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Gove County, Kansas

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Gove County, Kansas

In the middle of Western Kansas farmland in Gove County sits Monument Rocks, a chalk formation that peaks out of ground creating a strange landscape in this otherwise flat area, Jan. 26, 2008. Photo Vincent David Johnson.

This Western Kansas county has a few surprisingly cool stops despite being the 15th least populated county in the state.

Gove County isn’t one of the places you have to be going to, to get there. It also isn’t exactly a destination many people are heading to either. 

U.S. Route 40 has run through the very northern part of this square county for many years, connecting the few towns here to the east and west. However in 1956 Kansas built what is debated as being the first of the U.S. Interstates, I-70, combing it with Route 40. Like all interstates it created a new path that traveled around the towns, meaning more people than ever had a chance to check out some of the cool stops in Gove County, but also even more would just pass by never knowing what lay just off the exits.

This original stretch of U.S. Route 40 heading west into Quinter, Gove County, Kansas can give you a real feel for what it was like to travel back before the interstate system, or even paved roads, Sep. 4, 2020. Photo copyright of Vincent David Johnson.

Quinter, Kansas

If you’re like me,  you may have managed to stop somewhere in Gove County because you had been traveling on some back roads, like the original route of U.S. 40. Or if you’re also like me, a sucker for a good vintage ice cream stop, you may have seen a small billboard along I-70 advertising for an old fashion soda fountain at  Ray’s Pharmacy in Quinter, Kansas.

With roughly 1,000 people Quinter is the county’s largest town and right on Main Street is where you can find Ray’s Pharmacy. It’s a nondescript building that you’d probably pass up if you were hunting for unique stops, but it’s worth going inside, especially on a hot summer day. Ray’s has what you’d expect from a pharmacy; school supplies, toys for the kids, obviously your medicine, but also things you typically only see in small towns, like t-shirts for the local high school team, hunting supplies and ammo.

However the real reason to stop at Ray’s is the vintage wooded bar they’ve installed to give a real old school soda fountain experience while slurping down a shake or eating an ice cream sundae. 

The massive cement grain elevators of Quinter, Gove County, Kansas loom large over the town and can be seen quite easily from nearby Interstate 70. Photo copyright of Vincent David Johnson.
Driving through Quinter, Gove County, Kansas you wouldn’t think that Ray’s Pharmacy would be an old school stopping point, but inside the store is a vintage surprise. Photo copyright of Vincent David Johnson.
The vintage wood bar at the soda fountain in Ray’s Pharmacy in Quinter, Gove County, Kansas, is not a replica. Although it is not original to Ray’s or Kansas for that matter. It was purchased from an estate in California and trucked to Quinter. Photo copyright of Vincent David Johnson.
The vintage wood bar at the soda fountain in Ray’s Pharmacy in Quinter, Gove County, Kansas, is not a replica. Although it is not original to Ray’s or Kansas for that matter. It was purchased from an estate in California and trucked to Quinter. Photo copyright of Vincent David Johnson.
The vintage wood bar at the soda fountain in Ray’s Pharmacy in Quinter, Gove County, Kansas, is not a replica. Although it is not original to Ray’s or Kansas for that matter. Photo copyright of Vincent David Johnson.
A vanilla malt shake from Ray’s Pharmacy in Quinter, Gove County, Kansas. Photo copyright of Vincent David Johnson.
Ray’s Pharmacy in Quinter, Gove County, Kansas, has the toys and ice cream to make your cross Kansas road trip a fun one for the kidos. Photo copyright of Vincent David Johnson.

The friendly folks working at Ray’s the day I visited told me that while the wooden bar was not a replica, its previous location was in someone’s home in California. No word on where it originally came from, but the owner of Ray’s had been looking for an honest-to-goodness counter for the soda fountain and when they finally found one, they had it trucked to Quinter and installed. Now it’s one of only a few dozen soda fountains in Kansas, and worth a stop.

Castle Rock

The heart of Quinter is on Main Street, but the interstate exit is on Castle Rock Street which skirts the western edge of the town. While the north-south road will get you into town from the highway, taking it south of town will bring you to one of Gove County’s other must sees, Castle Rock and the surrounding badlands. 

The exit off of I-70 at Quinter, Gove County, Kansas has a Sinclair gas station with its signature green dinosaur statute out front. The Sinclair folks were years ahead on the selfie movement if you ask me. Photo copyright of Vincent David Johnson.

The chalk formations are from when this area was part of a shallow inland sea during the Cretaceous period (80 millions years ago). While wind and water eroded much of the sedimentary rock, this formation and the surrounding badland cliffs to the south remain and offer a unique chance to venture off the beaten path onto what would normal be private property.

In a shallow river valley surrounded by farmland and badlands is Castle Rock, one of two unique chalk rock formations in Gove County, Kansas. Photo copyright of Vincent David Johnson.
Things to know before heading to Castle Rock
  • This is private land, but is open to the public. 
  • No admission, or reservations needed.
  • There is working industry here, stay clear of oil wells, and keep an eye out for farm equipment & livestock.
  • There are no restrooms, garbage cans, or amenities for that matter. Bring what you need, leave only footprints.
  • AWD or 4×4 is recommended, but a Toyota Corolla made it down here while I was visiting. If it’s wet don’t chance it without 4 wheel drive. Be careful if you don’t have high ground clearance. Some paths have washout areas. 
The path down to Castle Rock can be little tough for cars without AWD or high ground clearance. Photo copyright of Vincent David Johnson.
  • There are two paths down the cliffs. If one looks rough, try the second option.
  • Signs going there are up, but don’t expect a big brown historical marker type sign with an arrow. Look for the welded iron arrows.

In a shallow river valley surrounded by farmland and badlands is Castle Rock, one of two unique chalk rock formations in Gove County, Kansas. Photo copyright of Vincent David Johnson.
In a shallow river valley surrounded by farmland and badlands is Castle Rock, one of two unique chalk rock formations in Gove County, Kansas. Photo copyright of Vincent David Johnson.
In a shallow river valley surrounded by farmland and badlands is Castle Rock, one of two unique chalk rock formations in Gove County, Kansas. Photo copyright of Vincent David Johnson.
Wild flowers growing in the shadow of Castle Rock, in Gove County, Kansas. Photo copyright of Vincent David Johnson.
A local man I talked to said when he was a little boy his dad would take him down to Castle Rock and they would find arrow heads and fossils. Photo copyright of Vincent David Johnson.

Monument Rocks

With U.S. Route 83 (an amazing Mexico to Canada trek everyone should take) running just west of the county line, you can actually take a quick detour down some country roads to see Monument Rocks, a much larger chalk formation on the western edge of Gove County.

Even though Monument Rocks is designated by the U.S Department of Interior as a National Landmark, it is on private land and just like Castle Rock you should act as such. That being said, Monument Rocks is much easier to get to as the gravel roads leading there are pretty flat. If you have time to see only one of the formations, this is the one.

The chalk formation Monument Rocks in Gove County, Kansas has been a National Landmark since 1968. Photo copyright of Vincent David Johnson.
The chalk formation Monument Rocks in Gove County, Kansas has been a National Landmark since 1968. Photo copyright of Vincent David Johnson.
A reference for size of the chalk formation Monument Rocks in Gove County, Kansas. Photo copyright of Vincent David Johnson.
Monument Rock in Gove County, Kansas.

 Photo by Vincent David Johnson.
The roads to Monument Rock in Gove County, Kansas are pretty easily traveled by most vehicles. Photo by Vincent David Johnson.
Monument Rock in Gove County, Kansas offers a unique habitat for birds..

 Photo by Vincent David Johnson.

Rural Abandonment

As like many Lost Americana destinations, Gove County has seen better days. Like most rural counties in the Plain States, Gove has lost over 50% of its population since the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s. Quinter however has seen some growth for the first time in decades as it looks to have grown by 15% (about a 140 new people) since 2010.

Just north of Castle Rock sits an old farm house long since lived in. Photo copyright of Vincent David Johnson.
Just South of Monument Rock, I had a conversation with an old man and his granddaughter who were driving by when I was photographing this place. He was born and lived in this house as a little boy. He gave me some solid advice I've been following since that day in 2008. He told me to watch out for rattle snakes. Photo copyright of Vincent David Johnson.

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