Named for their hazy, blue appearance at sunrise and sunset, the Smoky Hills divide the more easterly mixed-grass prairie from the shortgrass prairie of the Western Great Plains. The Smoky Valley Scenic Byway travels through the Smoky Hill River Valley, a showplace of native grasses and wildflowers year-round. Purple and bright-yellow coneflowers species, red-and-yellow Indian blanket flower, sky-blue pitcher sage, and cream-flowered yucca mix with big and little bluestem and grama grasses. Croplands provide additional color washes of emerald-green winter wheat in early spring and russet, ripened milo in autumn. Rock outcroppings hint at the foundation underlying the landscape - chalky limestone left by ancient seas.
Crossing the Smoky Hill River Valley, the Smoky Hills Trail was established at the Civil War's end to carry goods and travelers, including bona fide gold diggers, from Fort Leavenworth to Denver. Although it provided the shortest route to Denver, the trail was considered dangerous, and travel often required the protection of troops stationed at nearby Fort Hays. Today, two limestone markers identify the trail's crossing along the Byway. Carvings and markings, some more than 200 years old, can still be seen where trail travelers carved their names on the walls of Threshing Machine Canyon (the site of an 1850s Native American attack on a wagon train bearing a threshing machine) near Cedar Bluff State Park. You can see the threshing machine that was reclaimed from the canyon at the Trego County Historical Society Museum, which also houses vintage clothing (including baseball uniforms), antique farm equipment and medical instruments.
The Smoky Valley Scenic Byway takes the traveler through 60 miles of west-central Kansas through the Smoky Hill River Valley. Named for their "hazy" appearance at sunrise and sunset, the Smoky Hills provide a transition between the mixed-grass prairie and the short-grass prairie of the plains.
The Byway offers a showplace of native wildflowers and grasses through the seasons. Coneflowers, yucca, Indian blanket and sky blue pitcher sage abound.
In addition, the croplands provide a panorama of vegetation from the emerald green of winter wheat to the rich russet red of milo. Rock outcroppings hint of the layers of stone left by the inland sea millions of years ago.
Westward-bound pioneers crossed this area as they traversed the Smoky Hill Trail. The Butterfield's Overland Despatch, established at the end of the Civil War, originally carried freight and then passengers from Fort Leavenworth to Denver. Today limestone markers identify two of its crossings along the Byway.
Threshing Machine Canyon near Cedar Bluff State Park and Reservoir is the site of an 1867 Native American attack on a wagon train transporting a threshing machine to Brigham Young in Salt Lake City. Smoky Hill Trail travelers carved their names in the canyon walls.
Named for the 100-foot tall, cedar-covered limestone bluffs along the south side of the Lake, the Cedar Bluff State Park and Reservoir is a great place to camp, hike, fish, view wildlife, birdwatch, boat, play volleyball and horseshoes.
The Reservoir hosts many fishing tournaments and other special events throughout the year. Th' Gatherin', a Celtic celebration with foods, games and music is held just to the north of Cedar Bluff State Park.
WaKeeney has been known as the Christmas City of the High Plains since 1950.
For more information about the Smoky Valley Scenic Byway, contact:Cathy Albert or Lynelle Shubert WaKeeney Travel & Tourism 1-877-962-7248