Pawnee Rock, Kansas

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It might not look like much today, but 150 years ago, this lump of sandstone was an exciting landmark for pioneers.  When they arrived here, they were at the Santa Fe Trail’s halfway point.  Nowadays, Pawnee Rock is at the center of a state park, just a few blocks north of the small town that shares its name.

At the top of Pawnee Rock, there are a few picnic areas, and a pavilion that was built in 1920.  You can take a spiral staircase up to the top of the pavilion…

… for a great view of the town of Pawnee Rock and a few other communities.  To find another viewpoint in this part of Kansas that rivals the Pawnee Rock pavilion, you’d have to climb to the top of a grain elevator.

Pawnee Rock is not as tall today as it was during pioneer times.  Much of the rock was quarried and used to construct the town’s buildings (watch for stone structures in town, such as the old Opera House, which now operates as an antiques shop).  The top of the pavilion is roughly the original height of Pawnee Rock.

In the early days of the Santa Fe Trail, a traveler atop Pawnee Rock would see nothing more than waves of grass and herds of buffalo, as far as the eye could see.  In 1846, Private Jacob Robinson described it thusly:

“I witnessed one of the grandest sights ever beheld.  Far over the plain to the west and north was one vast herd of buffaloes; some in column, marching in their trails, others carelessly grazing.  Every acre was covered, until in the dim distance the prairie became one black mass… extending to the horizon.”

To reach Pawnee Rock State Park, you have to drive a few blocks north of town on Centre Street.  On the way back to US 56, take a minute to look at some of the town’s interesting buildings, including the old Pawnee Rock depot.  The old train station was moved here from railroad property.

Continue on US 56 east.  I did not stop in the next two towns: Great Bend and Ellinwood.

Note: This trip was first published in 2008.

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