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.

Favorite hiking and biking trails around Salina

Salina, Kansas is hosting their annual Smoky Hill River Festival this weekend.  Bonus – along with the art, culture, and food of the festival, the city has some fun trails. Here are our favorites, some of which will be featured in our book.

For a view

Hike up to the top of Indian Rock. Along the Smoky Hill River, the park was named for its location as a Native American battle. The bluff is one of the city’s highest points, and the trails wind through wooded areas and open prairie with more moderate hiking than the surrounding plains.  Watch out for flying frisbees – the park is popular with disc golfers.

For a long(er) workout

Walk, run, or bike from the north end of Bill Burke Park up to the flood control levee south to Magnolia Street and back – round trip 6.2 miles of mostly flat, wide trail.

For families

Lakewood Park has a total of 2.25 miles of easy to walk trail, including a 13 station interpretive nature trail, a butterfly garden, and lots of birds.

Food and fun: Smoky Hill River Festival June 6-9, 2013

Art installation at the 2012 Smoky Hill River Festival. Photo by TravelKS

Art installation at the 2012 Smoky Hill River Festival. Photo by TravelKS

The 37th Smoky Hill River Festival has kicked off with a concert tonight followed by events all day Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

We lived for six years in Salina, and every year, I was surprised and amazed by the wealth of art, crafts, music, and food. Delicious, delicious fair-style, food-truck food. Funnel cake for breakfast? Don’t mind if I do. Turkey leg as big as my face? Sure!

Art installations are scattered around the park, and there’s a fine art show and demonstrations along with tents with activities for kiddos, like craft making and face painting. One of my favorite memories from River Fest (along with the blur of good food, good friends, and good music) was finding a drawing with my brother that we wanted to get for my dad for his birthday. It was an ink drawing that was reversible – flip it one way and it told one story, the other way and it told another – from despair to hope just on the perspective of the image.

Musician Amanda Barrett of The Ditty Bops perf...

Musician Amanda Barrett of The Ditty Bops performing at the 2007 Smoky Hill River Festival. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was around $50, which for us, as high school students who mowed lawns for cash, was a lot of money. We spotted it on a Sunday, the last day of the festival, and we thought it would be just about the coolest gift we could come up with. Far and above the gifts of stapled together coupon books (1 free hug for Dad. 1 session of washing dishes).

We scraped together the $50 and came running back, hoping that the artist hadn’t sold the painting yet. He hadn’t, but we weren’t yet in the clear. We’d neglected to think through the additional amount for tax. We looked at each other in dismay – we’d lost after all. But the artist (I wish I remembered his name!) took pity on us and waived the tax. The drawing still hangs in our parent’s house today. It was a simple thing, but the kindness of the artist, when he could have just shrugged his shoulders and said sorry, has stayed with me.

Every hour throughout the weekend starting from 10am and running through the evening, there will be music performances, with the main events happening at Eric Stein stage on Friday and Saturday night. Check out the full schedule here.

Food court. Photo by TravelKS

Food court. Photo by TravelKS

Where: Oakdale Park at South Second and Mulberry. Parking and free shuttle service at Bicentennial Center

When: Gates open on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday mornings at 9:30am

Cost: A River Fest button is required, and they’re $15 at the gate if you didn’t get one ahead of time. The button gets you into all 3 days. Kids 11 and under get in FREE!

What’s your favorite River Festival memory? Let us know in the comments!