Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, Kansas
To see the North American prairie as the pioneers first viewed it, head for the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in the Flint Hills of east-central Kansas.
Only 1% of the 400,000 square miles of tallgrass prairie that once covered the continent remains, and much of it's in the Flint Hills, where the rocky ground is untillable.
I stumbled upon this 10,894-acre natural treasure while traveling through Kansas. It's located on the old Z Bar/Spring Hill Ranch, established in the 1880s by cattle baron Stephen F. Jones. The highlight for me was the self-guided walking tour of the prairie. The terrain is categorized as moderately difficult, and the longest hiking loop is 1-3/4 miles.
I learned the tallgrass prairie is home to 31 species of mammals, 39 types of reptiles and amphibians, 150 kinds of birds and 400 species of plants.
The preserve is near the junction of State Highway 177 and U.S. Highway 50, about 20 miles west of Emporia. For more information call 1-620/273-6034.
Up the road about 16 miles is the historic town of Council Grove. Once a stop on the Santa Fe Trail, Council Grove features 12 sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Hays House. Established in 1857, it's the oldest continuously operated restaurant west of the Mississippi River (closed Mondays ).
To learn more about Council Grove call the Council Grove Convention and Visitors Bureau at 1-800-732-9211.