I've always been sensitive, perhaps even to a fault, about references to the “flatness” of Kansas, and purposely seek out those places which demonstrate its “unflatness.” As a youngster growing up in Sumner County, I eagerly anticipated visits to my dad's kinfolk living in the “Blackjack Hills” around Sedan and Cedar Vale. That rolling, wooded terrain seemed like mountains to me! Now retired and with a mobility I never had as a youngster, I still gravitate toward those Kansas regions where the geographic features defy the tired, old pancake-like stereotype. Due in part to their distant location in the northwest corner of the state, the Arikaree Breaks of Cheyenne County remained on my bucket list for many years before the opportunity came for a visit.We first stopped at the county museum in St. Francis to pick up a self-guided tour pamphlet outlining the geographic features and historic landmarks of the Arikaree Breaks, then began our trek. The route initially took us through flat crop and pasture land, but upon topping a slight incline, we were surprised to see a panorama of badlands opening up before us, revealing rugged, dramatic vistas.
The breaks of the Arikaree River, 36 miles in length and two to three miles wide, were formed by windblown deposits of silt called loess, and by centuries of wind and water erosion which have left steep-sided canyons. The breaks are on privately owned ranch land, not a public park. There are no visitor pull-offs or viewing spots along the winding dirt road, but we nonetheless did find a few places to park at the side in order to get out of the car, take a few photos and experience not only the landscape and the wide expanse of blue sky, but the quiet and the peaceful solitude of these badlands on the high plains.This arid region is short-grass prairie, punctuated by yucca, prickly pear cactus, sage brush, and species of plant life not seen or rarely seen elsewhere in Kansas. I've read that wildlife is abundant here, too – mule deer, coyotes, prairie dogs, badgers, lizards and a large variety of birds. We weren't lucky enough, or sharp-eyed enough, to view any on our visit.
Historical markers (distinctive round red discs) point out several sites of significance, but I must confess that I found myself a little leery of those descriptions of Indian “massacres” in the region which seemed to be written solely from white man's perspective.Would I desire to visit the Arikaree Breaks again? Definitely, and it would be great to do so with a local who knows the land and could get me even further “off the beaten track.”Frank Thompson is a retired family man. He loves traveling all over the Sunflower State documenting his trips in word and photo for his blog, Frank Thompson's Kansas Journeys.