Red Hills—Introduction

drawing of outline of this region on Kansas map

Red Hills--Intro | Red Hills--Rocks and Minerals
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Download fact sheet on the rocks and minerals of the Red Hills.

The rugged topography of the Red Hills doesn't fit the stereotypical portrait of the Kansas landscape. Located in southern Kansas, mostly in Clark, Comanche, and Barber counties, the Red Hills are part of the Permian deposits that geologists call red beds. They get their color from iron oxide (rust), which turns bright red when exposed to oxygen.

color photo of reddish rock outcrop, with red hills in background

Permian red beds in Clark County.

During the latter part of the Permian Period, about 260 million years ago, several thousand feet of brick-red shales, siltstones, and sandstones--along with interbedded layers of gypsum and dolomite--were deposited in Kansas. These Permian deposits have been exposed by erosion along the southern border of the state, forming a series of relatively flat-topped red hills, capped by light-colored gypsum or dolomite.

color photo of rugged topography, with scant vegetation

Typical Red Hills topography in Barber County.

The Red Hills were known as the "Medicine Hills" to the Plains Indians, who called the major stream that flows from them the "Medicine River." They believed that spirits in the hills and streams helped to cure their illnesses and hastened the healing of wounds. In fact, the Indians were on the right track: the waters of the springs and streams contain calcium and magnesium sulfates and other natural salts dissolved from the abundant gypsum and dolomite deposits in the region. Many of these chemical compounds have therapeutic and healing effects. For example, before antibiotics were discovered, a solution of magnesium sulfate, better known as Epsom Salts, was used to draw infection from wounds and to promote healing.

Sinkholes are common features of the Red Hills region. These sinkholes were probably formed by the solution of salt and gypsum beds several hundred feet below the surface. The land above then collasped into the empty space, leaving a dip or sinkhole at the surface. Big Basin and Little Basin are two well-known sinkholes in western Clark County.

Text by Liz Brosius, Kansas Geological Survey. Unless noted otherwise, illustrations by Jennifer Sims, Kansas Geological Survey; photographs by John Charlton, Kansas Geological Survey.

Red Hills--Intro | Red Hills--Rocks and Minerals
Red Hills--Places to Visit | Other regions