Monday, June 1, 2009

Day 9

St. Louis was a great stop but it was time for us to make big moves to the big country. We planned to cross Missouri, Kansas, and eastern Colorado in a day's jaunt to stay with my cousin Mikey (aka Nevko) while exploring the Rockies. We anticipated a long day of driving across these desolate plains which left us feeling... well, flat, but we decided early on to make the most of it. Trips across Kansas are notorious for their mind-numbing blandness, but their are definitely a few hidden gems just out of sight that few travelers may know about. We zipped through Kansas City and Topeka with little much to speak of except for the general beauty of the two cities surrounded by desolation.

Our first detour was about 15 miles of barren dirt roads south of I-70 to Mushroom Rock State Park.

The featured sights rose up to 25 feet out of the otherwise featureless fields around. The weirdness was almost overwhelming.
The fungus shaped natural statues carved by wind erosion the soft sandstone were jaw dropping.

The smaller shroom (with the "I Love Mom" etching) lent itself to an intense bouldering session that ended in Alex sending to stand on top of the cap (possible First Ascent?). I left most of the skin on my forearms and biceps back at the crux move along with my pride.

We took off back down the dirt roads for the interstate but couldn't quite make it to the safety of the 4-lane without a cop dropping the mighty hammer of justice on us. He was more curious of why the heck we were in these parts than anything and we got off scott-free.

We moved on down the road past signs marketing "world's largest prairie dog," "rattlesnake jewelery," and "6-legged steer." Cheezy but their was not a chance in hell we could pass on such fantasies. The exit revealed that the tourist trap was closed at 8:30PM on a Sunday. Go figure. We snuck a peak in a broken part of the fencing around back to see some prairie dogs, none of which appeared to be the largest in the world as promised.

Bummer, but we pressed onward as the Indians and settlers had done so many years before. We stopped at a Buffalo Bill statue where Alex bouldered a large bronze buffalo. It was awkward.

Afterwards, we traveled to yet another stop 30 miles off the interstate as the sun began to set. We passed thorough herds of thousands of free-ranging cattle that littered the road to Monument Rocks National Monument.

Again it was the something rising out of nothing effect that made these so impressive. The cliffs are made from extremely soft chalk remaining from an ancient sea and were again created by the whipping winds of the plains. The photos speak for themselves.

Alex standing at the base of some spires.

On one of the spires we found a colony of swallows with their mud nests constructed under the overhung cliff.

The Real Gateway to the West

We saw a rattlesnake, 2 coyotes, pheasants, and mule deer running around as well. The sun set as we pulled out with over 3 hours of fast driving remaining to pull into Colorado Springs by midnight. Exhaustion carried us straight to sleep after a smile recalling the real Kansas that few still attempt to explore.

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