2009 Spring 2 Fall travel blog

the road south from Clay Center

little if any farming here because the limestone lies just below the...

but the area is well suited to ranching




Council Grove

this is the prairie land we've come to see


this old limestone schoolhouse is on the preserve

the headquarters of the preserve is on this old ranch

they plan to build a visitor center but for now it's housed...

the barn is built on three levels and all levels can be...

the barn is 60 feet wide and 110 feet long


the upper level was for storing grain and the animals were kept...

but today there were only two tabby cats

tack from the days when this was a working ranch which it...

grain was put into bags from this hopper

this was the ranch's well insulated chicken coop

we had several hours to wait for the tour so we spent...

behind it on the hill was the ice house

the old ranch house is now entered from the rear

behind the house were the spring and curing house and the privy

a nice three seater

the concrete pad is the roof of a storm cellar in case...


these glass grates provided light to the storm cellar which was also...

the curing house was on two levels and the lower spring level...


the tour of the house is self guided and starts at the...

the house is built into the side of the hill and the...

stairway to the dining room and bedroom level

the former dining room

one of the bedrooms - there was another level above but it...


we still had time to kill so we took a walk up...

from the ice house you look down to the barn and carriage...

it's also a short walk out to a prairie overlook



from the overlook you can see the schoolhouse off in the distance


it was time for the tour so we returned to the barn

the tour busses

driven by our ranger guide

we set out across the preserve

at our first stop we walked out to an overlook

here the ranger talked about the different types of grasses

and wildflowers like goldenrod

and cone flowers

he talked also about the springs and drainage

we were standing at a spring and you can see the drainage...

trees are not common here - nor are they welcome

the limestone is so close to the surface that it often breaks...

back aboard the bus we continued climbing to the highest point on...

here we got out again to view the surrounding prairie lands

looking back toward the ranch you could see the schoolhouse in the...

in another direction there was a reservoir in view

as always there were the wildflowers

and this Indian chewing gum plant

but in some directions the prairie was as yet unspoiled

at least for as far as we could see

while the adults gazed out over the prairie . .

the kids went looking for horny toads

and tiny as they are - they found some babies

it is kind of cute


for the kids the toads were the highlight of the tour

at 5:00 the preserve closed and we got on the road to...

even this far inland we are seeing container trains from the coasts

there is an occasional oil well

nearing our campground

Melvern Lake is a big one

and because it's a Corps of Engineers campground it only cost us...

Seeing Kansas as the first settlers saw it - Friday, August 28

Our next destination had been Topeka, but we decided first to take a detour. The Tall Grass Prairie National Preserve is a hundred miles out of our way, but it’s something we need to see and what’s a hundred miles when we’ve already come so far?

Traveling through the prairie states makes a person either so bored that you never want to see them again, or so fascinated that you fall in love with this sea of grass and crops and hard working people. We are of the latter persuasion, and this was a chance to see the prairie as it once was, before farmers transformed it into a food-basket to the world.

In school we were forced to read Giants in the Earth, a book about the early settlers of the Dakota plains. I hated every page of that book at the time. Now I want to find a copy and read it again. That’s what the prairie can do if you let it into your consciousness.

Once you do let it in there’s a yearning to see what the prairie was like before man came along - when only God and the buffalo moved across it and not even the Sioux or the Osage had come on the scene.

Today that chance is largely gone. There are few if any places on the plains where you can stand and see no sign of man. And we didn’t find one today - but we came as close as possible. On a ranger guided tour we stood at the top of the tallest hill on the preserve, and at 1,300 feet above sea level we gazed out over a piece of tall grass prairie that is about as natural and unspoiled as any left on earth.

Cattle graze here, and soon there will be buffalo again. Not wild and free as they once were, but a small and carefully managed herd. Management includes moving the herd around so the grasses don’t get overgrazed, and setting controlled fires to burn off the trees and shrubs which will try and encroach if you let them. All this activity isn’t exactly ‘natural’ but it’s what is necessary in today’s world if the prairie is to survive in as pristine a state as possible. Both the National Park Service and the Nature Conservancy that control this 11,000 acres are dedicated to that purpose, and so far they are doing a pretty good job.

No plow will ever disturb this soil, and no corn or soybeans will ever grow here. Only wildflowers and sage, ragweed and lead plant, and grasses of every description. Birds abound, and the insects they need to survive. Butterflies flit from flower to flower, and crevices in the limestone hide lizards and horny toads. This landscape that bores the ignorant is so complex that students and scientists come from all over the world to study it.

We studied it too for a quarter of an hour and then we boarded the bus. The ranger who had driven us up said we could walk back if we wanted to - it was only three miles. We were sorely tempted and I think it would have been the sweetest walk in the world, but it was nearly 5:00 PM and we didn’t have a campsite figured out yet.

We had come for the 1:00 o’clock tour, but the Park Service has had to slash their staff and only the 3:00 PM tour was available. We spent the waiting time touring a house and barn and outbuildings of the ranch that once flourished here. Started in the late 1870’s, all the buildings are built of the limestone rock that is just under the surface of the ground. They are as beautiful to look at as they are durable, and the Park Service has kept them as an integral part of the preserve.

We left the preserve shortly after 5:00 and we headed fifty miles up the road to a lovely Corps of Engineers campground on Melvern Lake. After two nights of dry camping a shower felt good, and we have water and electricity and all the comforts of home. From our windows we can see the lake, and there are no bright lights to spoil a dazzling display of stars in the mostly moonless night sky. God love the prairie, for we surely do.

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