are not geologists or rock hounds, but this place rocks!

The drive took us through the Modoc National Forest were we also saw Ponderosa Pines for miles covered with lichens.

Lichens covering trunks of Ponderosa Pines

After wandering through the quarries we drove to Arnica Sink, a dry basin in which water-worn cobbles and pebbles are mixed with sub-angular boulders covered by a washed mantle of pumice.

Arnica Sink

Arnica Sink

Our final stop was at Medicine Lake, which was once the center of a volcano and is over 150 feet deep.  It was quite a beautiful day and only a few folks were enjoying the serenity and beauty surrounding the area.

Medicine Lake

Medicine Lake

Yellow Rabbit flowers were in full bloom and dotted the landscape with yellow and orange glow. Simply beautiful!

Yellow Rabbit Bloom