Tallgrass Prairie, Kansas

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September 6-11, 2019
$300 deposit
$1195 balance

Explore one of the last remaining tallgrass prairies in North America, representing the Great Plains of history, with rolling hills, bison, and Midwest sunsets.

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  • Tallgrass Prairie photography workshop


    The tallgrass prairie is an expanse of rolling hills and wide-open vistas, a rare remnant of the vast tallgrass prairie that once covered 400,000 square miles (170 million acres) of the Great Plains of central North America from Canada to Texas. Settlers moved into the area in the 1800s and within a generation much of the tallgrass prairie was plowed under. Today, less than 4% of tallgrass prairie remain in the world, most of it contained in three tallgrass prairie preserves; the Tallgrass Prairie National Reserve (TPNP) and Konza Prairie Biological Station in Kansas, and the Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in Oklahoma (the largest). There is also a Tall Grass Prairie Preserve in Manitoba, Canada.

    Historic home of the Kansa and Osage Native Americans, along with the Cheyenne, Comanche, Arapaho, Pawnee, Kiowa, Plains Apache, Kiowa Apache, and millions of American Bison, this 11,000 acre remnant of the tallgrass prairie conserves a threatened legacy of national and international significance. A unique management partnership between the National Parks Service, the Nature Conservancy, and the Kansas Park Trust, The TPNP is composed of 10,894 acres owned by the National Park Trust (purchased in 1994) and the Nature Conservancy. Approximately 32 acres is owned and managed by the National Park Service and includes an historic 1881 ranch house, limestone barn, outbuildings, and a one-room schoolhouse.

    In the fall, the Tallgrass Prairie National Reserve is lush with growth. Tallgrass species are mostly big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans), and switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), Big bluestem is the grass that you may have heard was "as tall as a man on horseback", because it can reach up to 8 feet tall! The grasses and plants are also turning the russets, reds, and yellows of fall. There are over 400 plant species, 39 reptiles and amphibians, 150 bird species, and 31 species of mammals in the grassland awaiting your discovery, including over 300 free-ranging bison.

    Photographing the open prairie is an exercise in patience & contemplation; a time to slow down and observe, take in the vast open spaces, let it penetrate your soul, forget the demands of the world, and enjoy the simple, quiet beauty of the prairie environment. However, we will be visiting during the time of year when there could be thunderstorms to add to the dramatic imagery and experience of the Great Plains. I was born in Kansas and spent a lot of my youth in Nebraska. I very much enjoyed watching and experiencing the late summer storms as they rolled across the landscape.

    Daily reviews of images in the field and assistance with camera operation, composition, and exposure as you work will be commonplace, as well as practice with long exposure, filter use (polarizer, neutral density, graduated neutral density, etc.), image processing, and more. Each participant will receive a copy of my book The Ecology of Photography: Senses & Perception.

    The region of the Flint Hills played an important role in western expansion. The Santa Fe Trail passes through Council Grove, Kansas, which was the only trading post on the 777-mile journey between Independence, Missouri and Santa Fe, New Mexico. The 1825 treaty establishing the trail was signed with the Osage under the famous Council Oak (which blew down in a storm in 1958. What remains is the stump, unfortunately).

    We will be based in the town of Cottonwood Falls or its close neighbor Strong City, and from there visit the Tallgrass Prairie and other sites in the area such as the Chase County Courthouse, a French Renaissance style building built in 1872 of native limestone. We will also visit the Konza Prairie Biological Station and the bison herd there. Participants will travel together by passenger van during the workshop and accommodations will be at either a local hotel or vacation home rental in Cottonwood Falls/Strong City. The gateway city is Wichita (ICT), Kansas, and pickups at the airport can be arranged. If you are unable to make the pickup in Wichita, you will need to find your own way to Cottonwood Falls (83 miles). The other nearby airports are Topeka (FOE, 83 miles) and Kansas City, Missouri (MCI, 143 miles).

    To get the most from this workshop you should be capable of hiking over uneven and sometimes slick ground for distances up to 5 miles or more round trip on easy to moderately-steep trails. Long hours of photographing will be the norm, though there will be time during the day to relax and engage in personal exploration.

    Instruction, image review and feedback
    Snacks and non-alcoholic refreshments
    Admission to sites
    Transportation on site (or your own vehicle) - pickups in Wichita available

    Not Included:
    Personal items and optional activities
    Trip insurance (recommended)
    Fees for activities not covered in itinerary

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