Close your eyes and picture Kansas. If you see flat prairies and fields of sunflowers, you might be surprised to know that millions of years ago, Kansas was under water. Over time, the waters receded but nature left a surprising souvenir. The chalk pyramid formations known as Monument Rocks are worth a visit – here’s what you need to know before you go.
What is Monument Rocks National Natural Landmark?
Kansas’ first National Monument, Monument Rocks are a group of rock outcroppings near US-83, 25 miles south of Oakley, Kansas. These 70-foot-tall chalk pyramids are sedimentary formations made of Niobrara Chalk and date back to the Early Cretaceous period. The rocks were created by the erosion of what was once the Western Interior Seaway. That’s right. Kansas was once under the ocean.
The inland sea that was in Kansas millions of years ago left these cool rock formations and created a fantastic place to go fossil hunting. Locals in Hays, Kansas, and all around the western part of the state report finding shark teeth and other fossils on prairies and county roads.
Kansas considers Monument Rocks one of the “Eight Wonders of Kansas” and they’re very proud of their national natural landmark.
Where Are Monument Rocks?
Monument Rocks are located south of 1-70 between Oakley and Grinnell, Kansas, about an hour east of the Colorado border. To say Monument Rocks are located in the middle of nowhere actually isn’t a stretch. If you’re using your car’s navigation system make sure you download it or (gasp!) look at a paper map before you set out for Monument Rocks. We didn’t lose cell service during our trek through the back road of Kansas, but it’s a pretty remote area and you may not have the same experience.
Once you get close to Monument Rocks there are signs along Hwy 83 guiding you in and the rocks are easy to see from a distance. Monument Rocks are located along the Western Vistas Historic Byways. Want more things to do along the route? Find more fun things to do here. After all, you’ve come to the middle of nowhere. Might as well make it count.
Monument Rocks: Look But Don’t Touch
Monument Rocks are located on private land but the area is free to enter. There are no designated parking spaces (you’ll be able to easily find a place to pull off and park) and there are no services. Posted signs warn visitors that Monument Rocks are closed at sunset and not to touch or climb on the rock formations.
The chalky rock formations are soft and fragile. Time and the elements are causing them to erode naturally. Scaling the rocks to get that perfect picture might spoil Monument Rocks for future visitors.
You can walk around the rocks, admire them and get your pictures in an hour or less. The natural keyhole that appears in the rocks is a great picture spot. There are no shade or picnic tables, As cool as Monument Rocks are to see, it’s not a place to linger.
If it’s rained recently don’t visit. Dirt roads and gravel roads can be hard to navigate when they’re muddy, especially if you have a smaller car.
And keep in mind, you’re on private property. The owners have opened their lands to the public so all can enjoy these unique chalk formations, so make sure you’re following the rules and being respectful (no littering, etc.)
Things to See Near Monument Rocks
Nearby Oakley, Kansas, is home to the Buffalo Bill Cultural Center, the Fick Fossil and History Museum and Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park. Little Jerusalem is a newer Kansas State Park, established in 2018. The park’s most spectacular feature is a mile-long stretch of 100-foot-tall spires and cliffs made of eroded Niobrara Chalks, the same substance that the Monument Rocks are made of.
Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park
Little Jerusalem is not as well-known as Monument Rocks. But the geological formation you’ll find here is just as cool. The park offers more options for things to do. There are two self-guided hiking trails and if you want to see the interior and get a really good look at the rock formations, arrange for a guided tour by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 620-872-2061 for more information.
Castle Rock Badlands
If you don’t love the “don’t touch” aspect of a visit to Monument Rocks, consider going to Castle Rock Badlands instead or adding it on to your visit. Castle Rock Badlands is located 15 miles south of Quinter, Kansas, in Gove County. It will take about an hour to drive between Monument Rocks and Castle Rock. It’s entirely doable in one day.
Like Monument Rocks, Castle Rock is located on private land but the owners welcome visitors and don’t charge admission. The actual “castle” formation,” which has eroded throughout the years, sits away from the badlands. The big draw of visiting Castle Rock Badlands is that you can walk among and on the badlands and even climb on the formations. Touch all you want. These rock formations are made of sturdier stuff than the fragile formations at Monument Rocks. This makes a great outdoor playground – just be careful of snakes.
Monument Rocks and other natural areas of Kansas are great places to visit. Explore natural history and marvel at how the land changes over time. If you want to add an educational component to your road trip, this is one to put on your list.
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