Rex Buchanan has spent most of his life studying and exploring the state of Kansas.  He is Director Emeritus of the Kansas Geological Survey, an accomplished science writer, and a popular naturalist commentator on Kansas Public Radio.  Buchanan is a long time resident of Lawrence and spent his early years near Little River in Central Kansas.  There he first encountered petroglyphs, rock carvings made by Native Americans in centuries past. 

Petroglyphs are usually found on sandstone outcroppings, bluffs or in caves.  Buchanan set out to document the notable petroglyphs in the valley of the Smokey Hills River.  He collaborated with Burke W. Grigs and Joshua L. Savaty to produce “Petroglyphs of the Kansas Smokey Hills”, University Press of Kansas.  Grigs served as project photographer, Burke worked with land owners and Buchanan wrote the text. 

Petroglyph from Ellsworth County: horse with a rider

The rock carvings documented by the trio shows a great variety of images; including humans, animals, geometric patterns, identifiers such as hand prints, representations of the sky, shamanism and story telling.  The petroglyphs are difficult to date, and Buchanan cautioned that care must be taken about making interpretations from a modern perspective.

The three authors faced a number of challenges as they worked. These carvings are vulnerable, erosion and vandalism have taken a serious toll. Most of the carvings are on private property. Accordingly, the book is not intended to be a visitor’s guide; the public does not have access to the majority of the sites.  Besides negotiating with land owners, descendants of the petroglyph creators had to be respected. 

Royalties for the book are dedicated to the Coronado Quivira Museum in Lyons, the Ellsworth County Historical Society, and the Native American Rights Fund.  The book is available for purchase in local book stores.