On this land, you'll find a sight that has almost vanished from America — bison roaming a shortgrass prairie as they did hundreds of years ago. But Smoky Valley Ranch is more than prairie. Dramatic chalk bluffs overlook large expanses of grassland, rocky ravines and Smoky Hill River. Breaks along the upper reaches of the river represent a transition zone between mixed grass and shortgrass prairie environments. In October 2016, the iconic rock formations known locally as "Little Jerusalem" were incorporated into the ranch. The largest exposure of Niobrara Chalk in the state, this unique area will eventually be opened to the public. The rocks are currently closed to all visitors while access that protects the fragile natural resources is planned.
Logan County, Kansas
Why the Conservancy Selected this Site
This area is a rare remnant of shortgrass prairie and home to the green toad, a state-threatened amphibian, and the swift fox. In addition to its biological significance, it is a living repository of geological, paleontological, archaeological, historical and cultural history.
The chalk badlands along the Smoky Hill River contain a rich fossil record of animals that lived in a vast inland sea that covered Kansas during the Cretaceous Period, some 80 million years ago. The Cretaceous Period was part of the Age of Reptiles, an era famous for its dinosaurs. Although dinosaurs were restricted to landmasses far from western Kansas, their marine representatives — mosasaurs and plesiosaurs — roamed the seas. Besides these large marine reptiles, huge turtles, sharks, flying reptiles, giant clams, and toothed-birds inhabited the area. Because fossil remains are so well-preserved and scientifically significant, the chalk badlands are among the world's most famous locations for fossils from this era.
A Paleoindian site, the first physical evidence that humans inhabited North America at the end of the last Ice Age, was unearthed on Smoky Valley Ranch in 1895. This discovery contradicted contemporary theory and was not confirmed until 13 years later when a similar discovery was made in Folsom, New Mexico.
Since man first visited this area, the banks of the Smoky Hill River have served as an east-west highway. Mounted Arapahos and Cheyenne, Charles Fremont, Kit Carson, Wild Bill Hickok, the 7th Calvary of George Custer and the 10th Calvary (buffalo soldiers) rode the Smoky Hill Trail many times through Smoky Valley Ranch in the late 1860s. The Butterfield Overland Dispatch stage line passed through and stopped at a way station located on the ranch to change horses and drivers. Beginning in the late 1800s, a number of African-American settlers — nearly a hundred families — settled on and around the ranch. Two brothers from a nearby black settlement quarried the stone and built the current ranch headquarters in the early 1900s.
What the Conservancy is Doing
The Smoky Valley Ranch preserve will be a working model and catalyst for shortgrass prairie conservation. To achieve this goal, The Nature Conservancy works in partnership with private landowners and other conservation groups.
Visiting the Preserve
Hiking and horesback trails on the western edge of Smoky Valley Ranch are open year round. Prairie vistas and chalk bluffs greet hikers as they wind their way around the two trail loops. The first loop is one-mile hike, the second loop is five mile hike. Please see below for directions to ranch and trail map and instructions. Because of the rough terrain, boots are recommended. Any items brought in like water bottles or food wrappers must be taken out.
The Little Jerusalem rock formation are not currently open to the public. The Conservancy is working to develop a plan for public access that protects this fragile natural resource and it will be announced widely when it opens, likely in 2018.
What to See:
During a nice hike there is a possibility of running into some of Kansas' most fascinating animals The include: prairie chickens, pronghorn, ferruginous hawks, burrowing owls, golden eagles, green toad, swift fox, and the most recent resident - the federally endangered black-footed ferret.
There is no fee to hike the trail loops. We ask that you respect the rules of the trails by not bringing pets, bicycles, or other vehicles. There is no camping at the ranch. Also, please do not remove any keepsakes from the trails.
From Oakley, take US-40 west to the western edge of Monument, Kansas. Turn south on 350th Road for approximately 15 miles to reach the hiking trail. There is parking and a kiosk on the east side of the road. Trails are self-guided.