Litholatry| Lithol´atry | (noun) (Greek) The worship of a stone or stones.
As we headed west from Kansas City across I-70, the landscape was typical Kansas — flat as far as the eye can see. I don’t know what I expected when we turned south at Collyer, but maybe it’s that unrelenting flatness that makes geologic wonders like Castle Rock so impressive. Plains soon gave way to rolling hills, then after a few more miles, surprising layers of colorful rock appeared sporadically amongst the bored-looking cattle and prairie grass. We could see Castle Rock rising from quite a distance, but we couldn’t figure out how to get to it; it looked like it had been plunked down in the middle of a farmer’s pasture land, fenced in without a road leading to it.
Google Maps kept urging us to turn right to get to our destination, but we were loathe to slip through the barbed wire and trek across the field. We took some side roads, passed some surly farmers with a grain truck and idled past a farm. We were tempted to cross a cattle gate into what was clearly private property because we could still see the castle, but we thought better of it and consulted my phone.
Luckily Atlas Obscura had some good old fashioned directions, so we retraced our route and entered from the west rather than the east. For future reference, exit at Quinter on … Castle Rock Road … for a more direct route. Fortunately my driver and intrepid travel companion was patient and didn’t mind the circuitous route to get to our destination.
We followed paved, then gravel, then dirt roads, and didn’t encounter another vehicle after the grain truck, until we spied a nondescript welded metal sign for “Castle Rock.” We had seen Castle Rock from several (distant) angles already, but as we followed the bumpy road, watching it rise as we drew closer, we were pretty impressed.
Castle Rock served as a landmark for early travelers on the Smoky Hill Trail. As a standalone, Castle Rock may not be as expansive as some of the other sedimentary remnants of the western interior sea. But I’ll have to say its isolation makes you feel like one of those early settlers, like you have discovered this alien landscape yourself. We didn’t see another soul the entire time. We picnicked in the shade of the Castle, then hiked up the nearby Kansas Badlands. Carved by water and wind, the massive layers of chalk and limestone have been transformed into steep spires, hoodoos and sweeping ridges. We circled the expanse of the badlands on the rutted dirt path, watching the shadows shift and change and wondered again why we never explored this area, so close to home, before.
Despite some navigational hiccups, Castle Rock was a great kickoff for our Westward Ho trip to see some of Kansas’ geologic wonders. We continued our adventures moving west, following the sun, with a golden light stop at Chalk Monument.
If you visit Castle Rock, please keep in mind this is a fragile landscape. In fact, the tallest spire of the castle toppled during a thunderstorm in 2001. It’s also located on private land, and while the owners allow visitors, remember to be respectful. The roads to Castle Rock are unpaved, rutted and may be impassable in wet weather. It was a bit bumpy with my car; a truck or SUV would be better. Or you can park and hike in if your vehicle isn’t designed for offroading.
To get to Castle Rock, take exit 107 off I-70 at Quinter, turn south on Castle Rock Road, go 15 miles, turn east at county road 466 (Gove K), and follow the signs.