Plain Kansas: Rosanna on the Rocks

Plain Kansas: Rosanna on the Rocks, 9.6 out of 10 based on 20 ratings
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PLAIN KANSAS

BY ROSANNA BAUMAN

Editor’s Note: Rosanna is German Baptist Brethren, a Plain church often confused with the Amish.

Who says Kansas is flat? Here I am in the High Plains, the flattest, driest,  and highest part of Kansas. And yet I am standing on a narrow arm of rock that juts nearly 60 feet out of the plains.  A photograph of the current vista would fool anyone into thinking I am in the American Southwest.

It’s a five hour drive from our place to Quinter, Kansas. This little town of just under 1000 people is located right off I-70 west of Hays. It is officially the Half-Mile High City, with an elevation of 2665 feet. I am visiting Quinter for (what else?) a friend’s wedding. Although small, Quinter is not in any danger of becoming a ghost town. They have amenities there that a lot of cities three times its size don’t have. But it is the largest town in the county by far. In fact, over half the county’s population lives in Quinter’s zip code. The city of Gove is actually the county seat despite only having a population of 100. But Gove does have an amusing claim to fame: they have the smallest courthouse in the state, a converted 1800s brick boarding house.

I only know this trivia because I have thoroughly absorbed my Kansas Guidebook for Explorers. This is an essential guidebook for any Kansan, regardless if you actually travel much. After you read the guide book, though, you will definitely never see any part of Kansas as boring. This guide book was printed after the author, Marci Penner, had visited every single incorporated town in the state. As a result of travels with her father, they formed the Explorers Club, a group that champions off-the-beaten-path tourism.

But, back to the wedding: it was outdoors, and the guests nearly melted in the heat. The couple got married as planned, and then we had to do something to take our mind off the weather. There was a potluck held after the Sunday service in a refreshing grove of giant cottonwoods. Small card tables were set up in the grass and we lunched in cozy little groups under the rattling shade of cottonwood leaves. After the potluck we played a few strenuous games  of Ultimate Frisbee. But the temperature was nearly 100 degrees and there wasn’t much of a breeze, so our bodies were begging for a break. That’s when Castle Rock was suggested.

As Explorers we are urged to “dare to do dirt.” Dirt roads, that is. If you want to see Castle Rock, it definitely takes a little dirt-daring. We drove about 20 miles of the unpaved sand roads before we reached the cow pasture that hides Castle Rock. About the time you’re thinking “Where are the rocks?” you crest a hill and there they are: rock formations  that resemble the more famous Badlands. Standing a quarter mile away from the others, distinctly rising from a flat, grassy plain is the spire called Castle Rock. Today, weather and time have rubbed away some of the “castle” resemblance to the rock. To fully appreciate the inspiration of Castle Rock, one should view the historical photos taken of the Rock that are on display in a couple of Quinter businesses. Castle Rock provided travelers on the Butterfield Overland Dispatch a welcome respite from the otherwise pancake-flat, treeless monotony.

Perhaps it was only a welcoming sight for the stage drivers; the passengers were probably all unconscious from heat and the heavy dust cloud.

I  joyfully scrambled up one rock ledge and down the other. I hopped about the rock shelves, and leaped across crevasses. However, I didn’t carve my name into the rock or dislodge any rock on the formations. These fragile landmarks have stood for thousands of years, but a generation of careless visitors could do more damage than 100 yeas of Kansas weather.

The sandy chalk rocks were still cool and damp from the rain 36 hours previous. That was a good illustration of just how porous these rocks are. The elements gradually wear away the exterior until a column of shelf topples over.  then falls up against another formation, where the rain moves smaller rock particles into the cracks so that they become cemented into a new formation. Erosion both destroys and creates. This soft chalk is multi-talented. Besides forming astounding rock pillars, it  also protects secrets. The most photographed fossil in the world, “Fish within a Fish” was found in  Gove County chalk.

After bouncing around on most of the accessible promontories, I wanted a challenge. Most of the girls had retired to the gullies, but my friend Katy and I still had not sated our height appetites. I like heights. And, yes, I live in Kansas. But right in my front lawn is a mountain that I can zip up whenever I feel the need for a view with altitude. This 70 foot grain silo may not be a geological wonder, but I figure that most climbers don’t have a mountain of that height in their lawns, so I’ve got an advantage.

While Katie scaled a ledgethat had only few handhold hollows, I  spied a unique pinnacle and scrambled toward it. It was a Mushroom Rock.Rising off of a narrow peninsula of rock, some sixty feet from the ground, a mushroom blossomed. The base ofthe mushroom “cap” was chest high, so I had to swing my leg up and try to bounce and pull myself upon the dome. Although the rock had felt fairly firm, there was still a chance some of the rock could crumble when I put my weight on it. Climbing up on the Mushroom Rock was one of those deals where you think you might be in over your head

There’s many a time around the farm when you attempt to do something just beyond your skill level and think “this could be injurious.” But I made it to the top of Mushroom Rock quite enthused. I hopped back off the rock (getting down was much easier) and intercepted Katie to take a photo of me. The second time up was still risky (there’s that whole beginner’s luck thing, you know), but breathing a prayer, I did the same hop and grab successfully.

That picture has proven handy when I am feeling overwhelmed. It reminds me of how I felt on top of the Mushroom Rock: the euphoria of successfully completing something I wasn’t sure possible. I look at my current problem and remember: breathe a prayer, and just climb it.

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About Plain Kansas

The Discussion


  1. I’m just about speechless!
    Wow.

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  2. I’m with Karen….

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  3. Well Rosanna, You are one brave lady. You couldhave tripped so easy on the hem of your dress.

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  4. Rosanna, you have a lot more intestinal fortitude than I have.

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  5. Rosanna you are definitely a woman after my own heart. Although I do not know how you pulled it off in your long dress, and kept yourself looking like you just walked out through the church door. I was born in Galena Ka. and have only been back there once. It was a coal mining town. My Grandfather actually owned and operated one of the mines ( way back in the day). However it does not look like a place I would want to call home, but would love to explore it if I were younger.How I envy you but am very happy that you are able to do these things that you so enjoy while you are young.

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