The story this landscape could tell. The limestone, cherts and flints found in these hills were laid down by shallow seas which covered much of North America during the Permian Period. Winds and waters then sculpted this landscape. The Flint Hills were not much affected by glacial activity. Easy to erode shales and limestone were the primary building block of the shallow soils now found on these hills, while limestone and flint now remain. Much of this soil washed down the hills and collected in lower areas like in the Kansas River valley seen here below. The first grazers to feast on the prairie grasses and forbs of these hills were the Mastodon and Mammoth, followed later by the bison. Crops like maize and squash were first grown in this river valley by the Kansa Indians and now this fertile land is used to grow modern mono-cultures. This was my first visit to Konza, and I’m not sure why the tall grass of the tall-grass prairie was not very present in the spots that I found myself. This could be because of the drought, it could be because of livestock grazing system, or maybe I was in areas dominated by the “short-grass” species, found more typically in the western plains.
Last weekend Sarah and I took a trip west and found our way to the Little Apple – Manhattan, Kansas. Destination: The Konza Prairie of the Flint Hills, some of the only existing virgin tall-grass prairie left on earth. Less than 1% of the estimated 250 million acres of this ecosystem remain intact today, most of it lost to the plow before the year 1900. In this pano it is somewhat obvious why this area escaped agro-man. The fertile soils of the Flint Hills are shallow and contain a matrix of limestone and flint gravel. Homesteaders learned quickly that their sod-busting efforts were best spent elsewhere. In the valley you can see some gallery forest, supported by an early branch of King’s Creek, a tributary that feeds the Kansas River. Click on this image to view it full-size in Flickr. Starting my six mile hike about an hour before sunrise, this series was shot just as the first light of dawn was striking the hills.