Posted by: kerryl29 | November 20, 2017

Colorado Trip Prologue: Monument Rocks, Kansas

The trip from the Midwest to southwest Colorado is a long one.  Given the volume of items I wanted to bring along I made the decision to drive; it’s approximately 1400 miles from Indianapolis–where I was starting out–to Silverton, Colorado, meaning two very long days of driving.  I had to make a decision in advance about how far to go on the first day.  It’s worth noting that, until reaching a junction with US-24 in Limon, Colorado the journey from Indianapolis is basically following I-70 relentlessly west.

About 15 years ago I read something, somewhere, about a place called Monument Rocks, in western Kansas.  It sounded interesting: chalk edifices rising from nothing in the Great Plains.  I always said that if I was in the area (ha) I’d check it out.  When I was planning the trip to Colorado, seeing that the route included covering the length of the state of Kansas, I remembered Monument Rocks and I hastened to find its exact location.  I discovered that it was about 30 miles south of the tiny town of Oakley, which was right along I-70.  I decided to make Oakley the stopping point on the first day of the drive.  It would be roughly 840 driving miles from Indianapolis to Oakley, but given that it was all Interstate driving to get there, if I got an early enough start, I reasoned, I could reach Oakley early enough to find–and photograph–Monument Rocks by sunset.

I left at some absurd hour of the morning–I was in Illinois before the sun rose–and about 13 hours later I reached Oakley…about 3 1/2 hours before sunset.  It was hot–in excess of 90 degrees F and moderately breezy.  I checked into the hotel I had booked and then quickly set off in the direction of Monument Rocks.  I’d driven through the Great Plains before, several times, but this was my first occasion looking at it up close.  On the drive to Monument Rocks, a couple of scenes caught my eye and I pulled off the road to photograph them.

The Great Plains, Logan County, Kansas

The Great Plains Black & White, Logan County, Kansas

The Great Plains Farm Site, Logan County, Kansas

The Great Plains Farm Site Black & White, Logan County, Kansas

The final approach to Monument Rocks involves about eight miles of driving on a series of unpaved (but graded) county roads.  The rocks themselves lie on private property but are accessible to the public due to the graciousness of the landowner.

The Monument Rocks are quite a sight to behold.  The area in which they’re situated is essentially flat and largely treeless…and, suddenly, there are these edifices, up to 50-odd feet in height.  I reached the spot about two hours before sunset and spent some time walking around the rocks, just to gain my bearings.  It had been mostly cloudy to the southwest (i.e. where the sun was located) when I drove in but as I wandered around the rocks low-angled sun began to pierce the clouds, making for some brilliant light.

Monument Rocks, Logan County, Kansas

Monument Rocks, Logan County, Kansas

Monument Rocks, Logan County, Kansas

Monument Rocks, Logan County, Kansas

The rocks lie in two principal “collections,” located about 1/8 of a mile from one another on either side of a county road.  Both sets of rocks have their particular points of interest including, but not limited to, archways and windows.  Most of the compositions I selected were effectively east-facing, the better to capture the already nice and constantly improving low-angled light.  The chalk walls reflected this light beautifully in a way that reminded me to some extent of Bryce Canyon in Utah.

Monument Rocks, Logan County, Kansas

Monument Rocks, Logan County, Kansas

Monument Rocks Black & White, Logan County, Kansas

Monument Rocks, Logan County, Kansas

As sunset time approached, clouds and sun played footsie.  I decided to hang around to see if the sunset would be any good.  While I waited, I wandered around the second set of rocks, on the east side of the road.

Monument Rocks, Logan County, Kansas

Monument Rocks at Dusk, Logan County, Kansas

There was one isolated edifice, more or less between the two main sets of rocks.  I decided to focus on that tower, facing west, as the sun sank toward the horizon.  You can really get a sense of just how wide open and stark this place is.

Monument Rocks at Sunset, Logan County, Kansas

Monument Rocks at Sunset, Logan County, Kansas

In the shot below, you can see the first set of rocks–the ones represented in the photos near the top of this post–in the background.

Monument Rocks at Sunset, Logan County, Kansas

As the western sky lit up in what turned out to be a very nice sunset, I scrambled around to obtain a few different compositions before everything faded.

Monument Rocks at Sunset, Logan County, Kansas

Monument Rocks at Sunset, Logan County, Kansas

Monument Rocks at Sunset, Logan County, Kansas

When the sunset sky faded into twilight, I hastened to get back to my hotel.  As interesting as it might have been to view the locale under starlight, I still had nearly 600 miles–much of it through mountainous terrain–the following day to get to Silverton, so an early start was imperative.


  1. These are stunning images, Steve! The mammoth rocks are quite impressive, but the sky and clouds seemed to put on a show for you as well. Just beautiful all around!

    • Steve? 🙂

      Seriously, thanks very much!

      • Dang it! This isn’t the first time my brain went off somewhere! The fact remains, Kerry, these images are stunning!

        • Thanks!

  2. Who knew Kansas was hiding this marvel in plain sight? I’m thinking I may have stayed in Oakley during my last drive to the East Coast.
    That second to last shot is breathtaking. The last one certainly brings Bryce Canyon to mind given the added red/orange tones from the sunset.
    One other thing I do remember is that Kansas seems to stretch on for a goodly distance. 😉

    • Thanks, Gunta!

      The rocks aren’t really red but the light itself was so red-shifted when that final shot was made that everything had a pink-red tint to it.

      Yeah, it’s a long trip across Kansas; about 400 miles, I believe.

  3. I am still in disbelief that this place exists…but the photos prove it. The other thing that is amazing is to have such interesting formations without swarms of people around (or were you just careful to exclude them from the compositions). The light is extraordinary, making the scene even more ethereal. Very cool!

    • Thanks, Ellen!

      There were very few other people around while I was there (0-5, I’d estimate, during the 2 1/2 hours I was on the ground at Monument Rocks). There was only one occasion when I had to wait for someone to move out of my shot. It’s worth noting just how off the beaten track this place is. It’s about a 45-minute drive from Oakley, which is a town of about 2000, just south of I-70, and it’s not very well known. Put those two factors together and I doubt it’s ever very crowded.

  4. Woah!!! I also had never heard of this place before. Your planning and timing once again worked out really well for you, and how wonderful that you got the blue sky, the lovely clouds, and to top it off the gorgeous sunset. Gorgeous photos once again Kerry.

    • Thanks, Carol!

      It’s not surprising that you haven’t heard of Monument Rocks–it’s not well-known at all. It’s a bit of a fluke, I think, that I was aware of it.

  5. Love your photos. They are – outstanding – that’s the right word ❤

  6. Well worth the early start and the minor detour to get there. Stunning sunset show!

    • Thanks very much!

  7. An 840-mile drive, that’s a long push.

    Similar to what you found outside of Oakley, there’s the Painted Mines in NE El Paso County in Colorado. (I call it Painted Mines while it is listed as Paint Mines.) It is a county park, a little off the beaten path. It’s like driving to nowhere with that nagging desire to check a paper map over and over again. And, when you get to the parking lot, still wondering if you’re in the right place. Been there only once in my pre-camera days. Just like Monument Rocks, it just appears.

    • Yeah, 840 miles is quite a drive. I doubt I’d have been able to manage it but it’s almost literally entirely Interstate driving and, once I clear Indianapolis (which I did at a very early hour) there are only two metro areas (St. Louis and Kansas City) to deal with.

      I hadn’t heard of Paint Mines before. I did a search….it bears some resemblance to Bisti Badlands in New Mexico, as well as a few other places I’ve seen (in person or in photographs) on the Colorado Plateau. But this spot, east of Colorado Springs…what a strange locale for those kinds of features. Thanks for mentioning it.

  8. There are some truly otherworldly images here! Those skies combined with the jutting rocks – very strange!

    • Thanks!

      This is one of the more singular settings I’ve ever experienced.

  9. Wow!! Kerry- your photos are phenomenal! Simply unbelievable. I love the pic of the windmill. Reminds me of so many moments on so many road trips through Kansas.

    • Thanks very much!

  10. The open plains of Western KS are site not appreciated by nearly enough people. Great pics!!

    • Agreed, and thanks.

      The Flint Hills area looked very interesting to me as well on my drive(s) through the region last year.

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