The Flint Hills – A Love Affair

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When I was growing up, I would hear people talk about how boring and flat Kansas was. A “fly-over State” is what it was called, and still called by some. I developed the same opinion for the most part. I thought Kansas was pretty boring, too (although, is there any place that isn’t boring to a teenager?), but then a wonderful thing happened. I left for college at Kansas State, headed to Manhappiness and was introduced to the Flint Hills.

The Flint Hills are a magical place.

Truly.

Magical.

Flint HillsI so looked forward to those drives back and forth from Wichita to Manhattan with the hills and scenic views. The twists and turns on my way through Matfield Green and Cottonwood Falls, watching the cattle graze. Who knew years later I would get to have that gorgeous Flint Hills beauty out my window every day?

The sunset in the Flint Hills has graced lists of the top places in the WORLD to watch the sunset before you die. Vivid colors paint the sky over the rolling hills and make you think every time “There’s no place like home.”

Flint Hills

Then there is the sunrise. My personal favorite and the only encouragement needed to get out of bed early.

But it doesn’t stop with the panoramic vistas; the Flint Hills are unique to the world in many other ways too.

The Flint Hills extend through Kansas and into Oklahoma making it the largest intact expanse of the Tallgrass Prairie, only 4% of which remains. This makes the Tallgrass Prairie the most endangered ecosystem in the world (even more so than the rainforests)!

How did this come to be? As the years passed, the prairie was turned into farm ground, cities were built. But when the first settlers arrived in the Flint Hills, they were unable to plow through the rocky soil making it unfit to raise crops and therefore left the native grass to grow and it became home to cattle and bison. Named after the flint that eroded from the bedrock, the Flint Hills are known for their native grasses of bluestem.  

Flint HillsToday, there are about ten thousand square miles remaining of the Flint Hills, and they are known for their cattle. Did you know that cattle outnumber people two to one in our state, making Kansas the third largest producer of cattle in the country? Yet another claim to fame for our home state.

That is in large part because of the Flint Hills. The Ranchers raise cattle on this gorgeous bluestem, something of no nutritional value to you or me, and those cattle turn it into the most nutrient dense (and delicious!) protein there is – Beef.

Farmers and Ranchers work diligently to protect this beautiful environment, prevent erosion and maintain the lush grass. I would add another sight to see before you die is the burning of the Flint Hills, my favorite time of year. Every April, you see fires and clouds of smoke throughout the area. A sign that spring has sprung, a ritual that started with the Native Americans. Ranchers have continued the ritual, continuing to protect the precious ecosystem in which they live. It is said that should we not continue to burn the Flint Hills the Tallgrass Prairie would be overrun with noxious weeds and trees and disappear within 40 years.

Flint HillsAlthough beautiful, this is not a fun time of year, it is a lot of hard work. But the benefits outweigh the countless hours and safety measures required to burn these pastures. Not only does burning protect from wildfires, promote new growth, but also reduces the use of chemicals to get rid of weeds.

After the burning, a rain. And after the rain the green grass comes up and might be the most beautiful sight, a favorite to me, and to the cows. They love that yummy grass.

Gorgeous photo by the amazing Scott Stebner

If miles of uninterrupted green grass, a fire, a sunrise or sunset is not up your alley, perhaps a trip to the country to count the stars would be. My favorite thing (I realize I say this a lot, but, what can I say?? This place is incredible!!!) is waking up in the middle of the night to see the night sky full of thousands of stars. A sight not seen in a city full of lights. 

When you are driving along Kansas Highways and see this beautiful place, be proud of your fellow Kansans working hard to maintain such a special place, our special place, in the world.

Teach your children to love the place they live.

Kansas is a beautiful place to call home.

 

 

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