I was taking a trip across the country from California to visit family in my Homeland of Manhattan, Kansas one early summer and took an inspirational hike through the Konza Prairie. I decided to drive because time wasn’t a factor in this trip — I was in between jobs. I wanted to take a road trip and explore the heart of America and see the types of places that get overlooked for the more popular natural destinations. I didn’t want crowds in the way of me and nature.
I left Colorado that morning and set out on I-70 to make my way east. I knew I would spend most of that day in Kansas, but I wasn’t sure yet what I would find there. I expected a lot of flat plains, but I never anticipated just how beautiful the open prairies would be.
As I drove through the Kansas wheat fields, I saw a huge sign for the Konza Prairie along I-70 near Manhattan, KS, and thought this place sounded like something I might want to check out. I walked into the visitor’s center and learned this 8600-acre section of native tallgrass prairie was set aside as an ecological research site, and that the public was welcome to some Konza Prairie trail hiking. I was sold and went to grab my daypack.
I chose the 2.5 miles scenic loop and set out through the virgin prairie tallgrass. It was a very frequented trails, and ran into several other casual hikes. The air was so fresh, like the prairie ecosystem filtered it just for me. My road-weariness quickly melted away and I found a skip in my step as I began to take it all in. The Kansas wheat field fragrances immediately reminded me of my home.
Kansas is known for being flat, but as I hiked through the plains I noticed all the limestone-capped hills that surrounded the area overlooking the amazing wild grasses. I never realized just how magnificent native plain grass could be. The grassy, wheat-like smell was comforting and grounding. I walked through grass that stood almost 10 feet tall, towering over me and gently swaying in the breeze. I stopped to read an informational plaque and learned it was bluestem grass.
I was grateful that I was there in early June because the wildflower blooms were out of this world. Bright yellow blossoms sprung up towards the sky. Red and purple flowers hugged the ground below me. There must have been a hundred different varieties and they filled the air with a sweetness that was so similar to my Homeland Candle.
Birds flew around me, sweeping down and then taking off from their hidden lairs in the grass. Their songs serenading my walk. I continued down the loop, taking it all in. I soon came upon a small figure in the distance. It almost looked like a dog until I got closer and realized it was a wild turkey. Off in the distance I could spot a heard of wild buffalo that is managed by the ecological preserve, and I imagine the thousands of buffalo that used to roam this land. This must have been what Kansas was like before the pioneers came west. This is true America.
I continued on the trail for a while before I came up to the remains of the old Hokanson Homestead. I try to imagine the Swedish settlers building this place back in 1879. All that remains is an old limestone foundation and the original limestone barn. Researches also build a wildlife observation lean-to at this site that is still used.
I found a nice Vista nearby to stop for lunch. I gazed down at the Kansas River Valley from my spot atop the Flint Hills. I felt like this place was a treasure that I discovered in the heart of the American plains. I gained a new appreciation for the Midwest and the Kansas wheat fields that day. I stayed there for the rest of the afternoon, wishing I had time to stay longer. I ‘m not sure when I’ll be able to visit those plains again, but they will remain a part of my memory forever.
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