Beyond The Campfire was created to encourage readers to explore the great outdoors and to look at it more closely. Get out and take a hike, go fishing or canoeing, or simply stretch out on a blanket under a summer sky...and take your camera along. We'll talk about combining outdoor activities with photography. We'll look at everything from improving your understanding of the basics to more advanced techniques including things like how to see photographically and capturing the light. We'll explore the night sky, location shoots, using off camera speedlights along with nature and landscape. Grab your camera...strap on your hiking boots...and join me. I think you will enjoy the adventure.

Eclipse 2017

Eclipse 2017
Eclipse 2017

Monday, November 5, 2012

On ConeFlower Hill...Part 1

Everything changed that first day close to 20 years ago now...my view of nature...my sense of place...my understanding of what beauty was...my desire to not just visit, but to experience and capture photographically, up close one of the most amazing landscapes I've ever seen. I've written about that experience to some degree on this blog, and shared numerous images and a few video programs about the location, yet, as I think back on all that, I realize those few words only touched the surface of the emotions I discovered during that time. My desire now is to write a more in depth series of stories about those experiences and share with anyone who cares to read why that day...and the many more that followed...carried such a significant impact for me. It became a calling...a must do moment...to capture the full spectrum of how the tallgrass prairie saga changed not just my personal understanding of that sea of grass, but my understanding of why those kinds of moments are important to my life as an individual, a photographer, and my identity.  Join me from the view "On ConeFlower Hill"...a series about Oklahoma's Tallgrass Prairie.  

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Original range of the Tallgrass Prairie
Part 1

One can only imagine...today...what it must have been like during those first migrations west in the early 1800's. Millions upon millions of bison ranging across the plains, sometimes taking days to pass...an ocean of grass that appeared to roll toward a never ending tomorrow with a diversity of life surpassed but rarely upon this planet. That sea of grass was looked upon as a barrier...a formidable obstacle that barred progress forward. It changed its complexion the further west one traveled. First encounters were against a massive area of Tallgrass that stood higher than a man and spread its wings across the heart and breath of America...a bit further west as the climate changed, that tall grass area merged through a blending of Mixed Grass regions  with the Short Grass prairie's that butted against the base of the Rocky Mountains.

It was the tallgrass area that caught the eye of farmers.  It's rich soil and consistent rains offered a tremendous bounty for anyone tough enough to dig it up and plant a crop. Beginning in 1840, as America started it's westward expansion, that limitless area of tallgrass prairie proved too tempting and as the population expanded, more agriculture was required to feed it. By 1890, in less than a single life span, almost all of it was gone having been plowed up, fenced off, replanted, and converted into fields of corn and wheat.


The plains Indian populations were all but subdued, the millions of free ranging bison had been reduced to a mere few dozen isolated survivors, and the diversity of the tallgrass prairie was destroyed.

The tallgrass prairie required three ingredients to survive: 1. A Climate with hot summers, cold winters, and adequate rainfall;  2. Bison herds that trampled and disturbed the soil that provided aeration and their tons of natural fertilizer that help to enrich the soil; 3. Fire which at times would burn for days and clear off wide areas of range land where new growth would sprout; Fire also prevented the encroachment of wooded plants.

As our westward expansion moved into this area, the bison were killed off and fire was suppressed.  As a result, the tallgrass prairie began to die.  Coupled with converting large areas into agricultural use, what once was perhaps the largest single ecosystem in North America was driven almost into extinction. What once covered over 400,000 square miles...between 140 and 240 million acres...was now just a collection of scattered remnant patches.

To help you understand this...imagine the state of Iowa which covers almost 26 million acres...almost all of it originally covered in tallgrass prairie. If that area of tallgrass were shown as a 1000 piece puzzle...today, only one piece would still exist, and not as a single unit, but broken into multiple, unconnected, smaller pieces...that is the extent of the destruction of the tallgrass prairie.  This kind of loss is characteristic of what happened across the entire range of this once amazing landscape.


By the early 1900's conservationist began to shout their alarm over this destruction...it was almost too late...but because of their efforts restoration projects began to rebuild at least part of what once was. A few areas of original tallgrass remained having been protected primarily because it was either too rocky or rough to plow, or they were privately owned. Although there are several remnant preserves scattered across the original tallgrass region, the only location where horizon to horizon vista's of this kind of landscape can be found is in the Flint Hill's region of southeastern Kansas and northern Oklahoma.  The largest protected area of original tallgrass prairie that exists today is the 38,000 acre Tallgrass Prairie Preserve near Pawhuska, Oklahoma.

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Next article...First visit.


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