We got a good night’s sleep, broke camp and got the horses loaded easily. This was going to be a long day, heading north up to Kansas. Our destination is Strong City, in the heart of the Flint Hills. The distance, 333 miles. Close to 8 hours away. Fortunately, the temperature improved as we drove north and it was a comfortable 82 degrees when we pulled up to the Flint Hills Rodeo Arena, where our host had arranged us to stay. There was no rodeo going on, so it was empty and we had our choice of stalls and were able to hook up next to the arena. This was a PRCA arena grounds which was pretty cool! We had it all to ourselves. Riding in an actual rodeo arena seemed like a great idea, so as the sun was beginning to set, we quickly saddled up and rode around–that was fun!
So, why did we route our journey west by going north to the Flint Hills of Kansas? The Flint Hills of Southeast Kansas are the some of the last remaining natural tall grass prairie in the U.S. Much of the Flint Hills are privately owned, with the exception of the Tall Grass National Prairie Preserve. Having the opportunity to be taken on a horse ride on privately owned ranch land was a very unique opportunity. Through a bit of digging and research, we heard about Rex Buchman and he offered to take us on a ride on the Flint Hills–on his family’s 2400 acre cattle ranch. Rex and his wife welcomed us warmly and we also had the honor of meeting his parents who have been ranching this land all their lives. Rex had spent many years in New Mexico, coaching horsemanship with a university agricultural extension program. He became the “county agent” and initiated the idea for a “Billy the Kid” ride which was featured in Western Horseman Magazine. As the years passed he wanted to return to his family ranch in the Flint Hills. He explained that the minimum size of a thriving cattle ranch is 300 head and each head requires approximately 8-14 acres of open range land. Therefore, 2400 acres is not enough and to augment income provided by their 160 head, he decided to focus on ecotourism and take tourists like us on Flint Hills trail rides. They also own a beautiful turn of the century stone home which they have turned into a thriving Bed and Breakfast Inn appropriately named “Stonehouse B and B” in Cottonwood Falls. He also takes people on cattle drives–“Cowgirl Day Camp”–also featured in magazines.
The Buchman family settled in the Flint Hills as immigrants from Germany. The old stone barn, beautifully cared for, was built in 1907 and the Sears and Roebuck house built in 1933 a testament to fortitude and dedication to the land…The Bar U Ranch, is one of the largest in the Hills and it was an honor to meet Mrs. Mary Buchman who was an infant during the very difficult “dust bowl” years of the 30s. She recalled her mother having to cover her crib with wet towels to keep the dust off of her, and she was 10 years old when the locusts descended on them and devoured everything in sight. Her bright eyes reflected the setting sun as she recalled these early memories and her final words to me were “I’m so pleased you could ride on these beautiful hills….nothing more beautiful than what you see all around us.” I could not disagree. Another “Unforgettable Character” for sure.