The Landforms and Landscapes of Kansas
In February we celebrate the birthday of the founding of the State of Kansas. It seems fitting to review the variety of landscapes and environments in our state.  Kansas is divided into several distinct regions.  Most people would be amazed at how beautiful our state really is. 

The Ozark Plateau is an area of Kansas in the southeast corner of the state near Baxter Springs.  This region is hilly with abundant timber.  The area is the northwestern most extension of the popular Ozarks of Missouri and Arkansas.  The oldest sedimentary rocks on the surface in the state can be found in this region.  Lead and zinc were once mined in this portion of the state.

The Cherokee Lowlands to the northwest primarily in Cherokee County have a similar industrial background to the Ozark Plateau, but the landscape is different.  There arenít as many hills or trees.  Lead, zinc, coal, clay, and limestone provided the natural resources for several industries that prospered between the late 1800ís and 1930.  Cement, tile, brick, and glass were manufactured until the plants became unprofitable.

A large area of eastern Kansas extending from the southern border of the state near Sedan to just south of Kansas City is called the Osage Cuestas.  Cuesta is Spanish for cliff which describes the region very well.  Landforms with steep cliffs on the opposite side of gentle sloping sides dominate this part of Kansas.  Alternating layers of sandstone, shale, and limestone can be found everywhere at the surface.

A narrow band of hills oriented north to south between Independence and Fredonia is considered the Chautauqua Hills.  This area is known for its thick layers of sandstone and abundant Oak forests.  The sandstone layers were formed by rivers that flowed into seas present in Kansas during the Pennsylvanian and Permian period.  The rivers formed deltas or thick layers of sand and silt at the mouths of the rivers.

Most people wouldnít believe that at one time glaciers were present in Kansas.  At least two glaciers advanced into northeast Kansas between Atchison and Manhattan during what is known as the glacial period.  Huge boulders of quartzite were transported hundreds of miles from the mountains in South Dakota.  Fine sediment called loess was left behind after the glaciers left the region and provides a fertile soil for farmers.  This area of Kansas is called the Glaciated Region.

Everyone is familiar with the Flint Hills.  This area is virtually untouched since the first settlers arrived in Kansas.  The region runs north and south just east of Wichita from near Winfield to north of Emporia in east central Kansas.  It is one of the last native prairie grasslands left in the United States.  The name of this area of Kansas comes from the flint (chert) found in the limestone present at the surface which makes it difficult to use the land for anything but grazing. 

The Smoky Hills are west of the Flint Hills and extend from Salina to west of Hays.  The hills have a variety of landforms from east to west.  The eastern part of the Smokey Hills is covered with sandstone deposits similar to those in the Chautauqua Hills.  The middle portion of the hills is primarily limestone.  Post rock limestone is known for this area because farmers couldnít find anything else to make their fence posts out of.  The western hills are known for their massive chalk formations.  The Smoky Hill River eroded the surface to expose the chalk that had been buried below the surface.  World renowned paleontologists have found numerous important fossils within these chalk beds.  Popular natural attractions that draw tourists to this part of Kansas are Castle Rock and Monument Rocks. 

The Wellington McPherson Lowlands cover the area of central Kansas that itís named for.  Seas in this region during the Permian Period eventually evaporated leaving thick layers of salt.  This salt was discovered near Hutchinson in 1887 and has been a major part of industry in Reno, Rice, and Ellsworth Counties since.

The Red Hills near Medicine Lodge will surprise most visitors to the state.  The flat top hills or mesaís and buttes in this region resemble the deserts of Arizona and New Mexico.  The arid environment and erosion carved the hills over time leaving this unique landscape in south central Kansas.  The red color is caused by iron oxide present in the sands and shales at the surface. 

The High Plains of western Kansas evolved over time as the Rocky Mountains formed.  Sands and gravels were deposited by rivers that flowed from the Rockies across this area.  The Ogallala Formation is a layer of rock found both at the surface and below ground formed from the sands and gravels.  The Ogallala Aquifer which provides most of the water for this region is stored underground in this formation.  As you travel across the High Plains the surface is gradually rising toward the Rocky Mountains.

At first glance the state of Kansas appears to be a pretty boring place.  Upon further investigation you will discover a unique geologic history waiting to be uncovered.