Towers From An Ancient Tropical Sea

This post is from a series of articles chronicling a 2020 cross-country trip with my wife and two daughters and a boyfriend, from California to Ohio (to visit family) and Pennsylvania (to drop off my oldest daughter at grad school), and then back. We spent over five weeks on the road during the pandemic.

Here’s further proof that Kansas isn’t all flat. Monument Rocks, a few miles off the highway, is a cluster of chalk towers rising up to seventy feet from the mostly flat Kansas plain. It used to be a tropical seabed around here, throughout the entire middle of the country, and these chalk towers and the ocean-creature fossils prove just that.

We were heading back to California on a cross-country trip, gone a month already, and my daughter found this stop on the internet, all of us grateful for something to do since so much was off-limits to us due to the pandemic.

An 1858 shortcut to the Cherry Creek gold fields near Denver brought travelers here to rest and inspect the towers, hundreds of thousands of buffalo all around where the cows stupidly graze today. The towers got a break from the crowds in 1860 when the local Indian tribes stepped up attacks on travelers, prompting military protection for the new stagecoach route five years later, and the visitors came again.

With the people, scraping and tramping all over its soft body, the towers eroded and one of the largest collapsed in the 1980s. Here’s “Old Chief Smokey” one hundred or so years ago.

And here it is today.

But the towers still offer their charms. There’s something a little strange and wonderful seeing these formations, more suited to a national park in Utah, hiding here in the Kansas sun.

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