Gypsum Hills Wildlife Drive
The small blue fruits of the cedars provide food for one of the state's more unexpected wildlife species. During the winter months, flocks of mountain bluebirds are hundreds of miles from their usual haunts. They perch on roadside fences, hover over the prairie, and feed in the cedars. The cedars also attract wintering American robins, cedar waxwings, and Townsend's solitaires.
Be watching for armadillos, wild turkeys, deer, roadrunners, black-tailed prairie dogs, and elusive bobcats and coyotes. Under many of the area's bridges, cliff swallows build large colonies of gourd-shaped mud nests. Of special interest are the Texas horned lizards, collared lizards, western rattlesnakes, and tarantulas sometimes found by observant travelers.
No developed trails, but take the time to walk these seldom-traveled roads.
Directions: This interesting 49 mile drive begins in Hardtner (23 miles south of Medicine Lodge on U.S. 281). Most of the route is unpaved, but well maintained. Still, exercise caution if road conditions are wet.
Begin in Hardtner on Central Ave, which is the main east-west road. (The street name changes to Hackberry Road outside town.) The land is fairly flat for several miles before you get into the hills. As you do, you will begin noticing tall, substantial fences. These are to keep in the bison on the 38,000 acre Z Bar ranch, which Ted Turner acquired in 2000. Be watching for a chance to see some of the herd. At 11.1 miles, check under the bridge over the Salt Fork of the Arkansas River for thousands of cliff swallow nests. At ~19 miles, turn right on Aetna Road. After a couple miles, you begin descending into the valley of the Salt Fork of the Arkansas River, offering sweeping vistas to the east and west. At 24.4 miles from Hardtner you will find a few buildings marking the remnants of Aetna. You will find Deerhead (just one building) at 36.7 miles and U.S. 160 at 39.7 miles. To explore further, take U.S. 160 west 1.2 miles and travel north 7 miles to Sun City. (In Sun City,Buster's is a good choice for lunch.) From Sun City, you may either backtrack to the highway, or drive east down the Medicine River valley road to Medicine Lodge.
Anywhere along this drive is a great spot to enjoy a Kansas sunset! In the evening twilight, watch for bats fluttering overhead near streams as they emerge from the many hidden caves in the hills.
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