By MIKE CORN
With only five National Natural Landmarks in Kansas, it might seem out of kilter that photographs from the Sunflower State have received top three recognition in three of the last five years.
It's even more out of kilter when you consider Great Bend photographer Rob Graham has single-handedly received that recognition, receiving two seconds and a third in the National Park Service's annual photo contest.
And it's especially noteworthy those photographs all came from Monument Rocks, a series of limestone monoliths on Gove County's west side.
Monument Rocks, added to the National Natural Landmarks program in 1968, is a 331-acre privately owned site.
Because it is privately owned, there's no park service presence. Instead, the late Hody Thies, a longtime Great Bend banker and owner of the Thies Ranch where Monument Rocks is located, received a plaque with the designation.
The National Park Service describes the site as an area with pinnacles, small buttes and spires of chalk of the Niobrara formation, the remains of sediments deposited in the ancient Kansas sea of Cretaceous time.
While it claims the site is a "rich source of fossils of Cretaceous marine animals," the area mostly has been picked clean.
It is one of only five sites in Kansas receiving the National Natural Landmarks designation by NPS. The other four include the Big Basin Preserve; Rock City, a 16-acre site near Minneapolis; the 548-acre Baker University wetlands; and 243-acre Baldwin Woods.
Graham's also received an honorable mention in the NPS photo contest, but for a photo of the Big Basin Preserve in Clark County.
Graham is a frequent contributor to the contest, now under way for 2012 and the agency's 2013 calendar.
But he only became aware of the contest after he made his first visit to Monument Rocks, also designated as one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas, a recognition it shares with Castle Rock, located on the east side of Gove County.
Graham said he does some portrait photography, but most of his focus is on nature photography.
When he's not taking photographs he's an X-ray technologist at St. Rose in Great Bend.
* The NPS National Natural Landmarks photo contest is under way and entries are being accepted through June 30; winners will be announced in September.
Winning photographs will be featured in the 2013 calendar.
Photographers can submit up to three entries, but each one must be from a different landmark.
Entry details are available at www.nature.nps.gov/nnl.