restricted access Flint Hills Region
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27 w e s t b o u n d flint hills region 345 The Flint Hills You have entered the grass-covered Flint Hills, the second landscape region of Kansas along I-70. The Flint Hills are characterized by flat tops and prominent valleys that in some places are 300 feet deep. It might be more accurate to call these the Flint Valleys because erosion has cut ever more deeply over the centuries, creating these “hills” from the flat terrain. The flint referenced in the name comes from the chert, or flint rock, that lies beneath the slopes. The region averages only about 28 inches of precipitation annually , not enough to support the forests you saw back east of Topeka. As you drive through the Flint Hills, notice that there are few trees except in low spots or valleys. You are sailing across a sea of grass with islands of trees growing in low areas where they can get the additional moisture from rainfall running off the surrounding hilltops . The Flint Hills stretch from Nebraska to Oklahoma across the entire width of Kansas. They create a picturesque landscape for I-70 travelers and indeed one of the most pleasant landscapes in the United States. 344 Hudson Ranch The Flint Hills provide unexcelled pastureland for cattle, and prairie grasses flourish here on the Hudson Ranch. This ranch is more than 10,000 acres and extends for miles along both sides of the interstate . It is just one of the large ranches owned by the Hudson family in Kansas. The family home is perched high on a hill to the left of the interstate at mile 343. Read more about this ranch’s operation at 341E (p. 225). 343 Gullies The effects of erosion are visible in some pastures you see along I-70. The ongoing process of gullies cutting away at the dips and depressions in the pastures illustrates how the larger valleys have developed. When cattle remove the grass by eating and trampling it, the field becomes more susceptible to soil erosion. Banks form as water flows through depressions where plant roots had previously held soil in place. As cattle concentrate near water, they walk on these unstable banks, causing more soil to crumble and fall to the 28 d r i v i n g a c r o s s k a n s a s bottom of the gully. The next rain will then wash away this soil, and the process continues unless the banks and bottoms of these depressions are again stabilized with vegetation. 342 St. Marys The town of St. Marys is located about 12 miles north of I-70 on what was the Oregon Trail. It was established as a Jesuit mission to the Potawatomi Indians. The mission evolved into a training school for the Indians and later became a school for Catholic children and a Jesuit seminary. The mission closed in the 1960s, and the grounds eventually were sold to a group of traditional Catholics who still conduct masses in Latin. During the time the Jesuits ministered to the Potawatomi, the Native Americans would come to a stone cabin to receive their government allotments. This cabin, built in the 1850s, still stands and is now the Pay Station Museum. 341 Sleeping Buffalo Mound As noted several miles back, the hill that lies just ahead is referred to as Sleeping Buffalo Mound. As you go up the hill, notice the difference in vegetation on the north and south sides. Compare the area where vegetation is predominantly grass with the north side, which is mostly shrubs. The rancher on the south side burns the prairie annually to promote the growth of lush grass for grazing. Less frequent burning on the north side has allowed small patches of undesirable shrubs and trees to invade the grassland. During the spring, you may look across the hills and see the prairies ablaze or blackened fields still smoldering. Or you may see hills that have become a bright “pool table green” with new growth after having been burned earlier. The lush green grass contrasts sharply with the brown vegetation in areas yet to be burned. In 1866, a travel writer from Philadelphia witnessed the prairie fires in these Kansas Flint Hills and later wrote, with at least a touch of hyperbole, “I have seen the ancient light of Vesuvius by night, as it rose and fell in marvelous glory, but it did not impress me more deeply than...