How Flat is Kansas?

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Rather than return to Roundrock again yesterday, we turned the truck to the west and drove to Manhattan, Kansas (they call themselves the Little Apple) to see our twin sons in their college environment.

A fine day was had by all, and a goodly sum of money was spent, and then came the time to return home.

As we dashed back east on I-70 we passed through a quite scenic area called the Flint Hills. This is actually a huge area that takes up a great portion of eastern Kansas, and our many trips to see our three sons at Kansas colleges always took us through the Flint Hills.

Winter is ending, and soon much of this land will be put to flame, sometimes intentionally and sometimes naturally. The fires are awe-inspiring. This is part of the tallgrass prairie of the Midwest. Men on horseback could tie the stalks of grass across their saddles. Pioneers often got lost in the stuff. Buffalo and antelope roamed. What saved the prairie from cultivation was the rocky soil just below the surface of the ground. Fortunately, it was not good farmland so the web of roots that make up true prairie was not broken. This is cattle country now, as it has been for more than 150 years.

As a rural mail carrier, Linda is familiar with much of this part of the country. (She’s also a fan of my sons’ university.) William Least Heat-Moon wrote an engaging and exhaustive account of Chase County, Kansas, at the center of the Flint Hills, in his book PrairyErth.

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These photos don’t do justice to the hilliness of this region. I suppose the horizon line is what your eye is first drawn to, and so the mistaken belief that all of Kansas is flat is fortified.

Today a great deal is being done to protect the remnant prairie and ecosystem of the Flint Hills. In addition, there are many guests ranches that cater to families that want to go on actual wagon train excursions and companies that want unique meeting centers.

It’s always nice to drive through the Flint Hills, but once the boys graduate, we will have less occasion to do so.

15 Responses to “How Flat is Kansas?”

  1. FloridaCracker Says:

    My college roommate, ThunderDave, used to talk of the flint hills very fondly.

  2. dread pirate roberts Says:

    “These photos don’t do justice to the hilliness of this region.”

    ya got that right. it does look fairly flat.

  3. Hick Says:

    Hmmm…who knew?

    I guess compared to the rest of Kansas, it is pretty hilly.

    I liked your commentary.

  4. Linda Says:

    The Flint Hills are truly beautiful. Great post.

  5. Tjilpi Says:

    Who stole the trees, shrubs and bushes? And why?

  6. Administrator Says:

    Fire took all of the trees, shrubs, and bushes. Grass grows from the bottom up, but other plants grow from the tips out, so if they are fire damaged, they can’t keep growing. Grass isn’t affected that way.

  7. Thunder Says:

    Ahh the flint hills of Kansas!

    To do them justice ytou really need to see them during all four seasons. In the spring they are green and look like carpeting. In the summer they turn to gold and the grasses are tall enough to blow in the breeze. In the fall the purple seed heads are full, and when the wind blows you see the amber/purple waves that are sung about in our national anthem. In the winter when they are covered with snow you’ll wonder how the first settlers of the area ever survived the trip!

    I could go on, and on but I’ll spare you!
    Nice pictures, you’ve succeded in making me home sick.

    If/when you go back be sure to visit Pilsbury Crossing. It’s a natural ford in the Kansas river. The river actually spreads out on the rock slab and becomes a shallow 3-4″ deep at this point so you can actually drive across the river!

  8. oldwhitelady Says:

    Hilliness of the region. Haw haw haw. I’ve been through Kansas. There aren’t many hills that I saw:)

  9. bill Says:

    The Flint Hills seem like a magical place to me. I’ve driven through them many times but never really got off the road. I always imagine they look just as they always have. Except for the highway you can look for miles and see no sign of civilization.

    Someday I want to take the time to get off the road and look closer. We are always in a hurry, on the way up to my wife’s hometown, Atchison (as in .. Topeka and Santa Fe).

  10. Tjilpi Says:

    Thanks Pablo. I now recall a previous post of yours in which you mentioned fire assisted grass invasion. We have a similar phenomenon here, which partly depends on the grass finding a suitable subsoil on which to thrive, but I have never seen such a large area of grass only.

  11. the farmers wife Says:

    These photos are AWESOME! I’ve never driven through this region, but had it so pictured in my mind while reading PrairyErth. I’m now reading the book you suggested, “Giants in the Earth”, and indeed you wonder what the pioneers could possibly anchor themselves to in land such as this.

    It looks awesomely beautiful. I’ve added it to my list of “many things to do before I die”.

    Thanks Pablo.

  12. pioneer88 Says:

    I’ve driven through the flinthills numerous times going to wichita from Southeast Kansas, and it’s always a great trip. You really need to see them for yourselves to understand just how big these hills are..

  13. flintrockkid Says:

    i’ve lived in the flint hills all my life and can’t think of any place i’d rather be.untill you actually walk to the bottom and back up one of our hills you can’t tell how tall they really are!

  14. Stoney Says:

    I saw a commercial today (I think it was a Dr. Scholls one) talking about “flat as Kansas”. This always baffled me because I live in that aforementioned town of Atchison here in the northeast corner and it is anything but flat! Then when I travel across Kansas from the east to the west, through those Flint Hills to Colorado, I have to wonder how we got this reputation for being so flat. By the way, Atchison, besides being the birhplace of the Atchison, Topeka and Sante Fe RR is also the birthplace of Amelia Earhart. We have a great air show and one of the finest fireworks displays in the country in mid July to honor her. The celebration is a grand one if you want to check us out.

  15. Becca Says:

    I love Kansas [grew up here, live here]! I wish there was some way to keep travelers from driving through certain areas cause they always seem to find the most boring parts. Kansas is actually extremely hilly and if you go east by Manhattan and Lawrence, theres a ton a trees. It gets really tiring to constantly be sticking up for my state. I’ve been to the coast in California, Texas, and Florida and every time there’s someone that asks me if I ride a horse to school or if we still use horse drawn carriages. What?!? I’ve never ridden a horse. I’ve never been in a horse drawn carriage. I haven’t even seen the whole Wizard of Oz. I think people in other states can quote it better than I can. And that goes for a lot of Kansans. Anyways, my point is, stereotypes are so not true and Kansas is so not flat! :] Thanks for this picture of the Flint Hills!

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