25th anniversary celebration for The Nature Conservancy in Kansas

25th anniversary celebration for The Nature Conservancy in Kansas

This Saturday, June 7, The Nature Conservancy marks its 25th year of working in Kansas. To celebrate, they’re hosting an anniversary event at Smoky Valley Ranch.

Cretaceous Formations

Cretaceous Formations

If you’ve never been to Smoky Valley Ranch, you should check it out. Yes, it’s seemingly in the middle of nowhere in western Kansas, but it has some of the coolest geologic formations in the state – its Cretaceous formations are unexpected and impressive out on the short grass prairie.

For the anniversary event: “The event’s activities include a driving tour that will feature how the Conservancy’s long-term management makes the ranch into a model of shortgrass prairie conservation. Tour participants will also discuss how the ranch has been a site for several research projects.

Other activities include a hike that will take visitors to scenic and diverse sites on the ranch and presentations about the history of the ranch, including the role of Native Americans and bison.”

Photo by J. Michael Lockhart/USFWS

Photo by J. Michael Lockhart/USFWS

At Smoky Valley Ranch, The Nature Conservancy in Kansas was instrumental in reintroducing the endangered black footed ferret back to Kansas. The organization also helps protect and care for the Tallgrass National Prairie Preserve, one of the world’s last swathes of tallgrass prairie, and for Cheyenne Bottoms, one of the state’s and arguably the country’s most important wetlands along the Central Flyway that’s used for migratory birds.

The Nature Conservancy in Kansas also helps give information and support to landowners who want to work on conservation issues to ensure the health and beauty of the state’s natural wonders.

Smoky Valley Ranch Long Loop | Garmin Adventures

One of the cool features about Garmin is that with their BaseCamp software, you can check out other trails and create “adventures” from the trails you’ve been on that include the photos taken with the GPS and all the waypoints. Publishing the adventure through BaseCamp means that others can download it and use the information.

Below is an example of the adventures – our trip through the shortgrass prairie and Cretaceous chalk formations at Smoky Valley Ranch: the answer to last week’s “Do you know where this is?“. It’s also a kind of preview for the book. We’ll be including detailed maps, made with Garmin GPS devices, that include important waypoints along the trail. What’s missing in the adventure that you’ll get in the book is the description of the area and the trail itself, but the map gets you halfway there.

Check it out and let us know what you think.

Smoky Valley Ranch Long Loop | Garmin Adventures.

And the answer is….

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.

Cretaceous Formations

Cretaceous Formations

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.

Pre-Historic 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.