Thursday, May 30, 2013

Sightseeing In Our Own Backyard

We don't want our cattle to be tourists at the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. Several cow-calf pairs are at their summer "vacation" home, munching grass in a pasture that borders the refuge.

However, we hope to leave the tourist excursions for the humans.
The Quivira National Wildlife Refuge really is our neighbor. It consists of 22,135 acres in Stafford, Rice and Reno Counties.

People in Orlando don't go to Disney World. Those in San Antonio don't visit the Alamo until they have out-of-town guests. San Franciscans don't go to the Golden Gate Bridge unless they need to go across it to get where they're going.

Those of us who live in close proximity don't always take advantage of tourist attractions in our own backyards. So, Randy and I decided to take an afternoon drive several weeks ago. It's likely greener now. Sorry I didn't get the photos posted back then. Still, even with a brown backdrop, the refuge is a beautiful place for an afternoon drive.
Though water levels are still lower than normal because of two-plus summers of drought, the marshes are rebounding after the late winter snows and early spring rains.
Near the confluence of  the Rattlesnake Creek and the Arkansas River in central Kansas, water remains the great driver of a diverse complex of salt marsh and unique native sand prairie community that is Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. The combination of these productive habitats as well as the refuge's mid-continent location continue to attract millions of birds needing to replenish essential reserves and to find protection in the mosaic of largely open grasses, sedges, rushes and water. 

For visitors, each moment is unique -- the smell of the moist earth and salty air, the primitive call of a crane, the whispering bluestem, the cacophony of geese, the early steps of a snowy plover chick or the discovery of a subtle pattern or design in nature.
From the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Draft Comprehensive Conservation Plan & Environmental Assessment
In May 1955, the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission approved the establishment of the Great Salt Marsh National Wildlife Refuge to recognize two unique, historic salt marsh and salt flat areas, the Big Salt Marsh and the Little Salt Marsh. In 1958, the name was changed to Quivira National Wildlife Refuge after the Spanish term for the area.
The Spanish word "Quivira" is a form of the Native American name, "Kirikuru," which is what local people called themselves when the Spanish explorer Don Francisco Vasquez de Coronado visited the region in 1541 in search of the fabled Seven Cities of Cibola. Instead of gold, he found grasslands and wildlife. After his expedition left, only a few trappers and explorers came to the area until the mid-1800s.

The General Land Survey was conducted in the region in 1871, evaluating its suitability for farming and grazing. One surveyor noted:

Section 17, T22S, R11W (2 miles weest of what is now the Migrants' Mile area): "All pure sand without any vegetation. All hills and hollows. Constantly drifting. Worthless."

The first European settlement in Stafford County occurred in the 1860s. By 1876, a few people located near the Big Salt Marsh. A company was organized for the purpose of manufacturing salt, which was soon found to be unprofitable. Homesteaders began using the marshes and grasslands for pastures, hay land and cattle production. Besides agricultural uses, the salt marshes were used for commercial and recreational waterfowl hunting after the turn of the 20th century.**

The Refuge is a stopping point for migratory birds. But you can see lots of other animals during an afternoon drive, including deer.
We got an up-close-and-personal look at this turtle who had taken a break along one of the roads at the Big Salt Marsh. It looked like he'd had a rough life, with his shell showing some wear and tear.
For more information about Quivira, visit their website. There's a Visitor's Center located at the south end of the Refuge, overlooking Little Salt Marsh. Normal hours are Monday through Friday, 7:30 AM to 4 PM, but it is sometimes open on weekends during spring and fall.  Call the Refuge, 620-486-2393, during weekly business hours to get any updates on operational hours. Quivira is part of the Wetlands and Wildlife Scenic Byway.
One of my Quivira sunset photos from 2010
** Historical information was taken from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Draft Comprehensive Conservation Plan & Environmental Assessment, a 263-page document.


  1. Some of the best trips we've taken have been short day trips around Stafford. About a year before Dad died we brought our granddaughters for a visit & the highlight was our visit to Quivira. Dad & the girls had so much fun spotting critters, feathers, & running on the trails. We also used Stafford as a home base for our mini eco-vacation a few years ago. Some of the best times we had as kids were when we piled into the car & just drove around the county. It is truly a fascinating place if you are just open to seeing it. I'm hoping that we'll be able to do a bit of that "tourism" thing while we are in Stafford in June. Of course, for me, one of the best things is seeing all the waving wheat. It is a sight that just can't be beat.

    1. We used to go for "Sunday drives" when I was a kid. I probably didn't appreciate them as much as I should have at the time. Likely, I took my book along and had my nose stuck in it. This year, your trip to Stafford will be a little prettier since we've gotten some rain. (By the way, Happy Anniversary to you and Terry a few days late. I saw it on the calendar, but I didn't have your email! Hope it was a great day!)

  2. Loved those "Sunday drives" as a kid. We are anxious to head your way next Friday to see the waving wheat. Hopefully we'll get to see you & Randy at church on the 9th.

    Thanks for the anniversary wishes. We celebrated 37 years by keeping our grandsons this week. I am thinking our trip to Stafford will involve some naps & rest to catch up from this week.

    1. Randy will be there. I won't. I'm going to Chicago to visit one of my sisters (traveling with the other sister and one of her daughters). I'm sorry I'm going to miss you at church! I understand about the fatigue. My back is feeling my weekend with Kinley. Totally worth it, though!! How long are you going to be in Stafford?

  3. We'll be in Stafford until the 13th. Enjoy your trip.