Turnpike, Flint Hills --nothing?

As a native Kansan, I'm used to wide open spaces, wind and big skies. I like prairie lands and not being crowded. The Flint Hills of Kansas are among the last of original prairie lands of the United States. Whereas much of the prairie has been cultivated, the land of tallgrass, where grass roots are deep, is an ideal spot for cattle to graze and grow.

Two good places to enjoy prairie scenery are traveling west on  I-70 from Topeka to Manhattan, or southwest on the Kansas turnpike from Topeka to Wichita. I've been intrigued, since I was small, with the gentle, rolling natural landscape. When young I would image covered wagons crossing wide vistas while avoiding low places or jutting limestone rocks. Rock is so close to the surface of the land that brush or trees are few and far between.

History classes have taught me that the two major trails in Kansas were the Santa Fe Trail, mostly used by traders to deliver tradable goods into New Mexico, and the Oregon Trail, which entered Kansas at Leavenworth, at the northeastern edge of the state, crossed the Kansas River at a choice of four or five ferry spots in and around Topeka, and soon left the state over what is now the Nebraska state line following the Missouri River northwest toward Oregon and Northern California settlements. Neither trail led settlers nor traders through the heart of the Flint Hills area.

I've learned this through reading and visits to museums: what is now Kansas prairie was once the floor of a great inland sea...filled with seaweed and prehistoric fish of enormous size, their fossilized bones carefully removed from the soft sandstone that surrounded them and now put on public display.

Currently, when I travel through prairie lands I think about gliding on the bottom of a great ocean and looking upward through the water at an amazing array of aquatic plant and animal life.

For a while I'd left Kansas and lived in Wisconsin, a land of woods, forests and hills. I would still visit my family in Kansas and, once, I took photos from the car window while traveling in the Flint Hills, then shared them with my Wisconsin friends and co-workers.

Their response? "Why did you take pictures of NOTHING?"

I took the photos below on a recent trip to and from Wichita via the Kansas turnpike. I was a passenger, so I had the time to watch the passing countryside and observe this nearly-flat Kansas landscape.

Are these photos of nothing? I'd like to post viewers' opinions. Respond here. You do not have to identify yourself to be included. Thanks!

Entering the Tallgrass Prairie area, looking southThe Flint Hills were once the bed of a great inland sea.Overpasses are few and far between in Tallgrass PrairieLooking west from the turnpike
The highway has some curvesRolling prairieA small stand of trees near the highwayClouds converge
Dips are smoothed by blasting through rock to level the driving surfaceLand is used for grazing cattleTallgrass windmillBackwaters of El Dorado Lake
More backwater, El Dorado LakeSky dramaA hole in cloud coverSerious sky drama
My Wichita lunch at Royal Buffett on North Rock Road At the edge of downtown WichitaTrains on display near historical depotsStreet corner
Heading north past El Dorado LakeMore cattle grazeCattle on the moveLone treed
Power lines across the TallgrassMore power lines amoung the tallgrassDecaying barn near Burlingame, within sight of the turnpike

Other myprairie.net Landscape Essays:

Passing Prairie Storm, (page bottom), September 2012
Flint Hills from the highway, August, 2011
Spring Storm, Kansas Turnpike, April, 2009
Burning a Kansas field, April, 2009
Spring Green, June, 2008
Burning the Prairie, April, 2008
Konza Prairie on a rainy afternoon, April, 2005
Flying the Flint Hills, June, 2004
Trek in Wabaunsee County, early April, 2004
Flint Hills from the truck cab window, June 2004
Monument Rocks, Gove County, March, 2002
Castle Rock, Gove County, March, 2002
Bison are back, August, 2001
Smokey Hills/Flint Hills, Summer 2000
Mushroom Rock State Park, Ellsworth Co., March, 2000
Rock City, Minneapolis, KS, May, 1999
Post Rock Country, May, 1999
Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, Summer, 1997

myprairie.net Nothing? Viewer Comments:

At my desk nearly every day, I give directions to visitors wanting to see the Flint Hills. They are usually on their way to another destination and I direct them accordingly. But my favorite thing is to point out on the Kansas map where the flint hills are and one or two of the most scenic routes. Your photos capture some great scenery, but there’s nothing like actually seeing the flint hills. Photos, I think, rarely capture the actual beauty of flint hills landscapes, unless you are Jim Richardson. I would recommend everyone to google Jim and click on his tallgrass prairie photos. The panoramic scenery is amazing no matter what time of year AND, one can get very different views of the flint hills depending on the route they take. Hwy 177 going north out of Council Grove up to I-70 is so much different than the equally awesome view from the KS turnpike between Emporia and Wichita. I encourage photo taking, but really, there’s nothing like what one can see with the naked eye.
Susan Rathke, Emporia Chamber & Visitors Bureau


I love the pictures you have taken. They show the Flint Hills are beautiful and there is nothing like a Kansas Sky.
Carla Green, Woodson County Chamber of Commerce


Your photos are not of “nothing.”  The history behind them is amazing—think of the hundreds of thousands of people who have ventured thru the flint hills over the last 150+ years. Who they were, their stories, it’s all so interesting to think about. The views you can experience in the Flint Hills are calming and full of life! The ecosystem itself is remarkable and the possibilities are endless.  Without these hills and the animals they feed, we wouldn’t be eating.
—Julie Roller, Development Associate, Pottawatomie County Economic Development Corporation


After the spring burns, those emerald-green hills are as spectacular as any I've seen in Ireland. And our distant horizons provide a backdrop for some of the most dramatic sunsets to be seen anywhere. I can send anyone interested a complimentary copy of the 2013 Travel Kansas magazine, which includes gorgeous photographs of the Flint Hills.
Cynthia Mines, Wichita Times, Travel Kansas


Thank you for sharing! Love posts about the beautiful flint hills, and of course, we agree whole heartedly about the calm and serene—yet full of depth, beauty of our region.
Autumn Shoemaker, Manhattan Convention & Visitors Bureau


Photo © 2013 by Carol Yoho
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