Kansas Rocks! A Spring Break “Staycation” in Western Kansas

Whether you wear cowboy boots or hiking boots, you don’t have to go far for a memorable and affordable Spring Break. Plan a “staycation” in Trego, Gove, Logan, and Scott counties and you’ll find out that Kansas Rocks!

Here are a few of family-friendly spots to consider when planning your day trip or overnight stay in WaKeeney. (A $5 vehicle permit that will allow access into both Cedar Bluff and Lake Scott State Parks, as well as all other state parks in Kansas.)

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Cedar Bluff Overlook

Start your day watching the famous Kansas sunrise from the top of the 100-ft. limestone cliffs at Cedar Bluff Reservoir! Grab a coffee in WaKeeney then head out to the lake where prairie songbirds are waking up and greeting their neighbors. We’ve had an abundance of rain this year and the south shore provides a spectacular view of the lake and the wildlife who live in the park.

To get to Cedar Bluff Scenic Overlook take I-70 to Exit #127 at WaKeeney and turn south. Travel 18-miles south on Hwy 283, then turn east on Trego County AA Rd. Proceed east for 4 miles, north on Trego County 290 and follow the signs.This area of the park is free to the public.

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Castle Rock & its Badlands

Just west of Trego’s county line is Castle Rock and its Badlands. This geological feature is evidence of Western Kansas’s prehistoric past as the shoreline of the Western Interior Seaway… Fossils can still be found in the limestone rock formations and many short trails that wind through the Castle Rock and the Badlands.

To get toCastle Rock and the Badlandstake I-70 Exit #115 at Collyer, turn south and travel12.4 miles south on Banner Rd. Then, turn west and travel 2.8 miles, on Trego County U Rd. It will become Gove County K Rd. Turn into the pasture that has the Castle Rock sign & cross cattle guard. Pay attention to weather conditions, as the limestone trail can become difficult to drive on. Castle Rock is free to the public.

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Buffalo Bill Cultural Center

“GoWest, young man!” to Logan County where a 16-ft. bronze sculpture of the Old West hero Buffalo Bill “races” after an American buffalo. The privately funded installation was first created in clay, then broken into over 100 smaller pieces and cast separately. Once cooled, the pieces were welded together and a layer of patina as applied to the outside. Today, it welcomes visitors outside the Buffalo Bill Cultural Center, a cultural history museum that includes many artifacts from that legendary time period.

The Buffalo Bill Cultural Center and its Buffalo Bill Bronze Statue take I-70 to Exit #76 or    #70 Oakley. This museum is free to the public.

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Fick Fossil & History Museum

Stare down an enormous, fearsome prehistoric fish fossil at Oakley’s Fick Fossil & History Museum. Over 11,000 marine fossils are included in the museum’s collection, including a 15-ft. Xiphactinus Audax and the world’s oldest known mosasaur fossil with a rare intact eye socket. Other exhibits include artifacts from pioneer days and a “Funky Fossil Folk Art display.

Fick Fossil Museumis located just off I-70 at Exit #76 or #70 Oakley. There is no fee to visit the museum. A donation is suggestion.

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Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park

Explore the surreal landscape of Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park, Kansas’s newest state park. This 330-acre park was established in 2019 and features white chalk rock spires dating back 85-million years. Named for their resemblance to the ancient rock walls of Jerusalem, the area was once home to giant prehistoric clams and oysters, but now visitors will find ferruginous hawks, cliff swallows, rock wrens and several species of amphibians and reptiles living in the rock crevasses. There is a 1/4-mile scenic overlook trail and a 1-1/2 mile self-guided trail to explore, and a two-hour naturalist guided hike into the outcroppings is also available by booking ahead.

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Monument Rocks

Visit the Badlands nearby neighbor Monument Rocks for more paleontology explorations. The 70-ft. chalk formations date to the Cretaceous Period and has been designated as one of the “8 Wonders of Kansas.” Photographers often gather at sunrise and sunset to capture dramatic images of the sun’s softening colors reflected on the white limestone cliffs.

Both Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park and Monument Rocks are located south of Oakley on Hwy. 83.A daily or annual vehicle permit for $5 is required to visit Little Jerusalem Badlands and there is a strict no-collection policy that applies to paleontological and all other finds atthe site.

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Keystone Gallery

Stop by the Keystone Gallery and enjoy the art of Chuck Bonner and Barbara Shelton in the gallery’s Prairie Ocean exhibition. The gallery’s building was built from native limestone in 1917 to serve the community as a church. Today, you’ll find Bonner and Shelton’s paintings, landscape photography, and more. An additional collection includes a 20-ft. Mosasaur and fossils of several fish, reptiles, and bird species.

The Keystone Gallery is located on Hwy 83 South of Oakley.

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Historic Lake Scott State Park

Tucked inside a prairie canyon, Lake Scott State Park is both an archeological site and a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. Listed on National Geographic’s “50 must-see state parks,” it features natural springs, deep wooded canyons, craggy bluffs, and a number of important early American historical sites.

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Battle Canyon at Lake Scott

Battle Canyon, the location of the last Native American battle in Kansas is located in a canyon about 1-mile south of the park. The Battle of Punished Woman’s Fork was a clash between US Troops from Fort Dodge and Northern Cheyenne people led by Chief Dull Knife and Little Wolf. During the battle, Lt. Colonel William Lewis was mortally wounded in the thigh, becoming the last army officer fatality in Kansas during the Indian Wars.

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El Quartelejo Ruins at Lake Scott

During the 1600s, Taos Indians from the Southwest fled north to the High Plains to escape oppressive Spanish rule. They settled near Lake Scott in what is now known as the El Quartelejo Pueblo Ruins. In 1701 a group of Picuris Native Americans resided there for two years, and by 1727 is was abandoned and left to deteriorate until only a mound and a few irrigation ditches remained. The site was rediscovered in the mid-1890s and today you can see the pueblo’s reconstructed foundation at the site. Evidence of an Apache roasting pit and floors, hearths, and spots where support beams were placed to support the structure can also be seen.

To get to Lake Scott State Park, Battle Canyon and the El Quartelejo Ruinscontinue down Hwy 83 between Oakley & Scott City

 

Plan a Western Kansas “staycation” for your family’s Spring Break this year and enjoy the history, beauty, and adventure in your own backyard!

 

Experience Fall on the Smoky Valley Scenic Byway

Smoky Valley Scenic Byway

The Northwest Kansas prairie is beautiful in the fall and there is no better way to enjoy the beauty of the changing season than by touring the Smoky Valley Scenic Byway of Trego County.

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The Smoky Valley Byway is a sixty-mile route over gently rolling hills that takes you past stunning natural settings and historic landmarks, like the Emanuel Lutheran Church on South Hwy. 147, which is made of locally quarried limestone.

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As is the Wilcox country schoolhouse on South Hwy. 283 that is currently under restoration.

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Cedar Bluff State Park is a beautiful spot to stop and enjoy outdoor activities. Fishing, boating, and hiking are all accessible at the park. Along with many great spots on the reservoir, Pa’s Fishing Pond is a stocked pond created for children and the disabled to enjoy. If exploration is more your style give the hiking trails a try. The Agave Ridge Trail will take you deep into the park where you are sure to spot many kinds of wildlife. The trail leading down into Threshing Machine Canyon will take you right to the spot where pioneers traveling across the prairie carved their names and dates into the limestone cliff face.

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When you’re back on the Byway keep your eye out for the limestone posts marking the old route of the Butterfield Overland Despatch. These posts were added in 1960 to mark the historic trail that adventurers followed on stagecoaches from Atchison, Kansas to Denver, Colorado in 1865. The limestone blends in with the surrounding grasses in the fall, but the easiest marker to locate is found on Hwy. 147 south of the turn to the state park office on west side of highway below Cedar Bluff’s dam.

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As you cruise on down the road you’ll notice the stark white limestone cliffs that reveal our prairie’s prehistoric life as the floor of a great inland seabed. Professional and amateur paleontologist regularly uncover fossils in the exposed cliffs, including animals dating as far back as the Cretaceous period.

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Don’t forget to look for the many species of wildlife that fill our Great Plains as you’re driving. Trego County is known for its great deer and pheasant hunting. (Hunters—mark your calendar for the start of the 2017 Pheasant Season next month on November 11th.)

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One of the most beautiful things to see on the Smoky Valley Scenic Byway are the amazing sunrises and sunsets that paint our skies every day. Experience an unparalleled connection with nature and “share our sky of wonder” with us.

This fall plan a drive along the Smoky Valley Scenic Byway and experience the history and natural beauty of Trego County.