Kansas has a reputation for being flat, but tucked away near its western border stand columns of rock several hundred feet tall, carved away by a prehistoric ocean. That formation, known as Little Jerusalem, is now part of a Nature Conservancy preserve adjacent to TNC’s Smoky Valley Ranch.
The Conservancy bought the 330-acre property from its longtime landowners in late 2016; this year the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism agreed to manage the area as a state park. Part of the same geologic formation that makes up Badlands National Park in South Dakota, Little Jerusalem seems to emerge unexpectedly as a canyon out of nowhere, says Laura Rose Clawson, director of outreach for TNC in Kansas.
The rock columns formed 85 million years ago when this part of North America was underwater. “These tiny organisms, when they die, they fall to the bottom [of the ocean],” says Rose Clawson. “There was calcium in their shells, and that’s what the rock is made up of.”
While Little Jerusalem isn’t yet open to the public, visitors can explore the neighboring 17,290-acre Smoky Valley Ranch. Purchased by TNC in 1999 to protect mating areas for prairie chickens, the preserve is home to endangered black-footed ferrets, black-tailed prairie dogs and cattle.