The weekend following Halloween found me trekking across the Flint Hills prairie. Staying out late on Saturday night at the Konza prairie proved rewarding, as my colleagues and I were treated to some tricks down in the hollow that sheltered the Hokanson farmstead, built over 130 years ago. Although Andrew Hokanson was Swedish, this author’s ancestry was Celtic from the British Isles. In Celtic mythology the Halloween or Samhain season was the ending of the harvest season and the turning into the dark season, which was when the sídhe doorways (fairy portals) were open to the Otherworld. It appears we had an Otherworldly performance for our cameras that night! Enjoy this magically captured performance art!
At the beginning of November, I had the opportunity to return to the prairie with friends and colleagues. Although we missed the peak colors, this was still our first trip out there during this time of year and it was just as beautiful, in its own natural way. Joining us from Connecticut was photographer Hunter Neal. He quickly assimilated into our banter and camaraderie, including sampling canned sausage gravy and biscuits and other local fare.
Included in this post are a few samples shot with the Lensbaby Composer Pro. This is a 50mm selective focus Double Glass Optic with drop in aperture discs. The lens was great fun and I’m looking forward to working with its wide-angle, 35mm counterpart, the Composer Pro with Sweet 35, which has built-in apertures.
This past week I made my annual photo trek to Kansas with Wilson Hurst and had interesting adventures. Typically, we roam around the Flint Hills and photograph on the prairie, but this summer we decided to explore new terrain further west…as in almost to the Colorado border! Being out on the west side of the state was like being in a completely alien environment when compared to the calming prairie. The western side of the state is raw and harsh. High temperatures, gale-force winds, and limited visibility from blowing sand marked our three-day sojourn.
Home base was Oakley, where we stayed at a local motel run by a pleasant Indian family, complete with their Hindu alter on the check-in desk. Although, I had tried to get us a room at the Annie Oakley Motel, but unfortunately it was booked solid for a family reunion. But, our base of operations worked fine after Wilson figured out I didn’t know how to properly run our air conditioner!
Landmarks photographed during this expedition included Castle Rock Badlands, which is about 30 miles south of Quinter and only accessible by gravel roads. Our favorite place where we shot star-trails two nights in a row was the well-known Monument Rocks, or the Pyramids, as the locals call them. At a distance Monument Rocks gives the impression of Stonehenge, except magnified. The exposed gypsum columns rise 70 feet (21 meters) in the air, making them rather impressive! During the long hours of photographing star-trails, we saw several meteorites, satellites, and a US Air Force KC-10 refueling a C-17 cargo jet. The moonless nights provided an inky backdrop for the stars, which were incredibly bright and the skies remarkably clear, considering the violent winds that would not abate.
Below are a few shots from that trip. Enjoy!
So over the past few years, my colleagues and I have taken groups of students on short two or three-day photo road trips over into Kansas and the Flint Hills region. Usually we do this over Spring Break and it’s cold, windy, and generally unpleasant. This time though, we decided on an autumn trip, which gave us much better weather and the opportunity to shoot star trails at a very unique location.
After an uneventful drive to Emporia on Friday evening, we gathered the whole gang for diner at Montana Mike’s Steakhouse. Our next morning would take us to the Tall Grass National Prairie Preserve before sunrise…a challenge for most college students…but ours were up to the task! We were rewarded with great light and interesting cloud formations. Once the sunrise light had faded to mundane morning light, we split into three parties and hiked separate trails until our rendezvous around noon back at the farmhouse. Lunch was enjoyed at yet another gas station (this seems to be a recurring theme in our trips!) that also doubled as the Flint Hills Restaurant in Strong City.
By late afternoon on Saturday, we arrived in central Kansas and checked into our rooms in Salina. Now the excitement was about to begin! We descended en masse upon a lonely Subway shop with only one employee working and then packed our suppers into our camera bags and headed north to Rock City, near Minneapolis, Kansas. This was Wilson’s and mine second trip to this otherworldly spot of sedimentary rock “concretions”. The stars (and the Milky Way) were stunning. Other heavenly bodies also appeared: shooting stars (or are they falling stars?), man-made satellites (two), high-altitude jets, and finally a nearly full moon.
Sunday morning we all had a leisurely breakfast at IHOP and then we headed east to Junction City to climb the ridge to shoot panoramas of the Atomic Canon and Fort Riley army base. Here the students and faculty parted ways and we (the faculty) sought other adventures at the Oz Museum and abandoned 19th century one-room structures near Wamego, including the nearby Beecher Bible & Rifle Church! The afternoon was rounded out with a nice find of 19th century photographs (including a carte-de-visite by famous Wisconsin photographer H. H. Bennett) from an antique shop in Alma. Below are photos from our road trip…enjoy!
Amazingly, I never tire of photographing the Flint Hills and the Tall Grass Prairie in Kansas. Wilson Hurst and I returned last week, sans students, and set up our base of operations at Emporia. Friday morning we hiked a portion of the prairie that was new to us, the Two Section Pasture, just east of Strong City. Basically it was just a very large pasture with several young beeves, which kept following Wilson! We did encounter one Horny Toad lizard along the trail and that provided some entertainment.
After working up an appetite, we headed down to Cottonwood Falls, where we had massive burgers at the Grand Central Hotel. From there, we did a driving tour heading south through Chase County, wondering back roads until arriving at an interesting ghost of a town called Bazaar. We happened across a unique looking cemetery from the 19th century, aptly named, Bazaar Cemetery. Something about the name just sounds bizarre! Anyway, that was the beginning of a new joint photo project on oddly named cemeteries and the following day we were fortunate to come across two more for the series: Welcome Cemetery and Pleasant Valley Cemetery! What are the odds?!
Around dinner time, we headed back into Emporia, checked into our room and then headed to one of the few chain restaurants we’ll eat at while on the road: Montana Mike’s Steakhouse. Fast service, good steaks, and reasonable prices, what else does one need! Since the days are getting longer, we decided to go back out to the Tall Grass Prairie to photograph the sunset and to await the night sky for some star trail shooting.
Being out in that sea of green at twilight is incredible and we were rewarded with great light, nighthawks, deer, coyotes, Evening Primroses, stars, and an incredible red full moon. It takes patience to do this type of shooting, something my students struggle with; but we were there in one spot from 7:30pm until almost 10:30pm, before calling it a day.
The next day started with a great breakfast at the Flint Hills Restaurant and then we headed north for the Konza Prairie. En route, we detoured off the highway and found Pillsbury Crossing and spent time photographing the waterfalls at the fording in Deep Creek. While there, we spotted what appeared to be a Cottonmouth snake, sunning itself on a flat stone in the river, not far from where we had been shooting. Then we were off to the Konza. Springtime flowers were abundant and we captured several images along the trail up to the summit of the ridge.
Although we covered a lot of miles in two days, it was incredibly relaxing and great to get away from urban life. Great photography, great food, and great landscapes: the Flint Hills is my favorite for all of these!
© 2010 Terry Ownby, Sunset at Tall Grass Prairie
© 2010 Terry Ownby, Looking North from Tall Grass
© 2010 Terry Ownby, Pillsbury Crossing
© 2010 Terry Ownby, Bazaar, Kansas
© 2010 Terry Ownby, Evening Primrose on the prairie
© 2010 Terry Ownby, Annual Fleabane, Erigeron annuus L. & Blue Hearts, Buchnera americana L.
This past weekend marked our second annual “unofficial” spring break photo trip to the prairies of Flint Hills region in Kansas. By far, one of my all-time favorite places in the U.S., I never get tired of photographing there. Every time I return to these prairies, the scene is never the same and depending on the time of year, it might be shades of earthy browns or lush emerald greens or charred black from fire and dotted with copious amounts of flint and limestone.
Originally, myself and two other photo professors (Tom and Wilson) from the University of Central Missouri started going to the Flint Hills for its unique photographic qualities…and we soon fell in love with this region. Eventually we invited other faculty and alumni. Last year I convinced my colleagues to encourage photo students to tag along…unofficially. We had a good time, so this year I promoted our event more aggressively. All total, there were 17 like-minded folks trekking the plains, including three international non-photo students (one from France and two from South Korea). My travel partner (Robert) on this trip was my former portfolio student and an extraordinary nature photographer in his own right, having backpacked more than 30 years and traveled in 17 countries. Check out Robert’s work by clicking here.
We gathered early Saturday morning just off campus and car pooled west to the Kansas Turnpike, stopping at the McDonald’s oasis just east of Lawrence. This stop off point has become a breakfast ritual over the years and a brief chance for our first socialization outside the university. Next, we caravanned southwest to Emporia and descended on a lone Subway sandwich shop in order to take lunch with us on our first seven mile hike. After arriving at the Tall Grass Prairie National Preserve and getting our orientation briefing from the ranger, off we headed on the Scenic Overlook Trail, taking us well into the backcountry. The park service estimates this to be a 2.5-hour round-trip hike…they didn’t anticipate a bunch of photographers! We spent closer to five hours hiking, photographing, eating lunch in sheltered limestone creek beds, and having encounters with bison. Only one in our party took the wrong trail on the return and ended up three miles south of the historic ranch headquarters, but we eventually found the wayward student and immediately set off on the second leg of our journey…Junction City, home of the Big Red One and the atomic cannon.
Day two of our trek began early with a short drive east to the Konza Prairie Biological Station, just south of K-State. Here we were greeted by numerous deer and at least 50 wild turkeys. What a sight! The morning was not as windy as the previous day, but it was damp and misty. Had to break out the rain pants. Large portions of the Konza had been burned and thus revealed many limestone outcroppings and ribbons of chert (flint). I’ve never seen the prairie look like this before, so I found it quite interesting. As I said at the beginning of this blog, the prairie is always changing and never stays the same…always providing new photographic opportunities.
Several of us rendezvoused at noon and headed into Aggieville for a bite at one of our favorite eateries, the Bluestem Bistro. I’ve eaten there several times now, and never been disappointed in their coffee or fare. This time lunch was a turkey and sundried tomato quiche with their skillet hash browns. Fantastic! On the way out of Aggieville, we spotted an elusive Wisconsin gnome in the park, checking out the mythical 30-foot tall Johnny Kaw statue in the city park. Perfect ending to a great photo safari on the Kansas prairie!
© 2010 Terry Ownby
© 2010 Terry Ownby
© 2010 Terry Ownby
© 2010 Terry Ownby
A couple of weeks ago during our Spring Break, myself and my two friends (Wilson and Tom, also photo professors at UCM) ventured back to the Flint Hills but this time we also took along with us 9 photography students. The best part for me was the very first day hiking the backcountry trails at the Tall Grass National Prairie Preserve, near Strong City, Kansas. I think this is one of my favorite places in the U.S. to visit. Being out on the prairie where you can see for miles and hear nothing but wind, birds, swaying grass and your own heartbeat is fabulous! I’m looking forward to going back in early summer when the grass is green and a bit taller. Until then, I have my photos to give me solace. The image below is of Spring Hill Ranch, taken on my return from the backcountry.
© 2009 Terry Ownby
The old army fort in eastern Kansas was called Fort Scott and was originally constructed in 1842. There were no walls built around this pioneer army post since three sides consisted of natural, steep bluffs, with the southern side opened to the expanse of the tall grass prairie. This old army post was the last destination for Wilson and I on our short road trip last week through SW Missouri and SE Kansas. Eleven years after its founding, the Army abandoned the fort in 1853 and its buildings became the center of a new frontier town, bearing the old fort’s namesake: Fort Scott, Kansas. This would later become the hometown for renowned African American photographer, Gordon Parks.
This is a great small town photo destination. The main street area, which joins the old fort structure, has great 1800s architecture, which has been nicely restored. Lots of interesting antique stores and boutique shops occupy the storefronts. Also, as with any of my road trips, I found a really cool diner from 1946 that is still in operation, complete with its nifty neon signage…Nu Grille Cafe. My photo compadre enjoyed a really big cheeseburger and I sampled the Frito chili pie, for about five bucks. Cheap but good! After chowing down supper at the greasy spoon, we headed back to UCM, which is maybe a couple of hours drive…I really lose track of time on the road, but it was dark! But lack of light never stops Wilson from creating images! As you can see posted below, he pushes the envelop of image making with any amount of electromagnetic radiation he can find. In this case, minimal ambient light from the dusky sunset and the truck dashlights!
© 2009 Terry Ownby
© 2009 Wilson Hurst
My search for incongruities continues. I started photographing odd and large culturally significant objects about five years ago and doubt if I’ll ever grow tired of this quest. Two years ago I went to a technology convention at Pittsburg State University in southeast Kansas. One of my traveling companions, Wilson, had discovered the existence of Big Brutus and had suggested that we photograph it for my series. We weren’t sure where it was located and time at the convention prevented us from tracking it down. However, this past weekend, he and I had the opportunity to travel to Joplin, MO, to drop off our images that had been accepted for inclusion at the George A. Spiva Center for the Arts‘ annual national photo competition.
On our return trip, we decided to drift over the stateline and explore southeast Kansas. As we were heading north, we suddenly spotted a small sign telling passersby that Big Brutus was just 13 miles off the beaten path. Well, with no timeline or agenda, your intrepid wanderers were off on a new adventure! We did indeed find the brute, but only after stumbling onto another magnificant photo op at a local train club having their meeting. They had refurbished train depots, all kinds of trains, including passenger cars and some really cool cabooses. Anyway, on to brutus. Big Brutus is a monster! The world’s second largest electric coal shovel, it towers 16 stories (160 feet) with a boom that is 150 feet long. The bucket on this behemoth has a capacity of 150 tons (enough to fill three railroad cars). Needless to say, Big Brutus is BIG! Additionally, the non-profit organization running the Big Brutus operation had a really BIG fee to go inside the fence for a closer look. Needless to say, we weren’t going to partake in their highway robbery, so we pulled out our BIG lenses and shot from the parking lot!!!
© 2009 Terry Ownby