Strong City, Kansas & Tallgrass Prairie Preserve

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As you drive up the road from Cottonwood Falls to Strong City, you begin to get the feeling that Kansas is getting more interesting.  Instead of being flat, the road is gently rolling.  Then you arrive in Strong City, and there’s even more to see, including the old train depot.

There’s an old ATSF caboose on display in the park next to the depot.

Strong City is named after William Barstow Strong, a former president of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe railroad.  It’s one of two towns named after him: the other is Barstow, California.

Just down the tracks from the depot, there’s a picturesque grain elevator.

Strong City is home to the oldest consecutive rodeo in Kansas. The Flint Hills Rodeo normally falls around the first weekend in June, and draws 20,000 people to the small town.  Find out this year’s schedule, here

Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve

Just north of Strong City, on the other side of US 50, is the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve.  The park contains 10,894 acres of land that has never been plowed.  The entire Midwest used to look like this; tallgrass prairie used to cover 140 million acres of land, but most of it was lost to farming and urban development.

In the early spring, when I visited, the grass isn’t growing, and the landscape looks quite barren.  Since I arrived after hours, the park was officially closed, but signs in the parking lot said that I could park and wander around the prairie after hours.  There are a couple of trails available, but it was cold and gloomy (and the grass wasn’t growing), so I got back in the car.

There are a few buildings inside the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, including the historic Z-Bar Ranch House, built in 1881 out of limestone.  When the park is open, you can take a guided or self-guided tour of the house.

There’s also a one-room schoolhouse, just a short distance beyond the ranch house.  You can see both of them from the road, but there is no good place to park for pictures, or to walk over.

The Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve offers bus tours of the prairie, for a small fee.  Just about everything else (park admission, trails, etc) is free.
The Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve is administered by the National Park Service, but most of its land is owned by The Nature Conservancy.  
Continue north on KS Rte. 177.  This is part of the Flint Hills Scenic Byway, and with curves and hills, it’s a fun drive–much different than the rest of the day’s trip across Kansas.

Note: This trip was first published in 2008.

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