Published on -8/31/2012, 9:27 AM
The U.S. Interior Department has been recognizing unique biological and geological features nationwide for the past 50 years. Different from national parks, National Natural Landmark sites attempt to preserve the best ecosystems, landforms and fossil evidence of biological evolution.
There are five such sites in Kansas. One, Monument Rocks Natural Area in Gove County, is up for sale. The 331-acre site was the first designated National Natural Landmark site in Kansas. More recently, it was named one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas, an honor shared with Castle Rock on the eastern side of the county.
The recognition is deserved. Monument Rocks stand testament to the ancient Kansas Sea or Western Interior Seaway of the Cretaceous period, which ended more than 65 million years ago. What today is wide-open prairie used to be the bottom of an ocean that split North America. The pinnacles, buttes and chalk spires are part of the Niobrara formation deposited here. Smoky Hill chalk sits atop Fort Hays limestone, once shaped by water currents and later by wind.
The site stuns the senses.
"When you first see it, your jaw drops," said Marci Penner, director of the Kansas Sampler Foundation which named the 8 Wonders. "It is this tall, chalk sentinel out there on the flat prairie. It is so unusual to see it."
While northwest Kansas residents are familiar with Monument Rocks, it's not a tourism hotspot. It's simply too far off Interstate 70 for most passersby.
Still, it remains an important attraction for the state. With no clauses in the pending sale, it isn't known whether the public can continue visiting the majestic spires and signature keyhole opening.
Monument Rocks is actually a small parcel of what's being auctioned. Pyramid Ranch, almost 13,000 acres of pastures, wildlife and mineral-rich grounds, is what's on the market.
In addition to the chalk pyramids, the ranch includes trails of the Butterfield Overland Dispatch stagecoach line, artifacts from the former Fort Monument, grave markers of U.S. calvary soldiers, a Native American territorial marker and spiritual place, and countless fossils of ancient marine life.
Faulkner Real Estate in Ulysses, which is conducting the auction, soon will announce the sale results. We are not as interested in who wants the ranch or what they pay for it as we are their plans for Monument Rocks.
National Natural Landmark sites do not require public access.
A number of privately owned sites shut out visitors for fear of potential property damage, liability issues, or simply want their privacy.
We hope the new owners follow the lead of the Thies family -- the current owners -- and others before them by maintaining public access to Monument Rocks. The site is so unique, so important, so stunningly beautiful -- it would be a shame not to allow future generations to see it.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry