Saturday, May 7, 2011

Prairie home

The famous get-to-know-you question - are you a beach or mountain person? I have always been a little ambivalent about that choice. Both seem kind of exotic since Kansas has neither ocean nor mountains, but I also think my real preference was a third, unnamed option. My choice - the prairie.

Kansas is a beautiful place! We get a bad reputation for a flat and boring landscape, yet I am confident the people who hold this belief have never experienced the Flint Hills. The rolling hills that house the tallgrass prairie are simply breath taking. We have vistas that allow you to see for miles and down into valleys. The colors of the grasses change over the season to all shades of green and brown. We are at this really interesting time of the year when the portions that are recovering from spring controlled burns are turning a vibrant green. The sunrises and sunsets are simply gorgeous over these hills.

Most people only have the chance to drive through the Flint Hills because there are few places where people can get out and experience the prairie. Driving through is nothing compared to hearing the wind rustle the grass, to see wildlife and wildflowers up close, and to examine the detail in a weathered limestone rock.
There is a place where people can experience the prairie. Nestled in the Flint Hills is the National Park Service Tall Grass Prairie Preserve just north of Strong City and south of Council Grove. The Spring Hill Ranch, later known as the Z Bar Ranch, and now the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, has a 1883 ranch house and gigantic barn with other outdoor buildings, all in native limestone. The grounds are open 24 hours a day for hiking and they have some really manageable short trails or frontcountry trails. They also have backcountry hiking trails.

Last Saturday, we ventured out for a short one night vacation. We started our day with lunch at Council Grove at the Hayes House the oldest continuously operating restaurant west of the Mississippi. We had a great lunch with homemade pie.

We then ventured further south to the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve for hiking and touring and a little shopping. We hiked the Southwind Nature Trail that leads you to the Lower Fox Creek Schoolhouse for a nearly two mile hike. The hike was not tough at all and just long enough to feel like you had an adventure without tiring you out.

The gift shop had a lot of books about the prairie ecosystem, ranch life, and cowboy culture. We bought two great pieces of art, some notecards, and a great book on Flinthills cowboys. We then continued on to Cottonwood Falls to shop and stay overnight. More on that in a later post.

It really was the perfect weekend. We really enjoyed the whole trip, but the highlight was the time outside to enjoy one of the treasures of Kansas. There is something so peaceful about being on the prairie. The vastness of the grass and the sense of being small yet connected.

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