Monday, January 25, 2010

In the Beginning: Kansas Geology

Elk County Scene from KGS website
Before the people. Before the waving grasses blown by the wind. Before the buffalo... there was the land.

What's so special about the land that makes up Kansas? It's a flat, uninteresting checkerboard of fields and rangeland marked off by right-angled roads extending as far as the eye can see, isn't it? No! This is the stereotypical view most Americans have of Kansas from movies such as "The Wizard of Oz" or glancing down from an airliner flying from one coast to the other.

As with anything worth a closer look, understanding the lay of the land in Kansas often requires taking the next exit off an Interstate highway, pulling over to the side of a two-lane road, getting out of your car and opening your eyes, ears and mind to the rich diversity of seemingly subtle changes around you.

Below are links to some resources on Kansas geology. Basic information, graphics and references will give you an opportunity to dig down into the rich layers of geological history that have formed the different regions that make up the Kansas landscape.


Kansas Geological Survey
(Maps, research publications, databases, graphics, informative web pages, etc. The Survey provides a wealth of information on the geology of Kansas, much of it available online, held by libraries or for sale from the Survey.)

GeoKansas: a Place to Learn About Kansas Geology
(GeoKansas is a branch of the Geology Extension program at the Kansas Geological Survey, designed to provide regionally focused information about the state's geology.)
Included here:
--Geologic Regions
--Places to Visit
--Rocks and Minerals
--Geo Topics
--Field Trips
--Glossary of Geological Terms

Geologic Regions of Kansas
("Kansas embraces a wide variety of landscapes, shaped by geologic processes in the past and more recently by human activities, such as farming and mining. Based on common landscape features and geological history, geologists have divided Kansas into the 11 different regions shown on the map. These regions (sometimes called physiographic provinces) each tell a unique story about Kansas geology.")

Physiographic Map of Kansas
(The Kansas landscape was formed by alternating periods of deposition and erosion. This landscape divides regions of Kansas according to physical geology, or physiography. Each region is different, and that difference is determined largely by geology, along with other factors such as climate.)

Kansas Physiographic Provinces
(Another map of physiographic regions. This one includes a link to an easily printed pdf (Adobe Acrobat) map. Supplied by the US Dept. of Agriculture.)

Kansas Photos from the Kansas Geological Survey
(A cool list of photos accessible by subject areas, counties, highways and physiographic regions.)

Kansas Geologic Timetable
(This chart is available as an 8½ by 11 inch sheet. Single copies of the sheet are free; multiple copies are 10 cents each. Contact the Publications Sales Office of the Kansas Geological Survey for more information.)

Geology of Kansas
(Information from Wapedia.)

Earth Science Department, Emporia State University
(The Department's website is a treasure trove of information on Kansas geology. You can find virtual tours of the ESU Johnston Geology Museum and the Creager Kansas Rock Garden there. Links take you to sites covering related topics such as kite aerial photography, remote sensing and the World of Amber. Student and staff publications are also available.)

Online Research Projects by Students,
Emporia State University, Earth Science Department
(An excellent collection of projects and reports covering many different aspects of Kansas earth science.)

The Osage Cuestas of Southeast Kansas, Legacy of an Ancient Sea
(Information from James Whittington, Emporia State University, 2007, about a physiographic region of eastern Kansas.)

Post Rock Limestone
(Information supplied at the Rush County Historical Society's website on the origins of post rock limestone.)

Oceans of Kansas
(Kansas paleontology with a strong dose of geology on the Western Inland Sea which covered the state millions of years ago. A great site for the curious as well as the studious based on the book, Oceans of Kansas.)


Adams, George Irving. 1903. The Physiographic Divisions of Kansas. Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science 18:109-123.

"As we Venture Across the State From East to West, We Find Ourselves
Climbing the Stairsteps of History
Kansas heritage. Vol. 13, no. 2 (summer 2005) p. 6-7

Buchanan, Rex. (Ed.). (1984). Kansas Geology: An introduction to landscapes, rocks, minerals and fossils. Kansas Geological Survey Publication, University Press of Kansas.

Buchanan, Rex. (Ed.). (1986). Kansas Rocks and Minerals. (Rev. Ed). Kansas Geological Survey Publication, University Press of Kansas.

Buchanan, Rex. Roadside Kansas: a Traveler's Guide to its Geology and Landmarks. Lawrence, Kan. : University Press of Kansas for the Kansas Geological Survey (1987)

Everhart, Michael J. Oceans of Kansas: a Natural History of the Western Interior Sea. Bloomington : Indiana University Press. (2005)

Geological Structure [of Kansas]
(From: William G. Cutler's History of the State of Kansas
was first published in 1883 by A. T. Andreas, Chicago, IL.)

Hay, Robert. Geology and Mineral Resources of Kansas (From the Eighth Biennial Report of the State Board of Agriculture, 1891-92. 1893.)
(The economic possibilities under foot as seen by 19th century Kansans.)

Heat Moon, William Least. PrairyErth (a deep map) : an Epic History of the Tallgrass Prairie Country. Houghton Mifflin, Boston. 1991
(A deep map look at Chase County, Kansas. “PrairyErth is a vigorous and exalted evocation of the American land, its people, its past, its hopes. The very word ‘prairyerth,’ an old geologic term for the soils of our central grasslands, captures the essence of the American tall-grass country."...From the dust jacket)

Kedzie, William K. The Elements of Agricultural Geology for the Schools of Kansas Wilson, Hinkle & Co. (1877)
(Kansas geology as taught in the public schools in the 1800s.)

Lee, W. & Merriam, D.F. Cross sections in eastern Kansas. Kansas Geological Survey Publication, University Press of Kansas. (1954).

Merriam, D.F. The Geologic History of Kansas. State Geological Survey Publication, University of Kansas Publications, Lawrence, KS. (1963).

Mudge, Benjamin Franklin. First Annual Report on the Geology of Kansas / issued by the first Kansas State Geologist. (1866).
(Mudge was the first State Geologist of Kansas. A look at how early Kansans saw the geology of Kansas)

Wooster, Lyman Child. The Geological Story of Kansas. Crane & Company. (1900).

Zeller, D.E. The Stratigraphic Succession in Kansas. Kansas Geological Survey Publication, University of Kansas Publications, Lawrence, KS.

Article contact: Bill Sowers


  1. Please don't forget PrairyErth: (a deep map)/William Least Heat-Moon. He writes about the characters of Chase County, Kansas and also the time before the people. As a fairly new resident of Cottonwood Falls in 1991 I found his approach spellbinding.

  2. Good suggestion! I'll put that up among the links. Thanks