Last thanksgiving, we made a plan to explore the mid-west part of USA mainland, namely Kansas, Iowa and Missouri. When I started searching for places in Kansas, Monument Rocks appeared in several searches and I knew I had to look for it. What I saw has blown my mind. Some people may call it Chalk Pyramid, some monument rocks; both represents the same group of rock formations which is situated in Oakley, Kansas. In western Kansas, near US-83, this group of rock outcroppings are situated in the middle of no-where. In 1968, this place was designated as a National Natural Landmark by the United States Department of the Interior. Not only that, this place is considered as one of the eight wonders of Kansas.
From a long distance, when the tiny structures appear in sight, it almost feels like a manmade structure. But the history of these Niobrara Chalk (named after the bluffs of the same chalk on the Missouri river near the mouth of the Niobrara river in northeast Nebraska) monoliths goes a long way back. Eighty million years ago, almost whole of the North American region was covered by the Western Interior Seaway, which also includes the land where the Monument Rock is currently standing. That time it was a seabed that was formed during Cretaceous Period. With the evolution of time, these 70 feet (21 m) tall heavily sculpted chalk formations were created by the erosion of that seabed. No wonder this ancient chalk beds have produced scientifically significant fossils among which probably the best known is the famous “fish-within-a-fish” fossil currently on display at the Sternberg Museum in Hays. These formations have been eroded highly into unusual spires, shapes such as arches, buttes, etc. which make it spectacular landmark. Due to the unique formation of rock, this place is considered as one of first National Natural Landmarks.
What time to visit? I would say any time of the day if you just want to enjoy this beautiful unique formation. But from a photographer’s perspective I would say sunrise and sunset. I have been there during both of this time and I can assure you that it looks amazing. When the first light of the sun hit the rocks with a colorful sky on the background, the curves of the rock reflect the light creating a beautiful aura around it. You can even enjoy sun rising from the bottom or going down from the keyhole view. The day we were visiting, it was very bright clear day, but it was very cold specially during the sunrise. Though we expected cold, but not like this much (-7oC). Still we were happy simply just looking at the white rock formation that seemed like out of the world. And there was not a single person out there during these two times and we got the whole area to ourselves. Amidst of nowhere the chalk formation looked so serene, so calm. I probably took hundreds of pictures near the keyhole. To me, keyhole is the main highlight and most photographed of the chalk pyramid. There are a lot of other formations named as “The Eye of the Needle”, “Charlie the Dog”, etc.
If you are into wildlife, you might find some interesting habitat for wildlife. While visiting the place, I saw some nests in the holes of the formation. Later I came to know that some holes in the formation provide nesting cavities for the smallest falcon, though I haven’t seen any falcon nearby. But I have seen a lot of different birds of prey in the nearby area. Pronghorn, coyotes, wild deer, earless lizards, black-tailed jackrabbits, venomous rattlesnake, etc. are quite common in this area.
Monument rock is on private range land. The owner has opened this for public visit during daylight hours. Visiting this place during the dark hours or camping around it is strictly prohibited. You can only stay from sunrise to sunset. Flying drone is not allowed. But you can try to get a permit. In our case, we talked to the authority and got the permit to fly drone and get some cool shots. Remember, this is a private property. So please be mindful about your action and careful not to harm any rocks. Over the years, we have seen carving, digging or spray painting in different rock formations. Come on, guys! Nobody wants to see your name or who you love, and it does not enhance the beauty of any formation. So, please act responsible and care for the structure. And this rock formations are quite fragile; any kind of climbing, fossil hunting, bonfire in words any activity that may be harmful for the formation is not allowed in this place.
If you are visiting this area, there is another rock formation named Castle Rock Badland which is situated around one hour east of Monument rocks. If you are willing to camp during the night in any nearby campground, I would suggest going for lakeside campground near Lake Scott state park. There are several other rock formations nearby, most of which are owned privately and not accessible by public. You can see those from a distance but don’t try to get close unless you have permission.