Nature Conservancy / Smoky Valley Ranch

Site Information

Location: From US-83, turn west on Seneca Road, proceed approximately 7 miles to Co Rd 370. Turn south and proceed approximately 5 miles to Plains Road. Turn west and proceed 2 miles to Co Rd 350. Turn south and the entrance to the kiosk that marks the beginning of the walking trails will be approximately 2 miles on the east side of the road. From US-40, turn south on 350th Road (Monument road) 15 miles to the Kiosk that marks the beginning of the Walking Trail on the east side of the road.

GPS Coordinates: N 38º 51.641' W 100º 58.960'

Intrinsic Qualities:

Site Logistics:

  • Hiking available: 2 new hiking loops are open at the ranch. Prairie vistas and chalk bluffs greet hikers as they wind their way around the 2 trail loops. The first loop is a 1/2 mile hike, the second, a 5 mile trip.
  • Approximately 15 miles to reach the hiking trails from US-40 onto 350th Road south. There is parking and a kiosk on the east side of the road. Trails are self-guided.
  • There are no fees to hike the trail loops. The Conservancy asks that the visitor respect the rules of the trails by not bringing pets, bicycles, or other vehicles. There is no camping at the ranch. Also, visitors are asked not to remove any keepsakes from the trails.

The Smoky Valley Ranch preserves an almost vanished site of bison roaming the prairie. This ranch is more than a short grass prairie, dramatic chalk bluffs overlook large expanses of grassland, rocky ravines and the Smoky Hill River. Breaks along the upper reaches of the river represent a transition zone between mixed grass and short grass prairie environments.

Pre-Historic History: The chalk badlands along the Smoky Hill River contain a rich fossil record of animals that lived in a vast inland sea that covered Kansas during the Cretaceous Period, some eighty (80) million years ago. The Cretaceous Period was part of the Age of Reptiles, an era famous for its dinosaurs. Although dinosaurs were restricted to landmasses far from Western Kansas, their marine representatives – mosasaurs and plesiosaurs roamed the seas. Besides these large marine reptiles, huge turtles, sharks, flying reptiles, giant clams, and toothed-birds inhabited the area. Because fossil remains are so well-preserved and scientifically significant, the chalk badlands are among the world’s most famous locations for fossils from this era.

A Paleoindian site, the first physical evidence that humans inhabited North America at the end of the last Ice Age, was unearthed on Smoky Valley Ranch in 1895. This discovery contradicted contemporary theory and was not confirmed until 13 years later when a similar discovery was made in Folsom, New Mexico.

Modern History: Since man first visited this area, the banks of the Smoky Hill River have served as an east-west highway. Mounted Arapahos and Cheyenne, Charles Fremont, Kit Carson, Wild Bill Hickok, the 7th Calvary of George Custer (including William F. Cody) and the 10th Calvary (buffalo soldiers) rode the Smoky Hill Trail many times through The Smoky Valley Ranch in the late 1860s. The Butterfield Overland Dispatch stage line passed through and stopped at a way station, located on the ranch, to change horses and drivers. Beginning in the late 1800s, a number of African-American settlers consisting of approximately 100 families, settled on and around the ranch. Two brothers from a nearby black settlement quarried the stone and built the current ranch headquarters in the early 1900s.

Now owned and operated by the Nature Conservancy, headquartered in Elkader Township, Logan County, on the Smoky Hill (Butterfield) Trail. The Smoky Hill Station on Butterfield‘s Overland Despatch was located approximately 1 mile west of the ranch headquarters. The short-line railroad operated as the Colorado, Kansas and Oklahoma (C, K & O) Railroad Company, and ran through current ranch property.

In 1885, Noah Zeigler homesteaded the section upon where the ranch headquarters is located. The two-story ranch house, constructed of native limestone, was built on the original Zeigler homestead in 1908-1909 by Nelson Sowell, a prominent member of Logan County‘s black community, for Frank and William Spencer from Bloomington, Indiana.

The property contains approximately 4,000 acres.  Twelve-Mile Creek flows through the ranch and was the site of a significant archeological find in 1895. It was at the base of a bluff, on the creek, where the earliest scientific discovery in North America of a man-made artifact with the remains of an animal, long extinct, (the Bison occidentalis), was made. An arrow point was impacted in a bone of the Bison, this species became extinct 8,000 years ago. The kill took place when the site was a pine parkland, approximately 10,300 years ago.

The Nature Conservancy: This site was selected as it is a rare remnant of short grass prairie and home to the green toad, (a state threatened amphibian), and the swift fox. In addition to its biological significance, it is a living repository of geological, paleontological, archaeological, historical and cultural history. The land is home to many animals: prairie chickens, pronghorn, ferruginous hawks, burrowing owls, golden eagles, green toad, swift fox, and the most recent resident being the federally endangered black-footed ferret. The Smoky Valley Ranch preserve is a working model and catalyst for short grass prairie conservation. The Nature Conservancy works in partnership with private landowners and other conservation groups to foster conservation efforts in Western Kansas.

The Nature Conservancy has recently purchased Little Jerusalem. For more information, click here.

 To visit the site to watch the fly over, click here.

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