Some people view the Flint Hills as “drive-through country” –miles of monotonous grasslands that stretch into the horizon.
But I am willing to bet that most of those critics base their opinion from the vantage point of Interstate 70. They’ve never taken an exit and driven a dusty backroad into the true Flint Hills.
I find this world fascinating. Every time I visit, I feel like I’ve stepped back in time.
Some of this land is still the same way as it was when settlers traveled by horse and wagon into the area. The land is still pristine for the most part, largely untouched by human hands because it is guarded by its rocky landscape, unfit for putting it into crop production or development.
You don’t find shopping malls, McDonald’s, or even concrete in large chunks of this region, which stretches from northeast Kansas into northern Oklahoma. Think about that for a second. Where else in our country do you even see such a large expanse of land in an unaltered state?
Oh, there are small towns, limited development, barbed-wire fences and a few ranches along the way. But in parts, it’s a long way between neighbors.
Those who label the Flint Hills as “boring” haven’t witnessed the region’s breathtaking sunrises and sunsets, its wide-angle blue skies dappled with puffy clouds, its amazing wildlife.
They haven’t seen its abandoned homesteads, its lush green hills in the springtime, its abundant wildflowers, its farm ponds brimming with fish.
I have, and I consider myself lucky because of it.
Every time I return, I feel as though I am visiting an old friend. I have caught trophy bass in the Flint Hills, hidden behind hay bales as I hunted prairie chickens, and hiked winding trails through the grasslands.
But perhaps my most memorable trip came this fall when the Outdoor Writers of Kansas held its conference at Acorns Resort on Milford Lake. My longtime fishing buddy, Rick Dykstra, led me and two fellow Missourians – Pat McGrath Avery and Roger Sigler – on a photo tour of a part of the Flint Hills that few witness.
I knew Rick was a talented fisherman; he and I have been fishing for bass together for years. I also knew he was a good promoter for what Kansas has to offer – he worked for the Geary County Convention and Visitors Bureau before he went to work for Acorns, a beautiful resort on the banks of Milford Lake. But I didn’t know he was such an authority on the Flint Hills.
As we rambled down the backroads of the prairie region between Junction City and Manhattan, he provided nonstop facts and figures about the past and present of the grasslands.
He wanted us up early, and we soon learned why. Moments before the sun came up, we stopped along a clearing and watched as wildlife suddenly materialized out of nowhere. First, it was a flock of turkeys moving as one as it strolled across a field, pecking at seeds. Then it was a herd of whitetail deer, all does, intent on feeding in the same place.
As we followed a rutted backroad through a section of prairie on one side and timber on the other, we saw several of the stately bucks that Kansas is famous for.
Later, we saw bald eagles perched in trees overlooking Milford Lake, and visited historical structures such as a beautiful rock church standing alone in the countryside.
It was a lesson in how critical time of day is to life on the prairie. At noon, we drove past the spot where we had seen so much activity earlier and didn’t see a thing. The deer and turkeys had melted into the woods and waving grass.
To me, that was just one more fascinating aspect of life on the prairie. And one more reason why I’ll never say the Flint Hills are boring.