Peak(s):  Tallgrass Prairie - 1600
Date Posted:  08/17/2014
Date Climbed:   08/16/2014
Author:  mennoguy
 Four Seasons on the Prairie   

A tale of four seasons

The tallgrass prairie is a true gem on the Kansas landscape. I set out to capture the moods and scenes of the preserve in all four seasons. Our journey commences in winter.

Winter, the last piece of the puzzle, I needed snow. My wish was granted in late December of 2013, three to six inches blanketed much of central Kansas. It was time to show my dad the wonders of the tallgrass. The windchill when we left the visitor's center was 15. Fresh snow adds a magical quality to the hills. We crunched through virgin snow, untrodden by humans. It soon became obvious we were not the first mammals to traipse along this trail. Each track and path told a story, a field mouse making a track to a seed store, ever vigilant of eyes in the sky, a raccoon foraging for the last berries. We can only guess what the true story is, but we can be sure that the hills are alive at night.

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Fox Creek School

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Late winter, early spring, this is a time of constant change on the prairie. My first sojourn to the preserve was in early April of 2013 with my grandparents. The afternoon temperatures were in the around 60 with a cool breeze from the west. Odd weather patterns which are common created a late spring efflorescence. Green was just peaking out of the ground while trees budded out. I was drawn towards the fox creek schoolhouse. It stood like a sentinel on top of a hill guiding wayward travelers drawn by the promises of opportunity further west. One room school houses dot the countryside in Kansas, each township had their own, the fox creek school resides on the preserve.

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The Santa Fe trail crossed the prairie very near to the preserve. It traversed the hills near the town of Council Grove on its way to the watering hole at Diamond Springs and at Lost Springs. These oasis on the plains became station stops on the Santa Fe railway. The track is gone and the town is all but dead at Diamond Springs but water still bubbles up.

In May of 2013, I returned with my roommate to view explore the southwest trails. It was one of those muggy late spring days with a temperature near 80 and the sky almost bursting with moisture. After cresting a hill we saw the herd of bison. It was a truly supine moment watching these ungulates grazing. Our journey turned south to the crusher hill loop. During the winter and spring the preserve leases the pastures for cattle grazing. The wildlife which was absent a month earlier made its appearance known. A dung beetle crossed the trail with another not far behind fighting for the best ball of crap. In the mountains the experience and the setting is so grand I often forget to look at the forest floor around me. While traipsing around the Kansas prairie is an equally liberating experience. The beauty is more sublime and the pace of life slows down, so much so that a dung beetle parade gets the right of way on the trail. Over hills through meadows and creeks we went, only stopping to let a cow cross the trail or to make friends with a horny toad.

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Strong City is the gateway to the preserve, it's main claim to fame is the flint hills rodeo. Cottonwood Falls resides just to the south, named after a fracture along the cottonwood river which creates a small waterfall. The courthouse in Cottonwood Falls is the oldest in Kansas. The Santa Fe laid down track through Strong City. These two towns served as depots for cattle and people alike. The station is abandoned and the stockyards are gone. Trains blast through the town at 65 miles per hour, briefly breaking the silence and reminding residents and travelers of the town's origin.

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Cottonwood Falls Courthouse

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Cottonwood Falls

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Strong City Depot


Ben G joined me for my September 2013 trip, it was 100 degrees. So we took to the shaded trails of Fox Creek. The only relief from the heat was to splash the pungent smelling creek water over your head and let the breeze cool you off. I don't think I'll go back there when the temperature is this warm again. Thanks to a wet August the vegetation was thick and green, not the usual drab brown of late summer in Kansas.

I failed to take good summer pictures in 2013 so I returned in 2014 with Alex. It was a sultry summer day, an early morning thunderstorm left the air dense and the grass wet. We welcomed a breeze on top of a hill, it made the 85 degrees with a 70 degree dew point more bearable. Alex and I explored the old stockyards by Fox Creek.

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For reference Alex is about 6' tall

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Strong City is also home to Ad Astra, a bar and grill which is a gem for this small town. Any trip to the area requires a stop by this establishment.

Mid fall, the leaves are changing and the grasses of the prairie change to their red hue. I took off with my friend Alex to explore the high point of the preserve. A cool morning gave way to a warm afternoon as we ascended the grassy trails. A moderate breeze greeted us of the hilltop. Much like the alpine tundra there is no shelter deep in the hills. It is hard to distinguish the actual high point. While walking the trails we discussed how disorienting the vast landscape must have been for the early settlers. Unlike Colorado which has distinctive looking mountains and valleys the flint hills are a homogenous landscape.

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Unlike my spring trip this one was devoid of wildlife save for the behemoth grasshoppers. These hoppers didn't hop, they waddled and cannibalized their fallen brethren. The only sounds to pierce the silence are the breeze and the final insects of fall. Occasionally a crop duster will fly overheard reminding us of civilization in this primitive landscape. After lying atop the hills for an hour admiring the azure sky we embark on our quest back to civilization.

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Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
Tory Wells

Very cool...
08/17/2014 18:53
Thanks for sharing!


Jay521

Like Tory said...
08/18/2014 14:25
It IS very cool. I grew up on the plains east of Denver and your pictures bring back a lot of memories. Thanks.


dnye

Thank you
08/18/2014 16:44
I grew up in Kansas and this hit the spot on a Monday morning. Sometimes, I do not realize how much I miss the plains (that is probably offensive to a lot of people on this site).


Tornadoman

Cool post
08/19/2014 00:25
I have been to a lot of those spots. I love the Flint Hills and tallgrass prairie in that area. Thanks for sharing.


DanR

Thanks for sharing
08/19/2014 14:06
Every now and then, it's nice to see a reminder that there are spectacular facets to the less outwardly dramatic types of terrain.



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