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Come see what's at the top of Mt. Sunflower

Lu Anne Stephens

While it’s not known for it, Kansas is geographically diverse. Hilly and forested in the northeast, wide open in the southwest. Follow Lu Anne Stephens as she sets out to conquer one of the most extreme points in the state.

I’ve been preparing for this hike for weeks, and I’m finally about to set out.

Ropes? Check. Water? Check. Oxygen? Altitude sickness pills? Yup, all here.

And so I begin my ascent of … Mount Sunflower.

OK, it’s not exactly a climb. More of a stroll. In fact, you can drive right to it.

But Mount Sunflower is the highest peak in Kansas — nearly 3,000 feet higher in elevation than Wichita — in spite of there being no mountains in the state.

Lu Anne Stephens
Kansas Sampler Foundation Director Marci Penner

It’s enough to bring tourists and the merely curious, as well as the so-called “high pointers,” who try to visit the highest point in every state.

“It’s an adventure,” said Marci Penner, director of the Kansas Sampler Foundation.

Through the years, Penner has taken a lot of groups to visit Mount Sunflower on their tours of western Kansas.

“Our mission is to preserve and sustain rural culture,” Penner said. “It’s just like a freedom of spirit, in a way. You see fewer homesteads, fewer towns. It’s just open, and it can be exhilarating if you’re in the right frame of mind.”

And surprising, if you’re expecting it to be flat.

As you leave I-70, turning south at Goodland, you soon find yourself on dirt roads — wide open, but definitely not flat. In places, the road ripples across the short, steep hills like a ribbon.

The sign for Mount Sunflower is on private property in the middle of a cow pasture.

“A big sign, rather rustic, which is part of the adventure that lets you know you’re there,” Penner said.

Owner Ed Harold has created a kind of memorial with sign posts and some kitschy art — a sunflower sculpture made of railroad spikes, and a mailbox with a notebook you can sign and leave impressions. There’s even a Little Free Library.

Lu Anne Stephens

Harold lives just west of Mount Sunflower and is known locally as “the man on the mountain,” Penner said.

“He loves to meet people, to catch their surprise at what you’ll see at the top of Mount Sunflower,” she said.

Harold once had some golf clubs and golf balls stationed at the top of the hill, and let visitors try to hit a golf ball into Colorado, Penner said.

Harold and his wife, Elizabeth, enjoy sharing the fun and quirkiness of their memorial, and the wide openness of the High Plains.

“Some people may be tempted to think, ‘What’s the big deal?’” Penner said. “But if you are of the explorer spirit, you will see a vast open sky that just lets your spirit soar.”

Lu Anne Stephens is KMUW's Director of Content and Assistant General Manager. She has held many positions over many years at KMUW. Lu Anne also produces KMUW’s New Settler's Radio Hour and the Hidden Kansas segment for KMUW’s weekly news program The Range.