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Kansas Tourism: Take a trip through prehistory at any one of the state’s famous scenic wonders.

February 10, 2023

3 Min Read
Rock formations, Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park
NATURAL HISTORY: Rock formations, like these at Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park in Logan County, are windows into Kansas’ prehistoric past.Courtesy of Kansas Tourism

by Colby Sharples-Terry

Before soaring buildings and bustling cities, before cattle grazing prairies or tales of the Wild West. Before you and me and any of our kind, Kansas’ western half was part of the Western Interior Seaway, and the eastern half was a land mass named Appalachia. While it may be difficult to picture Kansas during the Late Cretaceous period, in some places of the state you don’t have to let your imagination run too wild as remnants from millions of years past are still prevalent in our Kansas landscapes today.

Kansas is a land of unprecedented beauty that has changed drastically throughout time. Its unique natural features have shaped the culture and history of the state. These rock formations have withstood the many tests of time and have become popular destinations for locals and tourists alike.

Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park, Logan County. Welcome to the “Badlands of Kansas” — 330 acres of land halfway between Oakley and Scott City that will transform your idea of what the shortgrass prairie should look like. This eruption of Niobrara chalk formations is something everyone should experience. The badlands are world-famous for their well-preserved fossils. Little Jerusalem is also home to the single largest population of Great Plains wild buckwheat, an endemic plant found nowhere else in the world. Access to the area’s interior is limited to guided tours to protect the fragile landscape.

Monument Rocks National Area, Gove County. Kansas’ first National Natural Monument, these Niobrara chalk formations can be seen from miles away, with some reaching up to 50 feet. The most iconic of the formations is the “keyhole” formation, which has captured some of the most incredible photographs of sunsets and starry night skies.

Castle Rock, Quinter. This is one of my favorite attractions in Kansas: not only for its beauty, but also for letting my children explore freely. I have yet to visit when we weren’t the only visitors in the park. Upon entering the property, you have a few trail options to choose from. If you head toward the path on the left, it will take you to the top of the badlands. If you choose the path on the right, it will take you down into the formations. The actual Castle Rock is the free-standing formation found by itself at the bottom of the property, while the larger mass of formations is considered the Castle Rock Badlands.

Mushroom Rock State Park, Marquette. Mushroom Rock is the smallest state parks in Kansas. The unique park is only 5 acres, but it boasts some of the most unusual rock formations anywhere. Resembling giant mushrooms rising above the horizon, the Dakota formations of Mushroom Rock State Park are the remains of beach sands and sediments from between 144 and 66 million years ago. Sandstone and sedimentary rock are held together by natural cement. The concretions that make up the mushroom rock are cemented calcium carbonate. The largest rock measures 27 feet in diameter.

Rock City Park, Minneapolis. This 5-acre park contains about 200 huge Dakota sandstone concretions. The spheres are up to 27 feet in diameter, making this the largest concentration of these Dakota formations in the world. Guests are encouraged to explore every crevice on the park, including climbing on the formations for another view! In warmer months, you will be able to see ferns and mosses growing on the sides and in the crevices of the rocks, with some of the species being thousands of miles from their nearest plant cousins.

If you want to visit these locations, or learn more about Kansas’ natural history, visit travelks.com/things-to-do.

Sharples-Terry is public relations and communications manager for Kansas Tourism.

Kansas Tourism aims to inspire travel to and throughout Kansas to maximize the positive impacts that tourism has on the state and local communities. For more trip inspiration and to order a free Kansas Travel Guide, head to travelks.com.

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