[STRONG CITY, KANSAS] — Out in the middle of Kansas lies the astounding Flint Hills, hundreds of thousands of acres of treeless, rolling hills with few fences and even fewer people. For generations these hills have remained the same, the soil so thick with rocks and limestone, they’ve never been plowed.

Some of those thousands of acres have been preserved in the National Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, owned by the Nature Conservancy and co-managed with the National Park Service, you can visit the original homestead house and walk its open lands. See some buffalo and feel the wind.

It is almost zen like in it’s emptiness and calm. You should go here.

Tallgrass Prairie previously burned fields
See these luscious green shoots? This field was on fire the week before, in prescribed burns. Charred to the roots, black and all smokey, like my famous blackened pork tenderloin recipe. Now look at it. This stuff grows like a weed.

Ain’t nature grand? Actually, it was nature that started this thing. Lightning threw the first punch. Then the Native American tribes saw the cleansing power of nature and started lighting their own fires. They saw the clearing out of noxious weeds, the nutrients churning back into the soil, the green grass snapping back stronger and more resilient.

Lighting fire to the prairies each spring has been going on for hundreds of years. For years, Americans grew fearful of fire. Must. Put. It. Out.

But over years, we’ve learned to love fire and its many benefits. So for the last several decades there’s been resurgence in the natural power of regenerative fire, in fields and forests. Now ranchers embrace…even celebrate… the restorative power fire can bring to the prairies.

Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve road and sky
The views are expansive and serene. Even surreal. Zen-like.

This whole area has been undergoing protection and restoration. Hundreds of thousands of acres of grazing land has been purchased or donated to create the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve. Big family ranches combined together and stitched like a quilt to form a giant patchwork of uninterrupted land. What fences there were have been pulled up, opening up this massive ecosystem. It’s like the Sahara. But green. And in Kansas.

They call this Post Rock Country. Because there were no tress, settlers would dig up the shallow limestone and use it to build everything. Houses. Barns. Even use it as fence posts, dotting the land. You’ve heard of sod houses? That was here. Easier to dig a hole in the ground and cover it with sod to brave the winters and stay cool in Summer.

There’s a small unassuming visitor’s center that tells the whole story, including some sod houses and sturdy stone barns.
With nary a tree for miles but plenty of stone, ranchers built fence lines made of local limestone. They didn’t have to dig far, as you can see, limestone is just inches below the soil.
Still shunted in early spring, the tallgrass can grow to several feet by the autumn. Prescribed, seasonal burns keep the planes treeless and free of noxious weeds. Chock-full of flint and limestone, the fields have always been too thick to plow, so thousands of acres of virgin prairie remain today, now in this national scenic preserve.

The nation’s cow-calf operations happen all around these parts. Every summer, ranchers ship cattle from as far away as Texas to fatten up on the thick grasses of the tallgrass prairie. Not from corn, grass. As it should be.

Cattle will put on several pounds a day eating all that thick tallgrass, which is loaded with mineral-rich nutrients from the flinty soil. Some say this is the best beef in the world. All because of this magical stony soil.

Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve buffalo
They’ve reintroduced herds of wild buffalo that roam the range, eat the non-native weeds (the Sweet Grass) and regenerate the soil with their hooves. Just like Native Americans did for centuries.
Tall grass as far as you can see.
An excellent new Visitor’s Center starts off your tour.

— Last Visited March 2015 — 

More Information on the National Tallgrass Prairie Preserve

Here’s a great article on Post Rock Country and using limestone for everything, including fenceposts. If you like this sort of thing, you should plan in advance to do the Burning Up the Prairie events in early spring, here’s a post I did on it. And a great post from the Travel Kansas website. If you’re thinking of going to the Preserve, here are some details on your visit. There’s a pretty decent restaurant in nearby Strong City called Ad Astra. Pretty great for a small town. If you need a place to stay, the Clover Cliff Ranch is a fantastic B&B. I typically don’t like B&Bs, but the owner Susie is an amazing host, lived in New York City for a while and is wicked smart.

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