May 20, 2015

5/11/15 - Tallgrass Prairie NP

There used to be 170 million acres (if you're not a farmer, that's 400,000 square miles!) of tallgrass prairie in North America. Now there's less than 4% remaining, most of it in the Flint Hills of Kansas--and most of that at Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. It's another one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas, listed as #7 in my brochure.

I think the Visitor Center is a strange looking building, and could be confused with a storm shelter, a warehouse, a prison, a school. That's not barbed wire around the roof, it's a fence around the tallgrass growing on the roof. George thinks it was designed to match the landscape. You decide.
History Alert: Stephen & Louisa Jones came to Kansas in 1878 to build a stock ranch on 7,000 acres of prairie they called Spring Hill Ranch. He built a fancy limestone house for $25,000. The barn and outbuildings (also limestone) were another $15K. Then he had the entire ranch enclosed with 30 miles(!) of dry stone wall for his cattle. (I have no idea how much he paid for the fence.) Later other people owned the ranch, split it, added to it, and in 1955 it became the Z Bar Ranch. Now it's mostly owned by The Nature Conservancy and jointly managed by the Conservancy and NPS. Didn't know they did that.
As I may have mentioned, it's windy in Kansas. Today's not only very windy, but colder than it has been. Nevertheless, the only way to see the interesting stuff at this park is to walk. Outside. First stop, the barn. It's huge!
It was cold inside, with natural insulation because it was built into the hillside, but at least it wasn't windy inside. We wandered around both ground and the second floor, then went outside without going back downstairs. (I found another fly net! I think the fly net thing is sort of like when you get a new car--you never notice how many others just like it until you get one of your own.)
From the back the building looks completely different. The ramps were used to take hay up into the third story, which looks like the second story because the first story is underground.
Opposite the back of the barn were the chicken coop and the carriage house. You can probably figure out which was which.
The path continued to the house, built in the Second Empire style. Top picture is the back of the house, bottom is the front. Note the extra floor in front. Just like the barn, it was built into the hillside for insulation. Or, since this is Kansas, maybe just so it wouldn't blow over.
Other outbuildings included a Curing House and Outhouse near the house, and a Cistern and Ice House up the hill a bit. These pictures are of the very fancy outhouse. (The smaller one was for their little girl.) Not sure if there were monogrammed towels.
The trail continues out into the prairie, where it's called the "Southwind Nature Trail". Today the wind was coming from the west, bringing a cold memory of Colorado Rockies with it. Occasionally the trail would wander into the protection of a hill, and the temperature went up 15 degrees. That's the Lower Fox Creek School towards the north, up on a windy hill. The Joneses built the school, but apparently didn't want it in their front yard.
This area of Kansas is called the Flint Hills. There's a lot of limestone mixed in with the flint. Makes for nice houses--and lousy farmland.
The tallgrass isn't very tall this time of year, but by late summer it's high enough to hide grade school kids, which may or may not be a good idea. It's springtime, and wildflowers are blooming. This pretty little daisy is called Fleabane. It may or may not deter fleas, but I think it's pretty.
They have buffalo at the Preserve, but they've moved them to another pasture. We watched small brown dots move up and over a hill. If you really want to see them, I suggest binoculars or a really good imagination. 
More pictures here:  Tallgrass Prairie NP 

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