Monument Rocks on the auction block
By AMY BICKEL
Special to The Hays Daily News
GOVE COUNTY -- One of the Eight Wonders of Kansas is on the auction block.
Gove County's Monument Rocks, part of the nearly 13,000-acre Pyramid Ranch, is being sold in a private phone auction by Ulysses real estate firm Faulkner Real Estate.
However, these chalk formations are just part of what is on the sale bill.
The acreage is the site of prehistoric fossil finds, a stagecoach route and a post-Civil War fort.
And, in a time when the state is capitalizing on oil and gas exploration, the sale also includes more than 12,000 acres of mineral rights.
"It's one of the most unique, amazing properties we have ever marketed," said Mark Faulkner, owner of the real estate agency.
"We're pretty excited about it."
Monument Rocks, also know as the Chalk Pyramids by locals, are 50-foot-tall spires. The formations -- a National Natural Landmark -- were formed when the central interior of the United States was covered by a seaway.
Monument Rocks was an important landmark on the Butterfield Overland Dispatch Trail.
The acreage for sale also includes the site of Fort Monument, a post-Civil War fort established in 1865 to protect the stagecoach and mail route.
The fort closed in June 1868. Some depressions are still visible.
It's also the site of fossil finds, including a mosasaur considered the "T-Rex of the Sea," said Chris Faulkner, a broker with the real estate agency and Mark Faulkner's son.
Pyramid Ranch also is the location of a Native American territorial marker and spiritual site. It also has two graves of U.S. Cavalry soldiers, Chris Faulkner said.
The property is a working cattle ranch purchased by the late Hody Thies, a Great Bend banker who served as mayor of Barton County's seat from 1945 to 1949, along with another relative, after World War II.
Thies Pyramid Corp., with J.M. Thies as president, is selling the ranch. A phone call to J.M. Thies was not returned Monday.
Chris Faulkner said the real estate agency is marketing the land, but the buyer actually is purchasing all outstanding shares of Thies Pyramid Corp.
"The only thing (the corporation) owns is the ranch," Chris Faulkner said. Selling the shares is a way to help minimize taxes.
Grass pasture in western Kansas alone could bring upwards of $600 an acre, Chris Faulkner said. This parcel, however, includes history, as well as the mineral rights.
"There are a lot of interesting qualities," Chris Faulkner said. "I can't say what it is truly worth."
Chris Faulkner said he didn't think the agency ever had sold anything of this magnitude.
"We have been selling agricultural property for almost 30 years," he said. "We do a lot of land auctions. But we have never sold anything quite like this."
The auction is taking place through the firm's phone auction concept. Those interested in the property can place bids through 5:30 p.m. Aug. 14 by calling (620) 356-5808. Bidders receive a call back notifying them of the current bid when a higher bid is received. During the auction process, bidders' names are confidential. However, the current bid is public information.
"We'll keep calling them back until everyone says they are done but one," Chris Faulkner said.
There have been no bidders so far after a week of marketing the property, he said.
Open to tourists
A nearby public county road goes through the monument site. While they own the actual formation, the Thies family left the site open to tourists.
Barbara Shelton, a partner in the Keystone Gallery on the Scott/Logan county line located not far from Monument Rocks, said she sees visitors regardless of the weather who either are coming or going to the site and stop by the gallery.
"People were down here last weekend when it was 105," she said.
"I guess we'll see who buys it and what they do," she said about keeping it open to tourists. "It'll be their property to do with what they wish."
Chris Faulkner said, as far as he knows, "there are no provisions for keeping access public."
"This would strictly be the new owners' call, but I would hope they would continue the legacy of this fine property," he said.
Marci Penner, director of the Kansas Sampler Foundation, the organization that honored Monument Rocks, along with nearby Castle Rock, as among the "Eight Wonders," said the natural historic site is disappearing. Some of the formations have crumbled away, both at the Monument Rocks and Castle Rock sites.
She hoped the new owner would keep the site open to the public.
"When you first see it, your jaw drops," Penner said. "It is this tall, chalk sentinel out there on the flat prairie. It is so unusual to see it."