After leaving crowded St. Louis, Monica and I headed west on I70 across Missouri toward Kansas City. The country side becomes pleasant, but our path was via an Interstate. We stopped only briefly, mostly at rest stops. We chose to endure the stresses of Interstate travel to make time. However, at one point we got off and visited an Ozark store. I bought maybe the best chocolate walnut fudge of my life. It was obscenely good. I wolfed down a pound of that rich mix before noon of the following day. Fudge has a short half-life around me. I consider myself to be an expert on fudge and highly recommend the Ozark store on I70. I'll try to find the slip and get the full name of the store.
In central Missouri, we also went through a thunderstorm with torrential rains. The front was moving fast, but dumping buckets of water on us. It made us wonder if there wasn't a real threat of tornados. However, none materialized on our route. Beyond the fudge and weather, Missouri offered up no surprises. It did prompt nostalgic feelings as we passed not far from Whiteman AFB. I once had temporary duty at Whiteman, studying a missile cable maintenance problem. The Air Force life seemed more like a dream than even a distant memory. Was that really me?
Once past Kansas City we headed down I35 and tied into U.S. 50 west. We made it to Emporia, KS for the night. In reviewing our trip through Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri, we had not visited any natural land features of special significance, but the Kansas experience was about to change the pattern. The following morning we headed west and then took a short detour north to the Tall Grass Prairie Preserve. It is operated by the NPS and it is a jewel - unique in the park system. The Tall Grass Prairie Preserve is located in the scenic Flint Hills region - setting for William Least Heat Moon's 'PrairyErth'. It is a tale of life in the Flint Hills - well worth reading.
I'm basically a top down guy. I like to know the lay of the land before getting into too many details. This was the tall grass prairie, the real thing. What does a tall grass prairie look like surveyed from horizon to horizon. In keeping with the top down theme, here is a landscape-level look.
Prairie grasses and forbes define prairies. If you're not a grass person, prairies are not for you. As for Monica and me, we're definitely prairie lovers -both the tall and short grass varieties. The latter is common, but the former very rare. We saw big bluestem, little bluestem, Indian grass, switch grass, milkweed, butterfly weed, and many more. We also so trees along the streams - cottonwoods. They are as much at home in the prairie as along rivers in the East. I spotted a cottonwood along a stream. It called out to have its picture taken. I obliged.
The next series of images give progressively more intimate views of the prairie as the domain of the grasses.
The last image is back to the long view, but through a peephole of vegetation - mainly eastern red cedars, American elms, and sumac on a limestone hill.
Well, that's it for my brief report on the Tall Grass Prairie Preserve. It is well worth visiting, if crossing Kansas.
Robert T. Leverett
Co-founder and Executive Director
Native Native Tree Society
Co-founder and President
Friends of Mohawk Trail State Forest