badlands

West Kansas Geology and Astronomical Events

This past week I made my annual photo trek to Kansas with Wilson Hurst and had interesting adventures. Typically, we roam around the Flint Hills and photograph on the prairie, but this summer we decided to explore new terrain further west…as in almost to the Colorado border! Being out on the west side of the state was like being in a completely alien environment when compared to the calming prairie. The western side of the state is raw and harsh. High temperatures, gale-force winds, and limited visibility from blowing sand marked our three-day sojourn.

Home base was Oakley, where we stayed at a local motel run by a pleasant Indian family, complete with their Hindu alter on the check-in desk. Although, I had tried to get us a room at the Annie Oakley Motel, but unfortunately it was booked solid for a family reunion. But, our base of operations worked fine after Wilson figured out I didn’t know how to properly run our air conditioner!

Landmarks photographed during this expedition included Castle Rock Badlands, which is about 30 miles south of Quinter and only accessible by gravel roads. Our favorite place where we shot star-trails two nights in a row was the well-known Monument Rocks, or the Pyramids, as the locals call them. At a distance Monument Rocks gives the impression of Stonehenge, except magnified. The exposed gypsum columns rise 70 feet (21 meters) in the air, making them rather impressive! During the long hours of photographing star-trails, we saw several meteorites, satellites, and a US Air Force KC-10 refueling a C-17 cargo jet. The moonless nights provided an inky backdrop for the stars, which were incredibly bright and the skies remarkably clear, considering the violent winds that would not abate.

Below are a few shots from that trip. Enjoy!

Star trails looking north at Monument Rocks in western Kansas. © 2012 Terry Ownby.

Camera setup for shooting startrails at Monument Rocks, about 25 miles south of Oakley, Kansas. © 2012 Terry Ownby.

Yucca and sage brush dot the landscape near Castle Rocks in west Kansas. © 2012 Terry Ownby.

Panorama of Castle Rock Badlands, located south of Quinter, Kansas. © 2012 Terry Ownby.

Monument Rocks at sunset. © 2012 Terry Ownby.

Entrance to Larry Farmer’s Prairie Dog Town, Oakley, Kansas. © 2012 Terry Ownby.

Queen size beds at the Annie Oakley Motel located in Oakley, Kansas. © 2012 Terry Ownby.