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Smoky Hills

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Title: Smoky Hills  
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Subject: Kansas, Mushroom Rock State Park, Saline River (Kansas), Plainville, Kansas, Smoky Hill River
Collection: Hills of Kansas, Regions of Kansas
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Smoky Hills

Smoky Hills
Country United States
State Kansas
Range coordinates
Parent range Great Plains

The Smoky Hills are an upland region of hills in the central Great Plains of North America. They are located in the central United States, encompassing north-central Kansas and a small portion of south-central Nebraska. The hills are a dissected plain covered by tallgrass and mixed-grass prairie. The Smoky Hills were formed by sedimentary deposits during the Cretaceous period and consist of chalk, limestone, and sandstone rock outcroppings.


  • Geography 1
  • Geology 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5


KDOT distance map color-coded by physiographic region showing the Smoky Hills (center)

The Smoky Hills region is part of the Plains Border subregion of the Great Plains.[1] It occupies nearly all of north-central Kansas, bordered on the west by the High Plains, on the northeast by the Dissected Till Plains, on the east by the Flint Hills, and on the south by the Arkansas River lowlands.[2] The region extends into south-central Nebraska, bordered on the north by the Rainwater Basin.[3] It consists of three belts of hills, all running southwest to northeast, which correspond to the underlying geological formations (see Geology). The Smoky Hills proper comprise the easternmost belt; the two western belts are known as the Blue Hills. The hills of the westernmost belt are also known as the Chalk Bluffs.[4] The Blue Hills escarpment forms the boundary with the High Plains to the west.[5] The Environmental Protection Agency divides the region into two ecoregions, the Smoky Hills proper constituting one in the east and the Blue Hills and Chalk Bluffs constituting the other, the Rolling Plains and Breaks ecoregion, in the west.[3]

The Republican, Saline, Solomon, and Smoky Hill Rivers flow eastward through the Smoky Hills from their sources in the High Plains. Beginning in the 1940s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation dammed these rivers at points in the Smoky Hills for flood control and irrigation purposes, creating several reservoirs.[6][7] These include Cedar Bluff Reservoir, Kanopolis Lake, Kirwin Reservoir, Waconda Lake, Webster Reservoir, and Wilson Lake.

Land use in the Smoky Hills consists primarily of cropland and rangeland.[3] The region is sparsely populated with numerous communities of varying size, but no large cities. The two largest communities in the Smoky Hills region are Salina, Kansas and Hays, Kansas.

Elevations in the Smoky Hills range from about 1,200 feet (370 m) in the river valley near Salina to about 2,400 feet (730 m) at the western edge of the region.[8]


The region is divided into three regions based on the underlying rock outcroppings: The Dakota Formation (sandstone), the Greenhorn Limestone and the Niobrara Chalk.[9]

The Dakota Formation forms the eastern region. This area includes the Smoky Hill buttes, which are capped by sandstone and provide a sharp contrast with the surrounding plains. One of the most notable buttes is Coronado Heights in Saline County.[9] There are concretions at Rock City in Ottawa County and Mushroom Rock State Park in Ellsworth County. These are cemented by calcium carbonate.[10]

The Greenhorn Limestone region in the central region is made up of thin—usually less than 6 inches (15 cm)—chalky limestone beds alternating with thicker beds of grayish shale. This area is known as post rock country due to the practice of early settlers using limestone for buildings and fenceposts since trees were scarce.[9]

The chalk beds of the Niobrara Chalk are exposed in bluffs of the western Solomon, Saline, and Smoky Hill Rivers and in an irregular belt in the west. This area includes such Kansas landmarks as Castle Rock and Monument Rocks in Gove County. The chalk beds are known for the late 19th and early 20th century excavations of exceptionally well-preserved fossils of marine reptiles such as the plesiosaurs and mosasaurs found in the uppermost member of the Niobrara Chalk, the Smoky Hill Chalk.[9]

See also


  1. ^ "Physiographic Regions". A Tapestry of Time and Terrain: The Union of Two Maps - Geology and Topography.  
  2. ^ "Geologic Regions". GeoKansas.  
  3. ^ a b c "Ecoregions of Nebraska and Kansas" (PDF).  
  4. ^ Metcalf, Artie L. (24 March 1966). "Fishes of the Kansas River System in Relation to Zoogeography of the Great Plains". University of Kansas Publications, Museum of Natural History 17 (3): 23–189. 
  5. ^ Adams, George I. (1902). "Physiographic Divisions of Kansas". Bulletin of the American Geographical Society (American Geographical Society) 34 (2): 89–104.  
  6. ^ "History of Kanopolis Dam".  
  7. ^ "Pick Sloan Missouri Basin Program Project".  
  8. ^ Topo USA, DeLorme, 6.0
  9. ^ a b c d Brosius, Liz. "GeoKansas--Smoky Hills--Intro:". Retrieved 2008-10-04. 
  10. ^ Brosius, Liz. "GeoKansas--Smoky Hills--Rocks and Minerals:". Retrieved 2008-10-04. 

External links

U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Smoky Hills

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