Prairie Spirit Orb

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!

Spirit activity at the Hokanson Farmstead in the Konza prairie. © Terry Ownby 2012.

Autumn on the Tall Grass Prairie

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.

Sunrise on Kings Creek, near Hokanson Homestead. © Terry Ownby.

Looking south at the Konza Prairie. © Terry Ownby.

View from the Radio Tower at Konza Prairie. © Terry Ownby.

In search of bison at the National Tall Grass Prairie Preserver. © Terry Ownby.

Cottonwoods in gulch on Tall Grass Prairie Preserve. © Terry Ownby.

Big Cottonwoods on southern section of Tall Grass Prairie. © Terry Ownby.

Courthouse at Cottonwood Falls, Kansas. © Terry Ownby.

Hunter Neal photographing sunset at Konza Prairie.

Return to the Flint Hills

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.

Photo-trekking in the Tall Grass Prairie

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

Kansas Pano’s

Recently I had the privilege of a day trip with three of my friends from the university, to the Konza Prairie Biological Station. This is an incredible venue for all types of photography, but especially panoramas. Although my colleagues are into this type of photography rather seriously (they’ve custom made or bought expensive pano heads for their tripods), I tend to be more low-tech. In other words, I hand-hold my camera and use and framing device similar to my colleague from the Art Institute of Colorado, Angela Faris. She describes a similar technique in her latest book, which I highly recommend, The Elements of Photography: Understanding and Creating Sophisticated Images. I hope you enjoy this latest blog entry and I would enjoy reading any comments you might wish to offer.

Hand-held pano and stitched as separate frames.

© 2008 Terry Ownby, Konza Prairie 1.