Thursday, August 27, 2015

Castle Rock

Old photograph of Castle Rock
Returning from a niece's recent wedding in Colorado, we spotted a sign directing travelers to Castle Rock.  How many times do all of us take for granted interesting places and events in our general area, thinking we will visit them another time or just taking them for granted because they are nearby?  We had heard about Castle Rock, and we must have passed that sign other times when we were traveling the interstate, but we had hurried by without noticing.  Perhaps like those other times when we kept driving, we were tired and eager to get home, but when my husband asked, "Shall we go see it?" I replied, "Let's do it!"  We left the paved road behind and were on our way

Near Castle Rock, credit Lyn Fenwick
The region in which Castle Rock is located is known as the Smoky Hills of Kansas, and the outcroppings of limestone rocks in what is primarily pasture land present a very different terrain from the sandy loam fields around Isaac Werner's old homestead.  After driving 14 miles we saw a small sign directing us to turn left toward Castle Rock, and when we spotted the outcropping of limestone rock pictured at right, we assumed we were getting close.

Castle Rock is located on private land, and there are no large billboards to direct visitors.  Eventually we saw another small sign indicating we needed to turn left again, and we pulled onto a smaller road which was barely more than what a cattleman might use to get back to his pasture to tend his livestock.  At last we saw two parked cars, and we pulled alongside and walked up a bluff.  Looking off to the north, we got our first glimpse of Castle Rock.
Our first glimpse of Castle Rock, credit Larry Fenwick

We could see roads around Castle Rock, so while I paused to take photographs, my husband went exploring to find the access to those roads.  Castle Rock is a limestone formation weathered by wind and water to create what reminded people of a castle and resulted in its name.  Obviously that weathering continues, and the effects can be exacerbated by people climbing on the rocks.  If you study my photographs closely and compare them with the older photograph at the top of the blog, you may see that one of the castle-like shapes at the top of a pillar is gone, having fallen after a thunderstorm in 2001, perhaps having been weakened by climbers.

Photo credit:  Lyn Fenwick
Castle Rock is located north and west of Isaac Werner's claim, too far for it to be likely that he ever saw it.  However, many early settlers did, for it was a landmark on the Butterfield Overland Dispatch route (also known as the Overland Trail). 

Imagine travelers crossing the prairie without the paved roads and signage that we have.  Well-traveled routes surely had wheel ruts to help guide them, but those may have been hidden by the prairie grass or faint in rocky soil.  Natural landmarks were their guides, and the towering Castle Rock must have been a welcome sight to many travelers.

Pond Creek Station near Wallace, KS
Even more welcoming may have been the  stations built along the stagecoach route.  Today one of the Butterfield Overland Dispatch stage company buildings has been preserved, not far from its original location.  Located on US Highway 40 in Wallace County, KS, the station was built in 1865.  It survived being moved in 1871 and 1898, finally being returned to near its original location.  The restoration still retains bullet holes from Indian attacks.

We were glad we took the time to deviate from our route in order to see Castle Rock.  Standing on the bluff, we could see for miles, and it was easy to imagine what a courageous undertaking it must have been for the early settlers to leave family and familiar settings behind and strike out for a new life in faraway places they knew only from often exaggerated descriptions in newspapers and promotional flyers.  For many, perhaps most of them, it meant saying good-bye for the last time to family members and friends.

Photo credit:  Lyn Fenwick
We were glad we added a few hours to our journey in order to see Castle Rock and to reflect on the early pioneers like Isaac B. Werner and some of our own family members who made the journey West.  But, we were also glad to get back to the interstate and make the journey to our home in air-conditioned comfort and in time to sleep comfortably in our own bed!

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