Saturday, July 25, 2015

8 Natural Wonders of the Red Hills--Big Basin Prairie Preserve and St. Jacob's Well

Photo by Jim Mason
     With this post I launch my selections of the 8 Natural Wonders of the Red Hills of Kansas. Perhaps you've heard of the 8 Wonders of Kansas at ? Any self-respecting Kansan should be aware of and have been to this wonderful site developed by the Kansas Sampler Foundation and a whole bunch of fine folks and led by Marci Penner. There are other 8 wonder sub-categories including such subjects as Architecture, Art, Cuisine, History and others. I'm expanding on this theme by presenting my own selections for the special place in Kansas I call the Kansas Outback. The Red Hills represents the proverbial counter to the claim of a flat Kansas. While all of Kansas offers so many interesting features in so many categories, the Red Hills is a particular land of enchantment and treasure trove of natural surprises. In this and subsequent posts, I present my selections of the best 8 Natural Wonders of the Red Hills in no particular order of rank.  First to be highlighted is Big Basin Preserve and St. Jacob's Well in western Clark County.
     St. Jacob's Well is a sink hole in a particular area of the Little Basin which is, itself, part of a larger land form called the Big Basin.  The vista from the parking lot at the well exhibits the beautiful prairie landscape.  A description is provided by the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism website:

     The Big Basin Prairie Preserve is 1,818 acres of native mixed grass prairie managed by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. This area is in the Red Hills region of Kansas. The landscape can generally be described as rolling hills with both level uplands and small canyons. The preserve also includes an intermittent stream , Keiger Creek, which flows through the northeast corner of the preserve, and two non-draining basins that make the preserve topographically and geologically unique.
Big Basin:
     Big Basin is a large circular depression. It is about one mile in diameter and about 100 feet deep. The walls of the basin are nearly vertical. Scattered across the floor of Big Basin are a number of small ephemeral ponds that catch and temporarily hold the water that flows into the basin. U.S. Highway 283 bisects Big Basin, with approximately two-thirds of the basin lying east of the road and within the confines of the preserve. The remaining western third of the basin is privately owned.
Little Basin:
     The Little Basin is about 280 yards in diameter and 35 feet from rim to floor. Within Little Basin is a small permanent pond known as St. Jacob’s Well. St. Jacob’s Well is a pool of water about 84 feet in diameter that has never been known to go dry. The well has been the subject of many local legends, most associated with the idea that the well was bottomless and/or connected to an underground stream that was capable of washing away anything that fell in the well. The well was also reportedly inhabited by blind fish. Research has shown the well to be roughly funnel shaped and 58 feet deep. No evidence of any underground stream or blind fish has been found.
     Big Basin, Little Basin, and St. Jacob’s Well were formed in the recent geological past by a process known as solution-subsidence. This process occurs when surface water gains access and dissolves underground deposits of salt, gypsum, or limestone. The overlaying layers of rock and minerals subside to fill the volume vacated by the water soluble deposits. The process of solution - subsidence is thought to still be occurring, and small depressions have been noted forming within Little Basin.
A panoramic of the water hole in the ground known as St. Jacob's Well.
A close-up of the "bottomless" well stimulates an imagination of travel-wary and thirsty pioneers and cattle drivers gleefully diving into this refreshing water and savoring buckets of life-sustaining liquid for the next few days or weeks of hot, dusty prairie travel.
Wonderful flora and fauna greet visitors to Big Basin and St. Jacob's Well.

A small herd of Bison are kept in the Big Basin and can often be seen on the drive back to St. Jacob's Well.

      More information can be found about this unique area at the Natural Kansas website: .  


  1. Great post! How would I go about getting permission to use the buffalo in a blog post or as an element in a collage

    1. David, you have my permission to use the bison photo. Let me know if you have any other requests. Thanks for the compliment!

    2. Thanks Ken,I've used bison in a post of titled The Red Hills of Kansas.


    3. David, nice website and accounts of your family history and the Red Hills!