You have probably heard people refer to Kansas as “flat as a pancake”. To many along the coasts, our fly-over state is bereft of any tourism value. Fortunately, we know better. Scattered across our home state is a slew of unique oddities and interesting stories. The drive along I-70 opens up a lot of possibilities for short sidetracks and excursions. Sitting about an hour from the Colorado border, travelers can visit the first site chosen as a National Natural Landmark. The Chalk Pyramids, known as Monument Rocks, rise nearly seven stories above the Kansas prairie and inspire visitors with their natural beauty.
These days social media has become a lifeline between people. We use it to connect, stay up to date, and even to do research. We love to use our Instagram account to scope out places others have visited, in hopes of locating our next destinations. With the pandemic forcing people to rethink vacations and travel, the idea of visiting natural landmarks is becoming more intriguing. A few of our social connections were showcasing photos from Monument Rocks, near Oakley, Kansas. We decided to find a way to add this to one of our excursions so that we could see it for ourselves.
To gain a better understanding of the Chalk Pyramids, we have to travel back 80 million years. At that time, the entire area was a vast seabed. Over eons, the bed dried as the land lifted. This left the limestone exposed to erosion from natural forces. The work of millions of years has left us with this impressive stand of sculpted natural stone structures. It also exposed an amazing variety of fossilized marine creatures.
It’s All About Layers
Reaching Monument Rocks from Oakley is fairly direct, although a little dusty. Heading south out of town on Highway 83, we found a relatively flat landscape. Farmlands and ranges dominate the eye’s view. Trees are sparse out here in the post-rock country. After traveling about 20 miles, we turned east onto Jayhawk Road. This rocky trail led us through private lands, where crops and cattle are kings. This stretch ended up being 7.4 miles along dusty gravel roads. For those unfamiliar with country roads, keep your eyes peeled for cattle crossings and washboarding. Both of these can be detrimental to your vehicle.
Eye on the Sky
As we approached the site, little sightings captured our interest. A jutting formation here and there hinted at the find to come. Rounding a bend in the road, suddenly the Chalk Pyramids sprung into view. The gravel road leads between two main outcroppings. Seeing these towering natural masterpieces was certainly awe-inspiring. It got us to wondering how the Native Indian tribes would have felt finding these monoliths. After all, this region of the continent was often occupied by Cheyenne, Sioux, Kiowa, and Apache Indians.
Framing a Moment
The impressive structures are situated on the east and west sides of the gravel road. We began our visit on the west side, which holds the Keyhole Arch. This unique opening is a magnet for visitors looking to capture an image. As we waited for others to finish, we looked around the area. Since this is private property, certain protocols are expected to be followed. No climbing on the structures, as it may cause damage. Forego the collecting of fossils or rocks, even if they are lying on the ground. No littering, that should always be a given. The idea is that these fragile ruins are to be viewed with our eyes and left to weather naturally.
Once we had satisfied ourselves with tons of photos on the west side, we drove a couple of hundred yards to the parking area by the eastern formations. It was easy to imagine that at one point the entire area was awash with these formations. The often harsh weather of western Kansas has certainly played a large part in their continued erosion. Late afternoon was turning to early evening, and we noted the changing patterns of the shadows. This particular park is open from 6:00 am until 8:00 pm, so we would not be able to enjoy the sunset during our visit.
Beauty from All Angles
The eastern side seemed to draw less of a crowd, but we still found it to be just as amazing. As I wandered around looking for good angles, I noted how the western portion stood majestically over a small ridge. I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to catch the photo above. I would say it ended up being one of my favorites. There is just something breathtaking about the layers of colors that work their way down the sides of the chalk pyramids.
See the Chalk Pyramids for Yourself
Photos can tell a story, but some things are better seen in person. While our social friends had intrigued us with their posts, seeing Monument Rocks in person was unbelievable. To think, there are so many people out there who think that the Midwest is bereft of any beauty. We say that there is beauty all around, we just have to slow down and open our eyes to it. We hope you enjoyed this tour of the Chalk Pyramids, and perhaps you will journey out to Oakley, Kansas to see them for yourself.