South of Oakley, the road bolts straight for over 20 miles, passing between an enormous sea of yellow flowers (in early summer) on one side and expanses of open range on the other. Later, the scenery peters out into a prickly, dry, faintly yellow rocky desolation that signals the fringes of the Smoky Hills region.
The prime topographical feature of the Smoky Hills is the surreal Chalk Pyramids, also known as Monument Rocks; they are referred to in the old WPA Guide to Kansas as the “Kansas Pyramids.” Whatever you call them, these highly eroded geological formations, which reach heights of 70 feet above the plains, are composed of layers of ancient seabed from the Cretaceous period and were originally formed 80 million years ago. The impressive spires, karst-like formations, and shale cliffs farther on have yielded thousands of excellent fossils of sharks, shark teeth, fish, and reptiles. Although the pyramids are on private land, access is not restricted, but there are no facilities. To get there from Oakley, drive 20 miles south on US-83, then east for 4 miles on Jayhawk Road, around 3 miles south (on Gove 14) and another mile east (on Gove 16). From Scott City, drive 18 miles north, turn east on Dakota Road, and zigzag east and north for around 9 miles. Don’t go in wet weather, however, or you’ll get stuck in the mud, and you could be there for some time.
You can get some good maps and directions at the friendly Keystone Gallery (620/872-2762), “conveniently located in the middle of nowhere,” midway between Oakley and Scott City along US-83; the gallery also has a display of fossils, and you can enjoy a sampling of local art and sculpture as well.