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It has been a long-standing rule that when traveling through Kansas, it is best to do so at night because there is a common thought that there is nothing to see, but I believe I can prove that notion wrong. We had three days, two kids, and a small budget to drive out to one of Kansas’s geographic wonders and back again, finding new places along the way to explore.
The seven-hour drive from Kansas City was always too much to tackle so I had put Monument Rocks and Castle Rock on the back burner for a few years. This year, the opportunity presented itself so we packed up the car and headed west along the I-70 corridor. The first town we stopped in was Ellis, where we had some breakfast and walked around a playground for a while watching our kids play. The town had a miniature train there but it was far too early for it to be running. Unbeknownst to me, the town of Ellis had its own claims to history. For instance, in 1896 the women’s group “Law and Order Committee” became one of the first all woman council with a woman mayor, making it one of the first in the United States. Wyatt Earp and Buffalo Bill Cody were known to frequent the town and Walter Chrysler grew up here. After the kids had burned off some energy, we were back on the highway.
We made it to Monument Rocks around mid-morning, a little later than planned, but still in more than enough time to explore. We had never seen anything like this before so we were looking forward to this. The landscape was a transition from the grass prairies of central Kansas to the deserts out west. Yucca plants were scattered throughout the area and it was inspiring to be immersed in such a foreign but beautiful landscape. The Monument rose high in the air like a stone fortress, forged millions of years ago. The pale yellow glared brightly in the gleam of sunlight on the east side, casting the west side into deep shadows. Around the south end, by the Eye of the Needle formation, a brown and white blur darted across the ground, twisting around the yucca plants it turned out to be the first pronghorn deer we have seen that was not in a zoo. There were a few wasps buzzing around but they were paying no mind to the intruders. The only difference between these wasps and the ones back home were that these were much larger., they were easily the size of a small hummingbird as they busied themselves in their daily chores. We watched as the dragonflies would zip to a spot and hover, then land for a moment on one of the yucca plants along the road.
To the south, across the gravel road that brought us here, was the second set of Monument Rocks. We had a picnic in the shade of a wall of niobrara chalk looking at a formation that looked like a camel head and the humps on its back. By this time, a couple of vehicles had arrived and also began exploring the rocks. The sun was high in the sky turning the pale yellow stones into bright beacons that were blinding to look at. There was plenty of exploring to do and we spent several hours doing just that. Before we were done, clothing and cameras were covered in the yellow dust from climbing through the rocks and scouring across the land looking for whatever we might find.
About two and a half hours from Monument Rock is another geological wonder of Kansas, Castle Rock. To get to Castle Rock you head south on Castle Rock Road out of Quinter, and drive about thirty two miles then turn left on Gove K. Drive another four miles and you will reach the entrance to Castle Rock. Once you cross the cattle guard in the road, you can turn left or right. Left will take you to the top of the badlands area where you can explore along the tops of the chalk formations and get a spectacular view of Castle Rock, there are no railings or ropes so it can be dangerous if you are not careful. The road takes you around the top and then to the bottom of the badlands.
Over millions of years, nature eroded away the chalk leaving crevices and ledges scattered throughout. Small canyons were etched into the hills. The layers of millions of years are clearly visible in the rock that is now showing a dull orange glow as the evening sun lowers in the western sky.
Castle Rock sits on its own, separate from the other formations. It consists of three towering spires that reach high into the sky and is an ancient remnant of a sea that used to cover the area. Fossils of sea life can be found scattered throughout the area.
As the sun fell to the horizon it was time to get back to the highway and find a place to stay for the night.