When we moved to Colorado in late August last year, one thing I knew I would miss in Kansas was the beautiful Flint Hills.  I loved it in the spring when the ranchers burned off the grasses – the smell always signalled spring to me.  A short time after the burns, the grass comes up and covers the hills with a velvet covering.  A few weeks after that, and wildflowers spring forth everywhere.  Last June, in one day, I identified over 30 different species in bloom near Alma, Kansas.  That was a day I won’t soon forget.  By mid-June, the grasses are getting lush and tall, swaying in the ever-present winds.  Fall brings brightly colored sumac, brilliant blue skies, dried grasses in every shade of rust, brown and amber you can dream of, and golden cottonwood leaves in the washes and near waterways. By far, though, my favorite time was early June: wildflower season.  I lamented that I would likely not see such displays of blooms ever again.

I didn’t expect the high desert around Grand Junction to yield much in the way of wildflowers.  Yes, we had been here in late May and there were signs of a few wildflowers, but I certainly wasn’t anticipating multitudes of blooms.

My eyes have been opened!

The high desert has tons of wildflowers.  Sometimes they are harder to see, but they are here.

In very late March and early April, a couple of short hikes up in the Monument (that’s Colorado National Monument to you non-locals) revealed at least a dozen varieties:  wooly milkvetch, wild alyssum, bladderpod, elegant thelopody, indian paintbrush, golden corydalis, yellow-eye cryptantha, bur buttercup, fendler’s spring parsley, western wallflower, and a couple I still haven’t identified.  On April 16 I took another short hike in the Monument and saw long-leaf phlox, yellow-eye cryptantha, wooly milkvetch, yellow cryptantha, indian paintbrush, puccoon, globe mallow, easter daisy, western tansy mustard, western wallflower, and another couple I couldn’t figure out.  My May 8 hike found sand verbena (smells SO good!), indian paintbrush, claret cup cacti, peppergrass, evening primrose, dwarf primrose, desert phlox, perky Sue, yellow-eye cryptanth, desert phacelia, fendler’s spring parsley, larkspur and western tansy mustard.  During the wildflower walk I attended on Saturday, we saw fendler’s spring parsley, sand aster, spreading fleabane, perky Sue, cryptantha (yellow AND white, but no yellow-eye), prince’s plume, claret cup cacti, twin bladderpod, peppergrass, sego lilly, crescent milkvetch, large-flowered breadroot, globe mallow, sand verbena, evening primrose, desert phlox, cushion wild buckwheat, bladderstem, indian paintbrush, and bluestem penstemon. Later that day while hiking in Rough Canyon, I also saw scarlet gillia.

Anyone who says the desert is lifeless has obviously not been here at the right time.

I’m going to resurrect my “Wild Thing” posts soon, since I have so many beautiful wildflowers to share.  Problem is, I’m having so much fun hiking, finding, and identifying them, it doesn’t leave me much time in front of the computer to write! Keep checking back to learn about the “Desert in Bloom.”

My photo of the roof interor of the round barn at Mullinville will be published in the summer 2011 issue of Kansas! Magazine.  It will be located in the gallery section, which is in the back of the magazine, and will be a half page in size.

Round barn at Mullinville, Kansas

The Fromme-Birney “round” barn was built in 1912 by Henry Fromme as a place to house his 28 draft horses.  In those days, round barns were supposedly thought to be more wind resistent, made more efficient use of space, and used less lumber to build for the same volume in space.  Actually, the barn isn’t round – it is 16 sided.  The cost to build it was $8,000.  The barn is 50 feet tall and is 70 feet in diameter.  Sadly, shortly after it was built, tractors replaced the horses and it ended up being used mostly for hay storage.  In the 1980’s, Phyllis Birney became the owner, and in 1987 the barn was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.  In 1993 it was given to the Kiowa County Historical Society, and in 1995 it was restored using a grant.

The interior of the roof is an architectural wonder!  I shot this photo looking up at the roof, and I’m amazed at the craftmanship it took to complete this.  They sure don’t build them like this anymore! 

Interior shot of the roof, Mullinville barn

 

Also inside the barn is a neat display relating the history of the barn.  The barn also has a really neat weathervane on top, and a very cool windmill outside.

Weathervane

Windmill

 

If you’re ever near Greensburg, be sure to take the side trip to see this historic gem, as it is definitely well worth the trip.  Kudos to the Kiowa County Historical Society for saving and restoring this amazing structure (and if you visit, be sure to put a donation in the box located at the barn).

Directions:  from U.S. Highway 54 at Mullinville, go 3 1/2 miles south, then 1 3/4 miles west.

Last year I posted my 10 personal favorite images of 2009, followed by some photographic goals.  I guess it’s only fair to review those goals and see if I achieved any of them.  Unfortunately, I didn’t do so hot…

I did try to work on my technique so my photos are sharper, with some success, but I need to keep at it.  I did try to find markets for my work, with minimal success.  Largely due to our move to Colorado (and the accompanying extra work and stress), I was not able to sit down and spend time learning Lightroom and Photoshop, and definitely did not have time to get through my digital library and delete the bad images and catalog the good ones.  One goal I did achieve was shooting more flowers.  I shot hundreds of images of wildflowers, in addition to all the great tulip shots I got during Topeka’s Tulip Time.  I had a total BLAST shooting wildflowers in the Flint Hills in early June.  The wet winter we had created phenomenal blooming conditions, and I enjoyed every minute of it.  As with all goals, I’ll just have to keep trying.

Here are my personal favorites of 2010.  It was very hard to narrow them down to 10, so I have 10 plus 2 “bonus” images.  Even getting it down to 12 was extremely difficult:

#12 - Divine Dallas Divide

For two days in early October, I attended a photography workshop near Ouray, Colorado.  I was treated to some insane fall color!  Since this was the first year I’ve been in Colorado in the fall, my eyeballs kept falling out of my head with all the color I was witnessing.  It was the most gorgeous spectacle I had ever seen!  This photo was shot on the last morning of the workshop at the oft-photographed Dallas Divide area.  I used my 70-200 mm lens to try and isolate some more intimate scenes in the grand landscape and loved how this little “island” of bare aspens was framed by vibrant bushes and brush. 

#11 - Prairie Rose

I spent a great afternoon in the Kansas Flint Hills while my husband was mountain biking.  The skies were overcast, and a shower had moved through shortly before we started. It was almost perfect for shooting wildflowers because the light was diffused and eliminated harsh shadows and saturated the colors.  I found this wild prairie rose along the roadside, dappled with raindrops.

#10 - Mountain Shack

Another one from my Ouray workshop.  While everyone else’s attention was focused on shooting the fabulous Wilson Peak as the sun prepared to rise, I took a look around behind us and discovered this cool old shack just a short way down the road.  I loved the texture of the wood, and the way the bright aspens framed the shack.  I was the only person in the workshop who shot this structure, and I can’t figure out why no one else even saw it but maybe it’s because I have such a fondness for old run-down buildings like this.

#9 - Mt. Craig

In early March, my husband landed a job interview in Granby, Colorado.  We decided to take a couple extra days and enjoy some mountain scenery while we were there.  We rented some snowshoes in Grand Lake and took an early morning snowshoe trip into Rocky Mountain National Park up the East Inlet Trail.  I was transfixed and almost hypnotized by the beauty of the fresh fallen powder on the evergreens, and couldn’t stop saying “God, this is so beautiful!”  It definitely gave me a better appreciation for winter conditions.  The snow somehow transforms the landscape into something magical.  I made this image of Mt. Craig later in the day when we returned for round 2 (my husband wanted to take a long trip further up the trail, so I shot photos while waiting for him).  Because the scene didn’t have much color anyway, I decided to convert to black and white, and think it turned out rather well.

#8 - Incoming Storm

Another day that I spent in the Kansas Flint Hills presented yet another opportunity – storm clouds!  My husband was again mountain biking, and thankfully it was more clear the direction he was headed.  This old abandoned stone barn on old K-18 Road west of Alma is always an interesting photographic subject, but with the addition of the cattle and the incoming storm, I couldn’t resist shooting – and glad I didn’t!  When we went back home, we had to drive through this storm and it was a doozy – a real “toad strangler” as my dad would say.  The skies opened up and absolutely dumped on us.  I’m glad my husband didn’t get caught in this on his bike.

#7 - Fallen Rock Cottonwoods

After the leaves had fallen from the trees up in the mountains and on the Mesa, I turned my attention to fall color in the Grand Valley.  One day I went up to the Colorado National Monument and spied this scene, with the vibrant cottonwoods in the wash creating a pleasing “S” curve, with the shadow play on the canyon walls.  With most of the tourists already gone from the Monument, it was a peaceful, quiet scene.

#6 - Fall Bouquet

Yet another one from my Ouray workshop.  We stopped on the Silver Pick Rd. at an aspen grove that was beautifully backlit by the late morning sun.  The workshop leader told us to not only look up but to look down as well.  It’s amazing sometimes what can be found literally at your feet.  I always try to do this anyway, and I hit paydirt on this day.  I loved the contrast of the bright red leaf with the golden aspen leaves, and the aspen twig added some nice texture.

#5 - Colorado National Monument

We made our almost annual trek to Grand Junction a little later in the year (late July) and I was treated to some monsoon moisture in the form of clouds!  We went up to the Monument a couple nights during our stay, and I captured this image which highlights the Kissing Couple formation and views of the Book Cliffs off to the north, all with some awesome clouds and lighting.  This was the first time I’d been to the Monument and had good clouds and light, so I was pretty excited to capture this image.

#4 - Three Gossips Sunrise

While staying in Moab in late July, I made myself get up early one day to do a sunrise shoot and chose the Three Gossips area.  I parked in the Courthouse Towers parking lot, and walked across the road and down into the wash.  Using my iFoto Guide: Arches, together with my GPS, I found the spot I wanted with the yuccas in the foreground.  Then I just waited for the sun to come up and do its magic!  It was very peaceful, and afterwards I walked around the wash quite a bit, looking for different perspectives and views of the Gossips.  However, this one was my favorite of the morning.

#3 - Lone Sentinel

The Kansas Flint Hills are one of my favorite places on earth, especially in late May after the annual burns and the new grass comes in like a velvet carpet.  I made several trips into the Hills this spring to take photos of the burns and the new grass, and had quite the adventure on this particular day.  You can read more about it in my prior post: “Lost & Found”.   I love to find solitary cottonwoods with nothing but wide open prairie behind them.  I had some nice puffy clouds to work with on this day, along with some great rocks in the foreground.  I also thought the broken, irregular part of the tree gave it a lot of character.

#2 - Oxeye Daisy

By far, my favorite wildflower shot of the year.  My husband found huge fields of beautiful oxeye daisies in the Kansas Flint Hills this year while he was biking.  I had never seen such prolific fields before.  This wasn’t one of the huge fields, but a small field on old K-18 Road just west of Alma.  I used my 70-200 lens to isolate the blooms.  I had such a blast shooting these wildflowers!  The light was perfect and the wind was light (a rarity).

#1 - Tulip Time!

I shot so many flower images this year and had an awesome time doing it, so it’s no surprise my personal #1 favorite this year is a flower image.  I spent the better part of two weekends shooting tulips during Topeka’s annual “Tulip Time” festival, which was slightly different from years past.  For many years, Tulip Time was held at the private residence of Gerald Binkley and was the primary annual fundraiser for the Topeka Beautification Association.  However, Mr. Binkley was getting rather elderly and simply could not keep up with the planting and care of all those thousands of tulips.  The city stepped up and planted thousands of tulips at various locations throughout town, and they were able to still do the fundraiser.  I went to the Old Prairie Town, Gage Park and Shawnee Co. Lake sites to take in the tulips, and they didn’t disappoint.  I shot hundreds of images those two weekends.  This one stands out because of the vibrant color combination, and the selective focus on the front row of blooms using my 70-200 mm lens.  The tulips were just incredible to see and loads of fun to shoot!

Now, my goals for 2011:

1.  Sit down and really learn Lightroom and Photoshop.  Yes, it’s a “recycled” goal but a good one.

2.  Get all my images organized and delete the bad ones.  Again, “recycled” but a necessity.

3.  Continue to look for markets for my work.

4.  Figure out how to properly use TPE so I can get great sunrise/sunset shots.

5.  Along with #4, get my lazy butt out of bed to be able to catch great sunrise shots.  I’m such a lazy slug on weekends.

Feel free to share your photographic goals for 2011 here.  I would love to hear what other photographers seek to achieve in the new year.  And you can comment about my photos too, if you want 😉

Rocky outcroppings at Wilson Lake

We went to Wilson Lake over the weekend.  This lake is called “The Clearest Lake in Kansas” because most of the area that drains into the lake is covered with rocks and prairie rather than tilled farmground. While my husband biked the awesome trails there, I hiked and looked for wildflowers.  The first 10 minutes of my hike, I thought “Wow, there’s just not a lot blooming yet.” But then I slowed down a bit and started to really look, and discovered blooms were there.

My hike started at the Hell Creek Bridge and went south and west, following the contour of the lake up on the ridges above.  Let me tell you, if you still think Kansas is flat, you need to go to Wilson Lake, and you will change your mind quickly!  Wilson Lake sits smack dab in the middle of the Smoky Hills of north central Kansas.  The Smoky Hills are comprised of three types of rock:  Niobrara chalk, Dakota sandstone and greenhorn limestone.  The hills are covered with a thin layer of dirt with a mixed grass prairie growing on top.  Some fascinating rock formations exist in the Smoky Hills area.  Rock City is near Minneapolis and is an odd collection of sandstone concretions.  Mushroom Rock State Park contains sandstone pedestals (mushrooms).  The neighboring Kanopolis Lake contains great sandstone bluffs and caves.  Wilson Lake also has an area called the Rocktown Natural Area which contains some 15-20 foot tall sandstone spires, but I didn’t have time to visit this time out.

Lonely Post Rock

Post rock & wildflowers

The area is nicknamed “Post Rock Country” because when the pioneers arrived, there wasn’t much timber in the area and they used what was readily at hand – greenhorn limestone rock.  These old post rocks now make great photographic subjects, and there’s quite a few of them at the lake, the trails strategically placed so as to enjoy them.

I ran into another mountain biker (the self-designated “trail natzi”) who apparently is also a wildflower enthusiast.  He does a lot of volunteer work on the trails, and he seemed excited I was taking photos of the local wildflowers and was more than happy to identify them for me.  When I got home, I looked them up in my “Wildflowers & Grasses of Kansas” book by Michael John Haddock and found out he was 100% correct in his identifications. 

My favorite was the Cobaea penstemon.  They remind me of a foxglove.  I remember seeing bunches of the penstemon blooming last year when we visited the lake, but during the first part of my hike, I didn’t see any.  Later on, however, I was rewarded!  There were scads of them blooming on top of the ridges, perched among the sandstone rocks on the hillsides.  I had fun scrambling up the hillsides to find good clumps of blooms. 

Cobaea penstemon growing in rocky ledges with Wilson Lake in the background

Cobaea penstemon

Close-up of bell shaped Cobaea penstemon blooms

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other wildflowers blooming were wild onion, spiderwort, Dakota verbena, prairie ragwort, western wallflower and purple poppy mallow (which I’ve always called “cowboy rose”).  Also in a few spots I found some scarlet globe mallow, which is similar in appearance to a globe mallow that blooms in the Southwest, but much shorter.

Wild onion (and friend)

Spiderwort

Dakota verbena

Prairie ragwort (I really liked the nice sidelighting on these)

Prairie ragwort

Western wallflower

Purple poppy mallow a/k/a cowboy rose

Scarlet globe mallow

When my husband finished his ride, we hiked a little over a mile west from the parking area at the bridge and came to a big juncture in the trail, called the Trail Cut Off.  I thought the trail sign was very appropriate!  I also have to wonder what wisenheimer came up with this idea 😉

The Cut Off

You can read more about the interesting history of the Smoky Hills and Wilson Lake area by clicking here.

Feel free to leave a comment! I always enjoy feedback from my readers 🙂

The 2010 edition of the Kansas Courthouse Calendar is now available to order!

This is the fourth year for the calendar, and the 2010 edition features the following Kansas courthouses:  Osborne,  Logan, Cloud, Kingman, Pratt, Edwards, Graham, Sherman, Crawford, Franklin, McPherson and Barber.

To see all the featured courthouses, please click this link:  2010 Calendar.

Calendar dimensions are 11 X 17 (when fully opened).  Full-color photographs are printed on 100# white gloss paper, and the calendar is bound with a white o-type wire binding with a hole punched at the top, ready to hang on your wall!

This is a great gift idea for lawyers, judges, paralegals, or anyone connected with the legal field, and architecture buffs!

Price is $15 plus applicable tax and shipping/handling.  To place an order, please contact me at:  niphotobyangela@aol.com.

Ok, technically they are “bison” rather than “buffalo” so sue me for using the wrong term… I read in the Kansas City Star today that a mini-herd of 13 bison was released yesterday onto 1,100 acres of the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve near Strong City. The Nature Conservancy purchased the herd for about $50,000 from the Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota and had them transported here. The animals are being re-introduced to the prairie to help restore the land to a more natural state. The critters trample taller grasses which allows shorter species to thrive, fertilize the land, and create water holes with their buffalo wallows.

Of course, before the white man arrived, bison numbered in the millions in the prairies. That was before the senseless slaughter of the animals around the turn of the century. Fewer than 1,000 survived when it was done.

I’m hoping the public will be allowed to get in somewhat close proximity to these beasts come next spring and summer. The photographic opportunities would abound to be able to capture them in their native tallgrass prairie.

After a busy Saturday in Wichita on August 29 for my firm’s annual picnic (held at the Sedgwick Co. Zoo), on Sunday we headed to Wilson Lake for some biking & hiking. We then headed back home via the northern route (Highway 36) and stopped at a couple of sunflower fields in Washington Co. near Morrowville that fellow CSNP member Scott Bean told me about.  The fields were in great condition!  The rolling hills in the field combined with the sunny sunflowers to create quite a dramatic combination.  When looking through the viewfinder, I just wanted to see sunflowers going into infinity and nothing else. I set my tripod up in the bed of our truck to gain extra height.  I also used my 70-300 mm lens @ 300 mm to accomplish this. Although I did get some distortion on the edges, that was easily cropped out.  The sun hid behind some clouds for a few minutes, which caused the light to be more diffuse and pleasing, and saturated the colors. I fired off a few shots and came away with this.

Sunflower Fields Forever

Of course, the classic combination of bright yellow sunflowers against a bright blue sky couldn’t be ignored in a more intimate portrait.

Walking on Sunshine

I liked how the petals were slightly backlit against the sky and seemed to glow.  Unfortunately, these sunflowers weren’t the large variety and were planted very close together, making it impossible to get close-up individual portraits like I did last year near Beloit.

The next weekend, I found out about a field in Jackson Co. just north of Holton on Highway 75. Of course, I had to visit!  Again, I used our truck to give me the height advantage over the tall blooms.  I liked the pattern created by the sideways sunflowers and noticed one lone flower was above the rest.

Above the Crowd

This field also had an added bonus of the quintessential Kansas windmill off in the distance.

Sunny Windmill

The ground wasn’t quite as hilly as that in Washington Co. and those feed trucks that kept blasting by me were quite annoying, but I still enjoyed my time with my favorite flowers on earth. There are two things I can literally spend hours shooting:  waterfalls and sunflowers.