The Smoky Hills region, occupying the north-central part of Kansas, consists of three separate bands of hills running from southwest to northeast. The western band is the Chalk Buttes, a relatively flat area compared to the other two, but with geological surprises that give it a charm all of its own. The middle band is the Blue Hills, more familiarly known as Post Rock Country because the early settlers in this area used long blocks of limestone as fence posts in the absence of trees. The eastern band is also called the Smoky Hills, a beautiful range of sandstone hills probably called “smoky” because of the haze always on the horizon on a warm summer day.
As already mentioned, the Smoky Hills is characterized by three geologically separate bands of hills:
- The Chalk Buttes to the west: Made up of chalk and containing spectacular fossils and formations such as Monument Rocks.
- The Blue Hills in the middle: Primarily limestone, historically used for fence posts and often containing fossils.
- The Smoky Hills to the east: Formed out of sandstone and characterized by unusual concretions such as Mushroom Rocks.
Soils are diverse in this large region. Sand, silt, clay, and loam are all represented somewhere in the Smoky Hills.
The mixed prairie of the Smoky Hills provides a transition between the tallgrass prairie of the east and the shortgrass prairie of the west. Trees grow mainly along the rivers and streams.
The mixed-grass prairie of this region hosts a large variety of wildlife species. Coyotes, mule deer, meadowlarks, and prairie chickens all call the Smoky Hills home. At night, you might even be treated to the sight of a kangaroo rat crossing the road!
The aquatic and wooded habitats available near reservoirs and streams showcase a different array of animals. Open water attracts eagles, ospreys, grebes, and sandhill cranes. Woodlands provide hiding places for warblers, beavers, and muskrats.
Four rivers cut through the Smoky Hills and contribute to the beautifully rugged topography: the Republican, the Saline, the Solomon, and the Smoky Hill. These and their tributaries have been dammed at various points, both for flood control and for irrigation.
This is a real boon for residents of this part of Kansas. Between the dry winds and the relatively low annual precipitation, water is a precious resource in the Smoky Hills. Groundwater is currently being used faster than it can replenish itself.
The average annual precipitation varies between 24 and 29 inches. The Smoky Hills can be rather windy.
The Smoky Hills offer both cropland and pasture. Not surprisingly, cattle predominate in areas of rough terrain, but crops grow wherever the rich soils are level enough to permit. Although winter wheat rules in this region, sorghum, soybeans, and hay all have their place. Drought-resistant varieties of corn also grow here, although they usually have to be irrigated.
Also of Interest
The importance of cash crops in the Smoky Hills is demonstrated by the large number of grain elevators, locally known as prairie cathedrals. The Smoky Hills are populated fairly sparsely (Salina and Hays being the largest communities in the region) but small towns do abound. A view from one of the hills often reveals the tops of several prairie cathedrals, each one the heart and lifeline of its plucky little community.
Top 10 Sights to See in the Smoky Hills
Ready to visit this spectacular region yourself? Don’t miss these 10 must-see destinations!
Smoky Hills Wind Farm
This photo captures the beauty of the region nicely.
Postrock on the Way to Rocktown Cove, Wilson Lake
A good example of a post rock from the Kansas Geological Survey photo library.