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Trail running through the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in Kansas

ROB SCHMITZ, HOST:

We're going to take a quick journey to the tallgrass prairie of central Kansas. NPR's Brian Mann went for a trail run surrounded by birdsong and sent us this audio postcard.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Just before dawn, I let myself in through one of the cattle gates in the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve north of Wichita.

(SOUNDBITE OF GATE CREAKING)

MANN: These fences, maintained by the National Park Service, actually keep a bison herd from roaming outside the preserve's 11,000 acres. I can't see any of the big animals from here, but as I lace up my sneakers to run, I realize the fields around me are flush with birds.

(SOUNDBITE OF BIRDS SINGING)

MANN: I set off running west on the gravel trail, climbing toward an enormous full moon that hangs just above the horizon.

It is like a sea of grass around me. There's great waves of hills rising up, and the dawn light is just coming over the horizon. The birds - I mean, it's just crazy.

(SOUNDBITE OF BIRDS SINGING)

MANN: At this hour, I'm the only human here. But up ahead, I see the herd of 50 or so bison, shaggy, big-shouldered beasts. They've gathered across the path, blocking it. I want to keep my distance, so I turn and wade into the waist-high grass. Then on a ridge ahead of me, maybe a football field away, a massive bull lumbers into view. Dancing around him are these calves, like, sprinting around through the grass, going in mad little playful dashes. I back away, turning down into a valley along a muddy creek, past a grove of cottonwood trees.

(SOUNDBITE OF CRICKETS CHIRPING)

MANN: There are wildflowers, just wildflowers everywhere. And, you know, I think of this as being kind of a rough, arid country, sort of cowboy country. But the wildflowers are just as delicate as you can imagine.

(SOUNDBITE OF BIRDS SINGING)

MANN: Before running back to the gate, I stop and just look. Prairie like this used to cover 170 million acres of North America, most of it gone now.

(SOUNDBITE OF CRICKETS CHIRPING)

MANN: But standing here, I can see no human footprint. There are bison and swales of sweetgrass all the way to the horizon and a vast blue sky, all completely wild.

Brian Mann, NPR News, in the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.
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