Project Summit: Mount Sunflower, KS


A little bit of background... I'm going to talk about my dad's death, but I promise this isn't going to be depressing.  After Papa died last year, I spent a lot of time in self-examination.  For the first time, I started to think of my own life as a truly finite thing.  What do I want to do with the rest of it?  Some of the goals I set were professional, some were things that I want for my family.  And some were just things that I decided I wanted to do.  In that last category was the idea that launched this project: Project Summit.

Put briefly, my goal is to go to the highest point in each of the 50 states.  This is the biggest undertaking I've ever personally taken on; I expect it's going to take me several years, but I'm really excited to start planning for this.  Some are going to be easy (there's a surprising number that you drive right up to), and some will be an incredible challenge (you can't even set foot on Mt. McKinley in Alaska without a guide and an expedition).  But I'm going to write about each of them here.

Monday was my second highpoint.  (The first one was actually in August, and I'll fill you in on it soon.)  I had this week off of work, so my plan was to drop the kids at school on Monday morning, drive to Mount Sunflower, KS, camp out overnight in the Cimarron National Grassland, and then return home on Tuesday.

At 4,039 feet, Mount Sunflower is actually the twenty-eighth tallest of the state highpoints.  And yet, when you see it... Well, just wait until you see the pictures.  When you visit it, there's nothing to suggest that you're someplace high.  The only reason that this is the tallest point in Kansas is because it's right on the border of Colorado, which you're able to see from the highpoint.  Mount Sunflower (named for the state flower of Kansas) is located on private property, in the middle of a family farm, but the landowners have been kind enough to embrace the public's interest in the site, and have made it into a neat destination.  There's a marker there with an eight foot tall sunflower made out of railroad spikes, and a picnic table where you can relax for a few minutes.  I have to say that for a place that would otherwise be unremarkable, it was really beautiful in its own way.  It was quiet and tranquil, the air was crisp, and you could see forever in every direction.

I called my manager, who grew up in Kansas, and also made a phone call to the only other Kansans I know, signed the register, and then got back into the car.  By the time I reached the grassland, I still felt really alert, so I pushed through to Lubbock so that I could sleep beside Courtney.  Fourteen hours behind the wheel, 907.2 miles on the trip meter, and one more highpoint crossed off the list.

I'm going to be straight with you here - it's a seven hour drive from Lubbock to Mt. Sunflower, with very, very little between the two places.  Although this was a really exciting trip for me, being a part of my project and all, there's just not much to tell you about the journey in any way that would make it exciting.  I'm going to let the pictures do most of the talking for me on this one.  Click on any of them to get a bigger view!
State line of Kansas
I've always taken a strange kind of pride in the flatness of West Texas, but it has nothing on Kansas.  That place is like the surface of the freaking moon.
My manager is a Wildcat, so I picked up a little souvenir for him.
This is the point where you turn off of the highway and drive on gravel the rest of the way.
Getting close
The final turn
There she is, Mount Sunflower!
A closer shot of the marker
And a closer shot of the sunflower
A memorial marker
Closer shot of the memorial
The mailbox that contains the highpoint register
I was interested to see that I wasn't the first person to have visited that day.  I'll be even more interested to see if the website gets any hits from adding the URL.
The landowners left a friendly note in the mailbox for visitors to read.

The intrepid explorer takes a self-shot.
And one more before getting back in the car
Sunset over the Kansas plains.  I love the way that the color splits into three separate bands: earth and sky, with the sun in between.
907.2 miles on the trip meter at the end of the day
Two more things that I want to leave you with...
First, I just have to give you some idea of the vast, wide-open FLATNESS of this place.  Click here for an interactive panoramic view.
Second, although it'll probably be spring before I'm able to get any more trips in, I'm really excited about this project and about sharing it with you.  One down, forty-nine to go!


Anonymous said...

Very cool!! Excited to read along!

Becca said...

Great project! I love that you did all this in one day. We drove from St. Louis to Austin in one day this summer, with all of the kids. It was an experience! And I would have never known about Mt. Sunflower if not for you, so thanks!!

Jane Nelson Bromley said...

Might as well get those hard ones out of the way first! Love the blog and the photos. :)

Andrea G. said...

Seems like an awesome adventure! And how amazing is your wife to go along with this? maybe family vacays can be mixed in with the project.
There's something about the scope and vastness of the plains that is beautiful. I'm not there very much, but it has a hold on my soul. . .
I love that you added your website to the log. :) Happy travels!!

curlymarcy said...

Exciting project! Looking forward to the next 49!

Lark said...

Hi - I am a 3rd cousin to the wife of the family that owns Mt. Sunflower. We heard there had been damage to the marker in 2011, but from your pictures it appears to be replaced. Thanks for your post!

Danny said...

Lark, thanks for YOUR post!

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