"If you're going to see Monument Rocks, be sure to stop by Keystone Gallery; the folks there have a lot of stories about the area," was the advice of the campground owner at our stay in Oakley, Kansas.
Well, we did visit Monument Rocks (see yesterday's entry), and decided to make the short six-mile drive to the Gallery on US 83 (about 26 miles south of Oakley).
The drive to the Gallery combined the High Plains, gravel roads, and fields of winter wheat.
From the road, we could see for miles. At one point in the expanse of the plains, the only signs of a human presence were the Prairie View Cemetery and a tractor (photo below).
I don't know if it is the romance of a slower pace of travel, but a drive through the countryside on a gravel road allows--no, requires--one to observe the scenes around him or her: the roads made only for farm implements to navigate,
the roads that only the locals know and that give visitors pause (the sign read: "Minimum Maintenance Travel At Your Own Risk"),
and roads that cut a path through the amber waves of grain, marking the dividing line between farms and replacing the function of fences.
The road was "advertised" as traveling four miles to the Keystone Gallery, but at several points, it seemed as there was no end in sight.
But as the four-mile indication appeared on the odometer, we crossed US 83 and arrived at the former International Apostolic Holiness Church, built in 1916. Over the years, the church became known simply as the Keystone Church, named after the nearby town of Keystone.
Services were held in the church until the early 1950s, but the church sat vacant until Barbara Shelton bought it in 1980. Since then, she and husband Chuck Bonner have built a national and international reputation for the Keystone Gallery as a site for fossil discoveries.
When we met them, Chuck, musician ("Lonesome" Chuck Bonner) and artist, and Barbara, photographer, had just returned from a fossil expedition "down the road." And it is this fossil interest that led to an extended conversation (more of a presentation) with us.
I could have taken many photo-graphs, but I felt I would be taking advantage of their kindness. Their work has been addressed in publications and presented before university and museum experts.
Chuck's prize discovery (shown here) is this twenty-foot Mosasaur fossil found in the nearby area. Mosasaurs are extinct aquatic reptiles resembling giant lizards with paddles. They were plentiful in the Niobrara Sea and were dangerous predators.
And speaking of the Niobrara Sea, we learned that 80 to 85 milion years ago the great Niobrara Sea, also known as The Western Interior Seaway, covered Middle America. Stretching from Utah to Iowa, this inland sea allowed water travel from the North Pole all the way to the equator.
Chuck and Barbara were two pleasant, personable people who could lead a fascinating fossil expedition for novices and hold the attention of national and international experts in the field of fossils. (We were fascinated with the accounts of their finds and did not ask to take photos of these two marvelous people in their fossil dig attire.)
We want to return for one of those fossil hunts.