Smoky Valley Ranch!
Lake Scott State Park is within the same region, and more well known, so those were good guesses, but the location of these chalk cliffs is the Nature Conservancy’s Smoky Valley Ranch in Logan County.
There is a 1 mile loop and a 5 mile loop through the shortgrass prairie and throughout the hike are chalk cliffs, though these, the most impressive, are located primarily along the 1 mile loop.
It can be a bit tricky for route finding on the 5 mile loop – I managed to make it about 7 miles, but that came from following cattle tracks when they criss-crossed the main hiking trail, and not having a clear description of the trail (which you’ll have with the publication of our book), though even when adjusting the track to correctly follow the trail, the long loop came out to about 5.5 miles.
I was saved by being able to see my exact location on the Garmin GPS device – I would recommend one of those, or at least a compass on this particular trail. Out on the shortgrass prairie, once you get over the ridges and can no longer see the formations shown above, it can be easy to get turned around and in the open prairie, there are no trees, so it’s best hiked in either spring or fall.
All that being said, it’s a pleasant hike through some unique terrain. It’s free and open only to hikers. On the trail, keep an eye out for badgers, turtles, and hawks. It’s also a new site for the federally endangered black footed ferret.
To best explain why the place is important and worth a visit, I’ll use an excerpt from the website:
Why the Conservancy Selected this Site
This area is a rare remnant of shortgrass prairie and home to the green toad, a state-threatened amphibian, and the swift fox. In addition to its biological significance, it is a living repository of geological, paleontological, archaeological, historical and cultural history.
The chalk badlands along the Smoky Hill River contain a rich fossil record of animals that lived in a vast inland sea that covered Kansas during the Cretaceous Period, some 80 million years ago. The Cretaceous Period was part of the Age of Reptiles, an era famous for its dinosaurs. Although dinosaurs were restricted to landmasses far from western Kansas, their marine representatives — mosasaurs and plesiosaurs — roamed the seas. Besides these large marine reptiles, huge turtles, sharks, flying reptiles, giant clams, and toothed-birds inhabited the area. Because fossil remains are so well-preserved and scientifically significant, the chalk badlands are among the world’s most famous locations for fossils from this era.
A Paleoindian site, the first physical evidence that humans inhabited North America at the end of the last Ice Age, was unearthed on Smoky Valley Ranch in 1895. This discovery contradicted contemporary theory and was not confirmed until 13 years later when a similar discovery was made in Folsom, New Mexico.
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