After the incident with the speeding ticket (and my decision to savor western Kansas instead of driving through it), I saw a designation for Monument Rocks on the road map. That journey led me to Dighton, and Battle Canyon, and Lake Scott – all on the way to Monument Rocks.
It was about 6 pm when I reached a sign on Route 83, pointing to a gravel road through the middle of a farm field. Naturally, I had to drive slower to save my tires from a sudden puncture: going farther and farther into the open field, then a turn, then another turn, with no more signs or arrows, and just the hope that it would be okay. In about fifteen minutes I saw the cliffs ahead, and parked in the open area between two different formations, a hundred yards apart. This photo is from the area that serves as a parking lot, with scrub brush that discourages visitors from getting close to the more distant group of cliffs.
A Google search will tell their story: the rocks were formed of carbonate deposits millions of years ago, when there was a vast ocean in North America, and they are a reminder that the world we know was quite different before humanity showed up. The chalk cliffs now remain: resistant to wind and rain, daring Mother Nature to wear them down. Which, of course, must be happening. This is the second formation, closer to the parking area.
The photo above is taken looking west, and the man in the photo had a much better camera than mine, with a tripod, as if he was working for a nature magazine. The photo below was taken on the other side, looking east. You can see my shadow on the ground, and the difference in the sky’s appearance just two minutes later, from a different angle. The glow of sunlight against the cliffs appears hundreds of times a year, thousands of times a decade, which contributes to its appeal.
Now imagine ten minutes have passed. A pair of young women drove up in their car, and began to look around, so I asked them to take my picture with the distant group of rocks. They did so, but the sun was quickly reaching the horizon, and they wanted to enjoy the moment as well. Notice the sky is not so blue from this angle.
I had fifteen minutes to get back to the relative safety of Route 83, and, as I drove on that gravel road, the sky grew darker. After I made the last turn in the middle of the farm field, a mile or two from the highway, another car came towards me, with its headlights on, and a driver who must have wondered how long it would take, and whether he would get there in time. I felt sad for him, knowing he had come all that way and might see just a sliver of orange against the horizon. Or, he might see the cliffs bright orange as well, with a better view than the one I had just seen. And then, he would have to drive back from the rocks in darkness.