People say that western Kansas is empty and flat — and maybe it seems that way when you’re racing along on I-70. But if you venture off the interstate there are some surprising places that defy the Kansas stereotype.
One such place is Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park, Kansas' newest state park.
You can drop by Little Jerusalem, about 30 miles south of Oakley, anytime during daylight hours without an appointment. But if you want to get off the trails — and you do — you’ll need to be part of a tour.
My coworker Jessica Treadwell (who took these photos) and I recently joined guide Sara Kay Carrell and about 15 other adventurers for a hike into the rocks.
The group formed a single line and stepped carefully down a steep hill into the rocks.
The change of perspective is surprising: The chalk cliffs soar above in odd, rugged shapes, evidence of the former inland sea and millions of years of erosion from wind, sun and — rarely — rain.
These limestone formations were once a landmark for people traveling the prairie: explorers and, later, wagon trains. The unusual shapes of the rocks plus the colors during sunrise and sunset gave them the name "Little Jerusalem," for similarities to the old walled city.
You can also find fossils: part of a giant mosasaurus — an aquatic reptile that lived around 80 million years ago — and giant clams, three to four feet across.
Erosion causes other changes in the rocks. New cracks or pockets form, homes for birds and lizards. Other times, part of the cliff breaks off forming an arch you can walk through — or stand in to pose for a picture (which about half of the group did).
After exploring more than two hours, there was still more to see but we were out of time. We climbed out of the rocks, emerging about a mile from the parking lot on the second trail. All of us looked tired - but with big, big smiles.
The rocks change — erosion again — and there are new things to see every time you visit. Carrell tries to take a different route into the rocks with each tour to provide variety for repeat visitors.
Hidden Kansas explores intriguing spots around the state. Listen for a new segment each month during KMUW's The Range.