The land which comprises Coronado Cross Park was donated to the Ford County Historical Society in 1975 by the Karl Miller family, long time residents of southwest Kansas. Scholars have identified the Coronado Cross Area as the most likely site where Francisco Coronado and thirty hand-picked Spanish soldiers crossed the Arkansas River in their abortive 1541 expedition to find the fabled Seven Cities of Cibola. Records from diaries of Coronado's men indicate that the river crossing was made "on Saint Peter and Paul's day," that is June 29, and historians have reasoned that on a feast day of such importance the resident priests would have celebrated mass...the first Christian service held in the interior of North America. Tradition has it that mass would have been held on the highest hills overlooking the river crossing site; hence Coronado Cross Park possibly contains the precise location of this historic event. A 38 foot cross commemorating the supposed events was erected in 1975 a Bicentennial effort.
The shortgrass prairie vegetation of the park site was lightly grazed until 1975, but with the exception of occasional mowings, has since been left undisturbed. a partially completed survey of the vascular plants has shown the area to be populated by more than 100 species, a surprising richness given the shallow soils and numerous limestone outcrops. Prairie grasses typical of western Kansas such as Buffalo Grass, Hairy Grama, and Little Bluestem form the backdrop for a diverse array of forbes whose alternating blooming times produce a show of color which seems to continually change.
Each spring displays are dominated by Wild Onion, Allium drummondii; Narrow-leaf Gromwell, Lithospermum incisum; Oval-leaf Bladderpod, Lesquerella ovalifolia; Bitterweed, Hymenoxys scaposa, and Lemon Painted-cup, Castilleja purpurea var. citrina.
As the cool spring weather begins to moderate, these early spring bloomers are joined by Soapweed Yucca, Yucca glauca; Nipple cactus, Coryphantha vivipara; Scarlet Gaura Gaura coccinea; Lavenderleaf Evening Primrose, Calylophus lavandulifolius; White Beards Tongue, Penstemon albidus; Lambert's Crazyweed, Oxytropis lambertii; White Polygala Polygala alba; and Purple Poppy Mallow Callirhoe involucrata.
With the beginning of summer, a whole new display of flowers replaces many of the early bloomers. Of particular importance are Toothed-leaf Evening Primrose, Calylophus serrulatus; Prairie Coneflower, Ratibida columnifera; Engelmannia, Engelmannia pinnatifida; Gaillardia Gaillardia pulchella; Black Sampson Echinacea, Echinacea angustifolia; and Plains Milkweed Asclepias pumila.
And finally, to round out the summer and move into fall, there are Snow-on-the-Mountain, Euphorbia marginata; Silktop Dalea, Dalea aurea; Bush Morning-Glory, Ipomoea leptophylla; Pitcher's Salvia Salvia azurea; Plains Goldenrod, Solidago mollis; Blazing Star, Liatris punctata.
The High Plains of southwest Kansas definitely has more to offer than a monotony of wheat fields and flat horizons. Try Coronado Cross Park next time you're in the area. You'll not be disappointed.
This is a reprint of an article from the Kansas Wildflower Society Newsletter. It was written by Dr. Jeff Burkhart, Saint Mary of the Plains College, Dodge City, KS.
For more Wildflowers visit Southwest Kansas Wildflowers
Updated January 18, 2002
Web Page by Fred Meyer, Jr.
Donated in his memory to the
Ford County Historical Society, Dodge City, KS: February 2004
A member of the Kansas Heritage Group, established in 1993.
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