On Monday, August 12, 2013, despite the chance of rainy weather (there was a thunder storm early in the morning but all cleared by midday), we had a delightful tour to several prairies and small towns in the Flint Hills area around Manhattan, Kansas. This tour was an all day field trip during the 2013 America’s Grassland Conference.
We began the tour leaving Manhattan and stopping at the above overlook of the Flint Hills. Glaciers came down just shy of here, so no real glaciation but the change in climate would have pushed the plant community south. The soil is based on the limestone and chert (flint) of an inland sea of Permian times and the resulting rock makes nice stone traditionally used in fences and buildings. American Indians of the area made good use of the chert in arrow heads and the like. According to an informational brochure from the Chase County Chamber of Commerce, this area has world class-grazing due to a variety of native grasses — switchgrass, big and little bluestem and others – -and many forbs. The plants support 200 species of bird and untold insects. The combination has produced many kinds of prairie (The North American Prairie, Peterson Field Guide), making an ecological jewel. (The Chamber of Commerce recommends PrairieErth by William Least Heat-Moon to learn more about the Flint Hills).
Here is another view from the same stop, showing the rolling hills and concentration of trees in more valley areas. The hilltops don’t have much topsoil and are good for grassland and poor for plowing.
We drove through several small towns which I enjoyed and with which I felt at home. Our first real stop was the headquarters of the Tallgrass National Prairie Preserve. We had a good introduction by several Park and Nature Conservancy staff and then we got to wander on the property. We were quickly introduced to the limestone, three story barn, with loading from the second story and the main house.
I stopped to get a photo of the main house and wall before starting my first tallgrass prairie wander.
Here is some of my wandering:
My first trek was to go up the hill beyond the barn by path and stop for a quick visit with an old familiar, Dayflower (Commelina sp.), native also to my home state of Virginia and my new state Texas.
Then, I wandered over a muddy path and got to prairie…
Rounding the trail, and leaving these trees behind, the prairie opened up…
And just beyond the preserve, the Little School House on the Prairie
I turned from the more expansive views to try my luck with the flowers and despite the wind, managed a few photos.
Even capturing some with visitors:
Then the return trip to the barn for lunch.
Some views from the barn
And a final scene before moving on to Chase State Fishing Lake.
We continued with a visit to Chase State Fishing Lake, near Council Grove, Kansas, where the prairie met the sky (photo above). We had a nice view of the lake but let the fishermen have their quiet. We walked up into the prairie on the hillside and identified plants. Here are a few flowers.
Masses of Snow-on-the-Mountain, Euphorbia marginata…
and a sweat bee visitor.
Here’s another sweat bee (probably an Augochlora sp.) visitor.
I found a little flower that reminded me of bluet,
Prairie Rose gone to fruit,
and Partridge Pea, a legume.
We went from Chase State Fishing Lake to the Gallery at Pioneer Bluffs. Here we saw a nice home built about 1908 and some art work. Then, we headed back to Manhattan.