Last xmas, Grandpa Bob jokingly mentioned a road trip to the national parks. I said I’d go. Within a matter of minutes, we had set a date and loosely outlined our plan. We’ve seriously been discussing this for months unlike most of my spontaneous trips. So, when my grandma, grandpa and mom showed up on my doorstep a couple of weeks ago to make good on our ideas, I was more than ready. I wasn’t, though, prepared for the amazing things we’d see. Only a few hours into western Kansas, grandpa requested our second detour: Monument Rocks.
KansasTravel.org describes the natural roadside attraction in a more appropriate technical style:
The Chalk Pyramids and Monument Rocks are names for the same group of rock outcroppings, near US-83 in western Kansas.
Like the Castle Rock Badlands, the Monument Rocks are on private range land, but thanks to the owners, open to the public. The United States Department of the Interior has designated the Chalk Pyramids as a National Natural Landmark.
The 70 feet tall sedimentary formations of Niobrara Chalk were created 80 million years ago when this area was part of a vast inland sea.
While armed with two US atlases, countless maps, two iPhones and an iPad — all capable of telling us where to go — we blatantly chose to follow the road signs instead. They promised a more direct route across the flat prairie, however wove through six miles of gravel roads surrounded car-wide ditches on either side.
Never-the-less, 15 minutes into our drive off the trusty, paved US-83 highway, we pulled up to “one of the great wonders of Kansas.”
“We have those?” I asked. No response.
Under the squeltering sun of the afternoon, we gazed up at the chalk walls. Their creamy color popping against the vibrant blue of the Kansas sky. Fluffy white clouds danced above as a bit of dreary, stormy sky moved away. While the sweeping prairie and vast skyline is a common sighting in our state, having it interrupted by the jutting, jaggedness of the stone was quite strange. The combination was truly beautiful.
“We’re in the ‘Badlands of Kansas,'” grandpa informed.
“We have those?” I asked. No response.
Our tour of Monument Rocks last about 15-20 minutes. More gravel roads wove around and away from the peaks giving tourists plenty of angles to snap the perfect shot. My photography madness ate up the bulk of our time there, but I’d argue that grandma was equally as thankful for the chance to snap for awhile.
A cluster of vehicles had formed a parking area near one entrance, but we parked on the side of the road to keep the truck out of our photos. Nearby, a bus unloaded for an end-of-school, educational-but-not field trip. Suddenly, the otherwise still and serene landscape flooded with squeals as they laid in the shadows. We drove one last loop, then followed as the chalky path connected with gravel and we were on our journey back to the interstate.
In our trip through the national parks of the west, we saw more rocks than anyone would care to admit. Within the first few days, one question became a regular: “does that park have more rocks?” From there, we slowly started avoiding them. Most would stand taller and span a greater distance than the Monument Rocks. But, flipping back through my photos, none stood so confidently against a sea of nothing. None were so softly beige. None were so delicately powerful as the collection in western Kansas.
After years and years of driving by — I genuinely had never known Monument Rocks existed — the unexpected attraction left me with some of the most stunning snaps of the entire trip. Certainly worth the thick layer of dust that had settled on my back pack by evening.
5,000 miles. 10 days. 4 people. 1 truck.Enjoying the chaos of Laura’s road trip? Read more like this story in the National Parks Road Trip archive.
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