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

Under the spacious Kansas skies – Scott City, KS

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Dragon Fly

Kansas Welcome sign We left the rocky mountains of Colorado behind and moved out onto the open plains of Kansas. What a stark difference it was from the air of the high mountain elevations to that of the lower western plains.

Highway 83, Kansas

Wide-open skies as far as the eye can see

As we continued to drive, I was amazed to see a broad prairie under a big sky with nary an obstruction.  This is our first time in Kansas, and it has really lived up to its reputation for wide-open spaces and uncrowded landscapes. After seeing the prairie vistas for several miles, we drove into surprising scenery as we headed toward our home base.  A valley with deep wooded canyons, craggy bluffs and a lake awaited us at Lake Scott State Park.  It made me realize that Kansas is not totally flat after all, and this was a beautiful state park.


Highway 95 lead us into Lake Scott State Park

Lake Scott State Park

Sculptures at the top of a hill in the park

Lake Scott State Park It turns out this state park is rich in history, and it provided us with an inside look at two historic areas.  One was a preserved Indian pueblo ruins dating back to the 1600s, called El Cuartelejo – meaning “old barracks or building.”  This archeologically significant site dates from 1650 to 1750 A.D. and is the north-easternmost pueblo ruin in the United States. The interior rooms of the pueblo ranged in size from 10‘ x 14‘ to 16‘ x 18‘.  The total structural area measured 32‘ x 50‘.  What struck us after reading the plaques is that there were no windows or doors in the structure, meaning entry was gained via a ladder from the roof. This lead experts to classify the dwelling as a pueblo-type ruin.

El Cuartelejo Indian Pueblo Ruins

This reconstructed El Cuartelejo achieved National Historical Landmark status in 1964

Also nearby was the site of the Punished Woman’s Fork / Battle Canyon.  The plaque at the historic marker indicated that Chief Dull Knife and Little Wolf of the Northern Cheyenne escaped from a reservation near Fort Reno, OK in 1878.  Along with other men, women and children of the Cheyenne Nation, they fled to western Kansas and made a stand on the bluffs of Beaver Creek. It was at this location on September 27, 1878 that Lt. Colonel William H. Lewis, the commander of Fort Dodge, was dispatched to capture and return them to Oklahoma.  The women and children were hidden in a cave during the ensuing battle, and that cave is still visible today.

Battle Canyon, Scott City Kansas

The cave where 120 women and 141 children hide during the battle

Lt. Colonel Lewis was mortally wounded and died while en route to Fort Wallace for medical attention.  He was the last military officer killed in action within the state of Kansas.  The Cheyenne escaped by night, crossing the Smoky Hill River and fleeing to Nebraska.

Battle Canyon, Scott City

Battle Canyon, a beautiful and peaceful place near Lake Scott

Back at our site, we considered our stop here the perfect setting to unwind and relax.  Having stayed at a busy and cramped RV park back in Colorado, we relished the peace and quiet here. Watching and listening to the birds put me back in my element, and I got pictures of ones I had not seen before.  Even if it was hot and humid, we enjoyed sitting outside and hanging out with our feathered friends.


Now this is more like it!

Wildflowers also flourished here, with Purple Poppy Mallow blanketing the ground and Yuccas standing abundantly on the hillsides.

Purple Poppy Mallow And that was just the beginning of our discoveries of some lesser-known gems here in Kansas!

Western Vista Sunset

Sunset, Kansas style

Next Up:   Chalk Pyramids