By MIKE CORN
MONUMENT ROCKS -- There's a new-found interest in the limestone spires that abruptly rise from an otherwise flat prairie, interest driven by concerns the impending sale might mean the loss of Monument Rocks forever.
The chalk pyramids, as they're known locally, won't be disappearing anytime soon, but the worry is a new owner might limit public access to one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas, an honor Monument Rocks shares with its cross-county landmark, Castle Rock.
It's for real now, with a $4 million starting bid being offered for the 12,900 acres of ground making up what is known as Pyramid Ranch.
The ranch contains so much more than pastures for cattle to graze and mineral rights to be explored.
There's history galore, in addition to the chalk pyramids.
There's the trails of the Butterfield Overland Despatch stagecoach line, the Fort Monument stage station.
Even Gen. George Armstrong Custer spent time there, ultimately court-martialed for his forced march back to Hays out of concern about floods endangering his beloved wife, Libbie.
It's also one of the most photographed sites today, especially the keyhole where people frequently pose for photographs.
There's been a steady stream of vehicles and visitors stopping at the site, according to Mark Faulkner, who leads Faulkner Real Estate, the Ulysses firm conducting the auction for the Thies family, the owners of the ranch.
That's also what Chuck Bonner and Barbara Shelton at the nearby Keystone Gallery have seen, and concerns have been voiced to them about the loss of public access to Monument Rocks.
Today is the final day for new bids to be submitted to Faulkner's.
"It probably will take until Thursday or Friday to determine who the high bidder is," Faulkner said.
It's just like an auction, he said of the process, only it will be handled via telephone.
The bidding process was extended by two weeks, he said, after concerns were raised about the initial process -- bidding for shares in a corporation, its only assets the Pyramid Ranch.
"Originally, they had been selling shares of a corporation," Faulkner said, and that concerned prospective bidders.
In mid-course, the auction changed from the corporation to real estate, and the bid deadline was extended two weeks.
"We've had just one opening bid is all," Faulkner said Monday, and even the bidder admitted it was low.
But the $4 million bid -- $310 an acre -- gets the process started.
While bidders remain confidential until the last bid is offered, Faulkner wouldn't even say if the lone bidder was local.
"There are local people looking at it, and there's people from out of the area," he said. "There's been interest from local ranchers and oil and gas people."
Mineral rights go with the sale.