Lithogenesis| lith·o·gen·e·sis |
(noun) The formation of sedimentary rock.
Continuing our exploration of the geologic wonders of western Kansas, we peeled away from the sunset “crowds” gathered around the keyhole at the Chalk Pyramids and headed a short distance further west to Little Jerusalem Badlands. We expected to see a few more sunset seekers there. After all, it was pretty close, and the sunset views were supposed to be even more magnificent. But as we drew closer, we discovered we had the 300-acre park to ourselves. Talk about social distancing. We even parked outside the timed entry gates just to make sure we didn’t get locked inside. It was pretty desolate, really the middle of nowhere. It might take days for someone to find us …
The Nature Conservancy operates the Little Jerusalem State Park, and claims “These badlands are Kansas’ most dramatic Niobrara chalk formation.” This isn’t hyperbole; we had just visited two of the other formations. And while Castle Rock and Chalk Pyramids were dramatic in their own right, they could not compare with the massive scale of Little Jerusalem.
Hundreds of acres of canyons and spires stretched before us, striped gold and red in the fading light. We have been to the Grand Canyon, watching the sun set from various overlooks on different nights. I will have to say that Little Jerusalem was just as impressive, especially when you consider we had the whole park — the whole park — entirely to ourselves.
The easy-to-access trails skirt the edge of the badlands, giving you impressive views, but keeping you away from the delicate structures. This is a conservation area after all, and maintaining the unique habitat is a priority. In addition to providing food and shelter for native reptiles, amphibians and birds, we learned that it also boasts the largest growth of Great Plains wild buckwheat, a native plant found in the chalk bluffs prairie of western Kansas and nowhere else in the world. Who knew?
If you haven’t heard of Little Jerusalem Badlands, it’s probably because it was just opened to the public in the summer of 2020, having been part of the privately owned McGuire Ranch for five generations. It supposedly got its name because, from a distance, it resembles the ancient walled city of Jerusalem. By the time The Nature Conservancy acquired the property, most locals and geologists knew it as Little Jerusalem.
The park has two hiking trails and is open every day of the year, including holidays, from sunrise to sunset. It does stay open late some nights for special events like viewing the Perseid meteor shower.
It’s located about 30 minutes south of I-70 and Oakley. If you are traveling west on I-70/US 40 past Grinnell, take US-83 south to Gold Rd. Go west on Gold to CR 400 and turn north. If you have time to spend in Oakley and are interested in the inland sea and its wealth of fossils, you may also want to explore the Fick Fossil and History Museum.