In the past few weeks I have had the good fortune to visit several different prairies, each under different circumstances, all of them delightful in their own way. Here’s a tale of 3 prairies for you, in hopes you become inspired to visit these places as well!
Willa Cather Memorial Prairie
Webster Co., Nebraska
I had just finished up the last few pages of Cather’s well-loved novel My Antonia as we rolled into the city of Red Cloud. A friend and I made a day trip to Webster County to take in the sights and sounds of Cather’s world, including this prairie just west of town which may have been the inspiration for some of her famous descriptions of plains life. If you are a lover of the prairie, you need to put Willa Cather’s work on your reading list immediately, then scurry up to Nebraska and tour her hometown, Red Cloud, (renamed “Black Hawk” in My Antonia) which is also the home of the Willa Cather Foundation. There you can have a personalized tour of her childhood home, church, and neighborhood along with the opera house and historic bank building, all still in turn of the century style. While hiking in her short, windy memorial prairie I saw lots of familiar species – silver sage (Artemisia ludoviciana), purple poppy mallow (Callirhoe involucrata) and little bluestem (Schizachrium scoparium).
Tall Grass Prairie
Chase Co., Kansas
I wasn’t planning on going to the Symphony in the Flint Hills, but through the kindness of an acquaintance two tickets fell into my lap, free of charge. So with lawn chairs in tow my date and I headed out to a pasture near Clements, KS in Chase county. There was delicious BBQ to be had and an art gallery and information tent to peruse before and after the concert. The music was provided by the Kansas City Symphony; gorgeous selections were wonderfully preformed, including American folk tunes and well known tracks from Dances With Wolves and Indiana Jones. Top it all off with a live cattle drive on the hill behind the stage and the music bouncing off the hills around you, it was the perfect afternoon. The weather even cooperated – I never broke a sweat! The prairie was looking lush from recent rains; I couldn’t help but geek out on the species I recognized on the 3/4 mile walk back to the car – blue false indigo (Baptisia australis) and spider milkweed (Asclepias viridis). Save up some cash and treat yourself to this art-filled prairie experience next year!
Maxwell Wildlife Refuge
McPherson Co., Kansas
During the EPS week here at the Arboretum, I had the privilege of chauffeuring some of the participants on their field trip to Maxwell Wildlife Preserve. A good day at work, to be sure! It’s a beautiful expanse of preserved prairie that is home to Elk and Bison.
The tour guides were charismatic and knowledgeable, providing a history of the refuge and a natural history of the land. The prairie there is healthy and diverse, giving us a look at butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa), lead plant (Amorpha canacens), goats rue (Tepherosia virginiana) and rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium).
Each prairie region has its own unique charms, from thick tall grass areas in the east to short and scrubby land in the west – Carve out some time this summer to visit and compare!