Almost time for road trip mini series

Greetings, Dear Readers! I hope you’re ready for another in our road trip mini-series this summer. This one is about an hour and a half away, and great for kids of all ages who like to climb and explore. Feel free to look up creature names for kids to see.

For this month’s trip, we’ll do a little swimming. Oh wait, we’ll need to do a little time travel first, and you can leave your swimsuit at home. We’ll be traveling all the way back to the Late Cretaceous Period, about 100 million years ago. Don’t worry, we’re still in Kansas, but it looks a bit different from what you’re used to seeing every day.

As you look around you here in the Late Cretaceous, the first thing you’ll notice is that we’re standing on the bottom of an ocean; the Western Interior Seaway, to be exact. It’s also known as the Cretaceous Seaway, the Niobraran Sea, the North American Inland Sea, and the Western Interior Sea. The land on the West side is called Laramidia, and will eventually be the Rocky Mountains. On the East, we have Appalachia, and those mountains are already standing tall. Each side has a major watershed that drains into our ocean.

For the moment though, we’re about 2800 feet deep, relatively shallow as far as oceans go. Since we’re standing on the sea floor, we can look around and see some familiar sea life. Inoceramids (large oyster-type molluscs) thrive in the mud beneath our feet. Ammonites (early nautilus squids) go squirting by. We can look around and see how the currents have shaped the silt into some of the same hills we see nearby in the present. Let’s drift towards the surface.

Let’s be careful, though. Most of what lives here would love to make a meal out of us. Mosasaurs and Plesiosaurs represent the reptilian life around us. Sharks like Ptychodus, Cretoxyrhina, and Squalicorax glide smoothly by, fearsome teeth on display much like modern sharks. There are fish too: Pachyrhizodus, Enchodus, and giant Xiphactinus (which grew up to sixteen feet long!).

As we reach the surface, we can see Hesperonis (flightless birds) swimming with strong legs and steering with stubby wings. If we look up, we can see Pteranodons and Icthyornus swooping through the skies. If we were to move to the land, we’d see familiar faces like Tyrannosaurus Rex, Ankylosaurus, Pachycephalosaurus, Triceratops, and Hadrosaurs.

I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to feel like a snack. Let’s swoosh back to the present. You see, our destination had its origins in the time we just left. Sand was deposited on the shores of that inland sea. The Kansas Geological Survey (https://geokansas.ku.edu/rock-city) explains what happened next. “Over time, the sand was buried and then compressed and cemented into solid rock. Groundwater circulating through the sandy rock deposited a limy cement in some portions of the formation, making those parts of the rock more resistant to erosion. After the softer, uncemented portions of the sandstone layer weathered away, the cemented spheres were left standing on the surface.” Those spheres are where we’re headed today.

Rock City is located near Minneapolis, Kansas, northeast of Salina. It’s a five acre site with 200 or so spherical rocks, called concretions. They vary widely in size, from just a few feet in diameter up to 27 feet in diameter. There’s a small fee to get in ($3.00 for adults, 50 cents for children), but you can climb on, around, and under the rocks for as long as your hearts desire. Pets are permitted (on-leash, and please clean up after your pet). There is a small gift shop (sometimes open, I’ve only ever seen it closed) and plenty of places to eat a picnic lunch if you choose to bring one.

If dining al fresco isn’t your thing, there are plenty of places to eat in nearby Salina. For burgers, you should visit the Cozy Inn, which has been selling its signature sliders for 101 years. They’ll be fresh when you get there, I promise. If Mexican is your thing, visit La Casita. Hubby swears by the Pork Steak Chili dinner with a double order of their unique refried beans. The Beverly Bar and Grill in Beverly is another hidden gem.

If you enjoy Rock City, please take a day and visit Mushroom Rock State Park in Ellsworth County, North of Kanopolis Lake. Those rocks are from the same formation, but they look a bit different. There is no admission fee for that park, but be prepared for a bit more hiking. While you’re in that area, be sure to go to the Kanopolis Drive In for the whole drive-in movie experience. Showtimes and movies are posted at kanopolisdrivein.com.

As always, please don’t litter and don’t carve on the rocks. Have a great time surfing the Late Cretaceous! And maybe, just maybe, the next time you’re cruising through the Flint Hills, you might look up and see a Plesiosaur swishing by, just under those clouds. Drive safe now, and watch for deer!

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