Field Trip Highlights—Northwestern Kansas

color photo of folks watching other people examine the spring

Our public field trip, held on October 12, 2002, focused on northwestern Kansas, the rocks and fossils of the Niobrara Chalk, and the human history of the region. Also sponsored by the Nature Conservancy, Kansas Chapter, the trip made several stops in Logan, Scott, and Gove counties. This was our third annual trip in celebration of national Earth Science Week (October 13-19, 2002). Earth Science Week was established in 1998 by the American Geological Institute (AGI), based in Alexandria, Virginia, to educate people about Earth and the earth sciences.

The first stop was the Smoky Valley Ranch Preserve, a 16,800-acre preserve operated by the Nature Conservancy, Kansas Chapter. Here, participants got a closer look at rocks in the Niobrara Chalk, deposited during the later part of the Cretaceous Period, about 80 million years ago. In addition to learning about the Cretaceous rocks that crop out at the ranch, participants also learned about the 10,000-year-old bison kill site. In 1895, fossil bones of several extinct bison species were found associated with a Clovis projectile point.

color photo of people in coats standing out in prairie

Participants brave the chill winds as they listen to Survey geologist Jim McCauley at the Smoky Valley Ranch Preserve.

The next stop was Monument Rocks, a series of chalk monoliths located in western Gove County. Monument Rocks was carved by wind and water in the thick chalk of the Smoky Hill Chalk Member of the Niobrara Chalk.

color photo of Monument Rocks from a distance with several people visible on the rocks

Participants explore the chalk monoliths at Monument Rocks.

Next, we made a brief stop at the Keystone Gallery, a museum and gift shop operated by Chuck Bonner and Barbara Shelton, located about 7 miles west of Monument Rocks. The gallery features a variety of fossils collected by the Bonner family from the Niobrara Chalk.

color photo of people looking around gallery with mosasaur fossil visible on far wall

Inside the Keystone Gallery, participants get a look at the kinds of fossils they might encounter later in the day.

We stopped for lunch at Lake Scott State Park, a good place to see outcrops of the Ogallala Formation, which is well known as an underground aquifer throughout the High Plains.

color photo of shelter house and field trip participants from a distance

Using the shelter as a wind break, participants eat lunch at Lake Scott State Park.

Following lunch and a walk over to the El Cuartelejo Ruins, we visited another site at the park to look at Ogallala outcrops and a prolific spring, named Big Springs, which flows at about 350 gallons per minute.

color photo of people walking along plank walkway through willow-like vegetation with tall outcrop in background

Participants at Big Springs, with Ogallala outcrop in background.

Our last stop took us to Gove County, to an area where a thick section of the Niobrara Chalk, world famous for its fossils, is exposed. Participants spent more than a hour searching in and around the canyons and draws carved into the Smoky Hill Chalk Member.

close-up color photo of two people bending down to watch a man in hat expose mosasaur bones

Several people look on as Chuck Bonner exposes bones from a mosasaur, a large swimming reptile that was one of the chief predators in the Cretaceous seas.

View additonal pictures from the field trip.

Guidebooks – Geology and Paleontology of Northwestern Kansas Guidebook is available online and as Kansas Geological Survey, Open-file Report 2002-42, from KGS Publications Sales office, 785-864-3965.

Many photographs by Charles Kosier, field trip participant from Wichita; others by Bob Sawin or Liz Brosius, Kansas Geological Survey.

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