A Dry Year

Like the rest of the American Midwest, Kansas has been experiencing a severe drought this year. In Manhattan, we are 13 inches below average rainfall as we approach year’s end. I was reminded of that statistic this morning. Heading out to the Konza Prairie to take photos of the changing seasons, I was struck by how low the Kansas River was when I crossed the bridge over it; so I pulled over into a boat launch area take pictures of the low water. It appeared quite shallow. I can’t imagine boating here.


The other side of the riverbed is just below the trees in the background.


The picture below is of one of the old bridge supports. (The new bridge, above, is not far away.) If you look closely, you can see where the river is trickling past in the background.


I decided to take the opportunity to photograph some of the native plants that had bloomed earlier in the year.


While doing so, I stumbled upon this piece of driftwood. For a split second, I thought that it was a rattle snake. Afterward, I was rather keen to get back in my car.


When I got to the prairie, several of the creek beds were bone dry.


The deeper ones had a little water. Small plants were thriving in the puddles at the edges where the water was drying up.


But overall, it is pretty darned dry.


Weekly Photo Challenge: Change of Seasons

Late Autumn – Early Winter on the Konza Prairie

For this week’s photography challenge, I headed out to the Konza Prairie after breakfast. I was captivated by this one ashen white tree. Notice also the moss colored tree just in front and to the right of it. Upon close inspection, there really were so many subtle colors to be seen.

The evergreens covered with berries reminded me of Christmas.

It was a heavy sky, but  just a little too warm to snow. All that fell were a few sprinkles of cold rain.

Quite a few trees were covered with moss. It made them look bundled up for the cold.


This pair of trees seemed ready for winter to be over and it has hardly begun.2TreesWinter

What a pleasant surprise every now and then to run into some brightly-colored berries.


But then I would look at the woods, so ominous-looking, and I was happy to head home for a cup of hot tea.


So You Think Kansas Is Flat?

So you think Kansas is flat? Okay … most of the state is. But not the Konza Prairie which is located in the northern Flint Hills of eastern-central Kansas.  This narrow chain of hills counts as its own ecoregion because it is home to the densest remaining tall grass prairie in North America. Early European settlers, unable to plow the area due to its rocky soil composition, used the region for grazing livestock thus leaving the grasslands intact. Due to dry conditions this summer, the grasses probably will not reach their full height. Nevertheless, this expanse of prairie with its soft, rolling hills is still something to see … and it proves that Kansas isn’t all flat!

The Konza Prairie is co-owned by The Nature Conservancy and Kansas State University. While much of the area is dedicated for use as a biological research station, fortunately there are several trails open to the public. The trails are frequently used by hikers and joggers, birders, and photographers and other artists out to capture the beauty of this land. If you have been following my blog this week, you’ve probably figured out how much I enjoy photographing this area. (I’ve also done a few paintings of the prairie.) However, my next post will be back to food.

Compass Plants on the Konza

Compass Plant (Silphilium Laciniatum) is a wild flower native to the prairies of the midwestern US. It also grows in parts of northeast to central US and southeastern Canada. It derives its name from the fact that its leaves align themselves north-south to avoid over-exposure to the parching sun. Despite the abnormally hot, dry conditions that we have been experiencing in Kansas* – the driest in over 50 years, when I photographed them a few days ago these Compass Plants gave all appearances of thriving on the Konza Prairie. I find them to be a fascinating combination of beauty and ruggedness.

*Our official high yesterday was 107 degrees F., though the thermometer in our yard registered a high of 113.2 degrees F. at 4:20 pm. A thunderstorm last night brought only 0.07 inches of rain.