The 24 finalists in the 8 Wonders of Kansas Geography contest range from rolling hills and prairie with buffalo, to forests, fossils and space debris. The diverse list also highlights the state's historic regions and landmarks.
"Because we always hear how Kansas is flat, I think this contest helps bust that myth," said Marci Penner, director of the Kansas Sampler Foundation in Inman.
The finalists were selected from 76 nominations using the criteria that each has to do with nature and is unique. The contest is part of a series begun in 2007, when the foundation asked people to list what they treasured most about Kansas.
"I regret this contest is in the bitter cold of winter because I think once people see this list they will be ready to hop in the car and go to these places," Penner said.
Native Kansans may notice some obvious omissions in this contest, such as Monument Rocks and Castle Rock in Gove County, Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira National Wildlife Refuge in Barton and Stafford counties, the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, and the Flint Hills. Those places were already featured in other contests, Penner said.
People have until midnight Feb. 17 to vote for their top picks at www.8wonders.org. Paper ballots can be picked up at one of the finalists or by calling 620-585-2374. One e-mail address may be used three times to vote. Public vote will determine the top 8 Wonders of Kansas Geography.
The 24 finalists:
* Alcove Spring, near Blue Rapids, chosen because of its historical significance as a stop for Indians, fur traders and emigrants on the Oregon Trail. Visitors can still see the wagon ruts, an intermittent waterfall and a long-flowing spring.
* Arikaree Breaks, Cheyenne County, known for its dramatic steep-sided, rugged canyons and short-grass prairie.
* Bartlett Arboretum, Belle Plaine, the oldest arboretum between the Mississippi River and the Rockies, with hundreds of species of native and exotic trees. It features formal and natural gardens.
* Big Basin Prairie Preserve, Clark County, includes a mile-wide sinkhole, a bison herd and St. Jacob's Well, a deep, funnel-shaped spring.
* Brenham meteorites, near Haviland. Scientists estimate a meteor fell over Kiowa County some 20,000 years ago, forming the largest strewn meteorite field in the world and one of three U.S. craters authenticated by the presence of meteorites. As the meteor fell, it broke into pieces. The Brenham meteorites, named for Brenham Township near Haviland, are some of the best known and most sought after in the world because of their crystals, which look like stained glass when cut.
* Cimarron National Grassland, Morton County, is known for its early pioneering advancements in conservation. It contains the longest publicly owned section of the historic Santa Fe Trail and the only known outcrop of Jurassic-age rocks, thought to be 150 million years old, in Kansas.
* Coronado Heights, near Lindsborg, not only a historic landmark but a natural platform of Dakota Formation sandstone. It features a scenic overlook of the Smoky Hills and Smoky Hill River Valley.
* Cross Timbers State Lake, near Toronto, features an ancient forest ecosystem and rugged sandstone-capped hills.
* Elk River hiking trail, Montgomery County, is a 15-mile-long national recreation trail on the edge of the Chautauqua Hills region. The trail threads through boulders and up rocky bluffs and has been rated the best hike in the state.
* Four-State Lookout, White Cloud, offers a view of Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa from a viewing platform. Views include glacial hills and the Missouri River.
* Geographic Center of the Contiguous United States, near Lebanon, is a small park that represents the center of the 48 contiguous states.
* Gyp Hills Scenic Drive and Gypsum Hills Scenic Byway, Barber and Comanche counties, known for their stunning rust-red buttes and mesa capped by layers of sparkling white gypsum.
* Kaw Point Park, Kansas City, is a public park commemorating the Lewis and Clark Expedition that stopped there in 1804. It features a view of the confluence of the Kansas and Missouri rivers and the Kansas City skyline.
* Konza Prairie, Manhattan, is an internationally recognized research site for tallgrass prairie ecology and has trails for public hiking through the Flint Hills.
* Lake Scott State Park, Scott County, features springs, canyons and bluffs amid the western Kansas prairie. A 100-acre lake lies in Ladder Creek Canyon. The park is also known for its craggy canyons, scenic overlooks and historic connections to the El Cuartelejo Pueblo Indian ruins.
* Maxwell Wildlife Refuge, near Canton, known for its prairie and for being the only place in Kansas where buffalo and elk can be viewed in their natural habitat by the public.
* Mined Land Wildlife Area, Cherokee County, was once stripped for lead and zinc mining but has since been reclaimed and now features woodlands, grasslands and lakes.
* Mount Sunflower, Wallace County, has been recognized by the U.S. Geological Survey as the spot with the highest elevation in Kansas — 4,039 feet above sea level. It provides vistas of the high plains and the short-grass prairie.
* Mushroom Rock State Park, Ellsworth County, and Rock City , near Minneapolis, showcase Dakota Sandstone, deposited 100 million years ago and since exposed by the forces of erosion.
* Native Stone Scenic Byway, Wabaunsee County, features an area known for dry-stacked stone fences and stone outcropping among the rolling Flint Hills.
* Pillsbury Crossing, near Manhattan, features a flat, stone creek bottom that forms a natural ford and a long, broad waterfall that has been a landmark for generations.
* Post Rock Scenic Byway, Ellsworth, Lincoln and Russell counties, known for dramatic limestone outcroppings along K-232, the rugged Dakota Sandstone bluffs at Lake Wilson, and the long post rock fence rows. It's in the Smoky Hills and anchored by the towns of Wilson and Lucas.
* Schermerhorn Park, near Galena, represents the small part of the Ozarks that extends into Kansas, including steep bluffs of Mississippian-age limestone, a 2,500-foot-long cave, WPA-era stone terraces, hiking trails and a nature center.
* Sternberg Museum, Hays, features the fossils of Kansas: fossilized remains of giant fishes and marine reptiles. The fossils are some of the best, most scientifically important evidence that Kansas was under water during the last half of the Cretaceous Period, more than 66 million years ago.