Thursday, March 14, 2013

Tallgrass Prairie Nature Preserve

 One of the places I enjoyed most on our quick vacation was the last place we visited, the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve . The preserve is located near Strong City in the middle of the Flint Hills Region. 

Tallgrass prairie once covered 170 million acres of North America. Within a generation the vast majority was developed and plowed under. Today less than 4% remains, mostly here in the Kansas Flint Hills. The preserve protects a nationally significant remnant of the once vast tallgrass prairie and its cultural resources. Here the tallgrass prairie takes its last stand. (borrowed Tallgrass Preserve Website)

Over the course of many years a ranch was built and ran by numerous different families until 1996 when it was turned into a national preserve. In the early 1880's a huge 3 story stone barn and mansion was built on the ranch. 

Inside the barn was dark and empty though there were a few farming artifacts; a buggy, barbed wire, old tools, etc. It was just huge and still in wonderful condition. I always enjoy going to see old buildings that someone has had the foresight to preserve. 

I can't imagine building a stone barn on the Flint Hills but they sure did a fabulous job. The barn and mansion stand on a hill. Down the hill, across a modern road, is a bottom land where there were orchards, gardens and vineyards. It's been so very dry these last few years that the prairie flowers and grasses have had a tough time coming up. Though, the prairie has a natural way of dealing with drought that I'm sure when the rains come (I have faith that they will) Tallgrass will be a breathtaking place to visit. 

The mansion is huge. It's built into a hill and has two basement levels and two above ground levels. It really must have been something to see in it's heyday. 

It's kind of hard to see but there are three terraced levels in front of the house and I was standing on a fourth taking the photo. Each level was surrounded by a stone wall roughly three feet high. The walls weren't just for show at the front of the house, rather they wrapped around the mansion until they naturally ended in the hill. Wow! 

Inside there were many more rooms than I was expecting and nothing had been added to the original design. At the very top of the house there were six bedrooms, I believe, but all locked. On the ground floor there were a total of 5 rooms. The basement was the kitchen area along with a cold storage area and there weren't as many large rooms since it was built into the hill. 

The kids thought this was an extravagant building. 
A three seater outhouse!! Pretty fancy! 

About a quarter mile down the way was a one room schoolhouse that was used up until the 1930's. It was locked up but my was it a pretty view! 

There are roughly two miles of hiking trails through the preserve, though we didn't go on many of them. We were pretty tuckered out from our trip by the time we hit the preserve and it was mighty cold and windy the day we visited. 

DR thought this outhouse must have been the work of the WPA because it was a concrete floor. Any input on that? 

It was pretty much a self guided tour when we were there but the preserve gets pretty busy in the spring/summer. We were told that if we came back in the summer we could take the bus tour through an area where a herd of 20 buffalo were kept. 

  • From the last Saturday in April through the last Sunday in October, 90-minute prairie bus tours offered 1 time daily at 11 a.m. and more as staffing and budgets allow. Other tour times may include 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. (as staffing allows). Call ahead for availability.
  • From Memorial Day through the last Sunday in October, special interpretive natural resource and cultural history programs on alternating weekends as staffing allows. Ask the rangers for the location of the scheduled interpretive activity.
  • One-room Lower Fox Creek Schoolhouse open weekends (Saturday and Sunday) from 12 p.m. - 4 p.m. in May, June, September, and October.

Here's a YouTube video about Tallgrass and another with Lyle Lovett in case you want to know more. 

I'd sure love to see that schoolhouse open too! It sure looked like a gorgeous building from peeping into the windows. I think we'll have to see about taking another trip to Tallgrass in the future! 

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