Rocky Mountain Region Viewing Area

LOCATION and PHOTOS

Astragalus missouriensis.
Missouri milkvetch (Astragalus missouriensis) appears in the shortgrasss prairie and in thin soil area where rocks crop out. Photo by Steven Olson.

Mentzelia decapetala.
Tenpetal blazingstar (Mentzelia decapetala) flowers fully open late in the day. Photo by Steven Olson.

Lithospermum incisum.
The showy yellow flowers of narrowleaf stoneseed (Lithospermum incisum) are followed by small, shiny, white “stone” seeds. Photo by Steven Olson.

Point-of-Rocks

By Steve Olson

Forest: Cimarron National Grassland

District: Cimarron National Grassland

Description: Point-of-Rocks is on the edge of escarpment rising about 100 feet above the bed of the Cimarron River in far southwestern Kansas. The top of the escarpment is covered by shortgrass prairie dominated by blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis), the slopes are steep and rocky, and the riverbed is dominated by plains cottonwood (Populus deltoides ssp. monilifera). A cover of wind-blown loess deposits becomes very thin at the edge of the bluff line. The edge of the escarpment is comprised of sandstone and gypsum. This area was a major landmark along the Cimarron Cutoff of the Santa Fe Trail.

Wildflower Viewing: Like most of the shortgrass prairie region, the best wildflower viewing is in late spring while winter soil moisture is still present. There is a secondary period of blooming in late summer after the seasonal rains return. The prairie in this area dominated by blue grama has a number of common forbs including Missouri milkvetch (Astragalus missouriensis), lavenderleaf sundrops (Calylophus lavandulifolius), plains springparsley (Cymopterus acaulis), nylon hedgehog cactus (Echinocereus viridiflorus), sanddune wallflower (Erysimum capitatum), rose heath (Chaetopappa ericoides), dotted blazing star (Liatris punctata), tenpetal blazingstar (Mentzelia decapetala), and Rocky Mountain zinnia (Zinnia grandiflora). As the soil becomes thinner near the rock outcrops, other species become more frequent, such as James’ buckwheat (Eriogonum jamesii), Dakota mock vervain (Glandularia bipinnatifida), Fendler’s bladderpod (Lesquerella fendleri), narrowleaf stoneseed (Lithospermum incisum), and stemless four-nerve daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis).

Safety First: Hot and dry conditions are typical of the plains. The greatest safety concerns are sunburn and dehydration, so drink plenty of water and use sunscreen. Prairie rattlesnakes may be present in the area, but these are not aggressive: just watch your step.

Directions: From Elkhart, Kansas, proceed north on KS-27 about eight miles to NFS Road-600. Turn left (west) and go about two miles to the site.

Ownership and Management: U.S. Forest Service, Cimarron National Grassland; (620) 697-4621.

Closest Town: Elkhart, Kansas.