How the Smoky Hills were Formed

(Deb) We were talking a couple of weeks ago about the fact that when I mentioned that I had moved out to Oakley, on the high plains, this one lady said, “Oh I love the Flint Hills.” While the Flint Hills are lovely, that’s not all of Kansas, and it’s not all the hills in Kansas. The Smoky Hills is quite extensive, and that’s what we’re going to talk about today. I think next week we hope to do the Chautauqua Hills. We did the Gyp Hills last week. We got some amazing hills in Kansas. We do. I’ve got to tell you, Dr. Jake has this amazing app on his phone, and I don’t know who, what this app is but it’s a barometer and an altimeter. As we’re driving along on the road, I’m like, “Give me your phone, and I’ll check the altitude and see how big it is.” Did I do a promo for this already? They should send me royalties. Not only do we deserve an Emmy, we deserve royalties for all the people that we’re pitching here on the show [laughs]. (Frank) That’s right. We have no shame. (Deb) We have none. None. Zero. So yes. If you buy one of those, you let me know so I can write the company. That is the coolest app. When you’re going all over the state, and you’re looking at the change in altitude — Flat Kansas? Nope. It’s not. It’s not. (Frank) No. I know you’re going to do Smoky Hills. As a historian, surely in that story you have why they’re called the Smoky Hills? (Deb) I sure hope so. [Laughter] (Frank) I guess we’re going to find out. (Deb) I guess we’ll find out. Let’s take a look and see. Deeper seas than those of the Gypsum Hills formed the Cretaceous-age outcroppings of rock that characterize the Smoky Hills of north central Kansas. According to the Kansas Geological Survey, three principal rock outcrops characterize the Smoky Hills: the sandstones of the Dakota Formation, the limestones of the Greenhorn Limestone Formation, and the thick chalks of Niobrara Chalk. The Dakota Formation sandstones crop out in a wide belt from Rice and McPherson Counties in the south, to Washington County in the north. They are the remains of beach sands and sediments dumped by rivers draining into the early Cretaceous seas. The hills and buttes, like Coronado Heights, are capped by this sandstone. The next outcrop belt to the west is the Greenhorn Limestone, which is made up of thin chalky limestone beds alternating with thicker beds of shale. The Greenhorn limestone was deposited in a relatively shallow part of the Cretaceous Sea. Near the top of the Greenhorn is fence post limestone, used for building and fences due to the lack of wood. The westernmost range of hills developed on the thick chalks of the Niobrara Chalk. These beds were deposited in a deeper part of the Cretaceous ocean and are exposed in bluffs of the Solomon, Saline, and Smoky Hill Rivers. Pinnacles, spires, and odd-shaped masses such as Castle Rock and Monument Rock in Gove County are characteristic of those formations. It is in these outcroppings that the fossils of swimming reptiles like mosasaurs and plesiosaurs have been found. The Smoky Hills are extensive and there are several places to visit to learn more. In addition to the museums like the Sternberg in Hays or the Fick Fossil Museum in Oakley, the Fort Wallace Museum, the Russell Springs Museum, El Quartelejo in Scott City, and Ottawa County Museum in Minneapolis offer fossils and related exhibits. To observe the landscape itself, besides Castle and Monument Rocks, there is Rock City, Mushroom Rock State Park, Kanopolis State Park, and the Scenic Byways that crisscross the area.

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