Nancy Pickard says that the fictional Testament Rocks in The Scent of Rain and Thunder are based on Monument Rocks located in Gove County, Kansas, a few hundred miles west of her home in Merriam, close to Kansas City.
Set in the high plains, Gove County is cut through from west to east by a deep valley caused by the Smoky Hill River, and is lined with geologic splendors such as Castle Rock and Monument Rocks (pictured below).
The 70 foot high limestone formations known as Monument Rocks or the Chalk Pyramids (chalk being a type of limestone), originally formed about 80 million years ago, when the central interior of the US was covered by sea to a depth of several hundred feet. This sea was inhabited by a rich cornucopia of life including fish, turtles, sharks, giant oysters and clams, and swimming reptiles such as plesiosaurs. The sea was also home to countless numbers of single-celled calcium carbonate secreting creatures, the tiny shells of which drifted to the bottom forming a murky ooze which eventually formed into chalk.
The ooze was perfect for trapping and preserving animal remains with the result that, 80 million years later, the area is rich with fossils - perhaps the best known of which is the fish-within-a-fish on display at the Sternberg Museum in Hays.
Today, despite it's seemingly barren environment, the rocks provide habitat for wildlife. Small holes in the formations provide nesting cavities for the American kestrel, pigeons are also in residence; and the surrounding shortgrass prairie is home to pronghorns, coyotes, black-tailed jackrabbits, lesser earless lizards, and western rattlesnakes, plus a variety of birds such as Cassin's sparrows, ferruginous hawks and golden eagles.
Photo of Monument Rocks by Jim Mason, reproduced with permission from naturalkansas.org.
This article was originally published in May 2010, and has been updated for the
February 2011 paperback release.
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