by Carl Strang
I had heard that Kansas was the state with the best mix of high quality prairie sites, so I spent a few days touring there in June, 1999. Eastern Kansas gets enough rainfall to support tallgrass prairie, and the Flint Hills region has some good examples.
The Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, part of the National Park system, is one such area. It still was being developed when I visited.
Access then was by guided tour only. I remember being struck by nighthawks roosting on the ground.
Another site worth visiting is the Konza Prairie, a preserve and research station operated by Kansas State University.
The Horsethief Canyon area provided some interesting topographic relief, along with an example of midgrass prairie on the upland plain.
Finally, Cimarron National Grassland provided an excellent example of desert prairie.
I was impressed by the diversity of plant species, and by how subtle differences in topography and erosion made large differences in vegetation. Higher, drained areas were more desert-like, with more yuccas, sagebrush and pincushion cacti, and the plants were more widely spaced. Lower areas had more grasses and prickly pear cacti, and less bare soil.
This was paradise for orchard orioles and both eastern and western kingbirds, which nested in the trees and foraged in the prairie.
Speaking of plants, here is one example.
I certainly can recommend this state to anyone who wishes to get a good feel for the North American prairie biome in all its variations.