Fall Morning On The Tallgrass Prairie
It’s a Sunday morning in late October. In the predawn darkness, Harland and I drive through the entrance of the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. The visitor center is closed – the parking lot empty. It’s cold, about 30 degrees, and we linger in the warmth of the truck. Ahead of us is a long walk with our heavy camera backpacks.
A light is growing on the eastern horizon. We exit the truck and shiver pulling our hoods up. A few minutes later with backpacks hanging from our shoulders and tripods in hand, we set off on the gravel trail.
Up the first hill to the large limestone foundation barn we hear a noise. Why, it’s the resident yellow tomcat come out to greet us! He loves visitors and we stop for a minute to chat with him and pet his thick fur. But we must be on our way – the light is growing to the east.
Past the barn and corral where the retired grey horse lives. He’s nowhere to be seen. We round the curve and go through the gate into the first pasture. It’s metallic clang is jarring in the grey stillness. Tom has followed us this far and we encourage him to return to the barn where it’s safe from coyotes. He finally stops and watches us as we round another curve.
Past the pond we start up heartbreak hill. The trail is in bad shape – washed out from heavy rains back in the late summer. We pick our way carefully up, up, up the hill. We named the hill “heartbreak” due to it’s length and evil habit of becoming much steeper the last 30 yards. Finally we reach the top and stop, panting, our breath fogging on the still cold air. Now the eastern horizon is red gold. Harland decides to stop here to photograph the sunrise.
I continue on the trail eager to find the bison herd. A half mile later, I’ve reached prairie chicken curve. The sun has nipped above the horizon now. I pull out my cellphone to take a pic:
It warms the hilltops leaving the valleys in shadow:
I round the curve and walk towards bison hill. On either side of the trail are signs the bison have been here: shorn grass where they’ve grazed, flattened round areas where they’ve rested, and manure. I climb to the top of bison hill hoping to see the herd on the far side. As I reach the top panting scanning every direction.
But my hopes are dashed. No herd in sight. However, the view is worth the climb:
Back atop heartbreak hill where I left Harland, he’s clicking away capturing the early morning light.
While a half mile away on bison hill, I’m taking a video:
Soon, the sun has risen well clear of the horizon and the light is getting harsh. I decide to turn back.
Back down bison hill and toward prairie chicken curve. My knee is bothering me, a sharp pain with each step. I injured it over a year ago and now it complains bitterly from my morning hike. But there’s no way to get back to the truck except one foot in front of the other. I plod on.
Another half mile and a body appears near the trail.
Done taking pictures, Harland is enjoying the warmth of the sun.
We head back down heartbreak hill and around the curve toward the corral where the retired grey horse lives.
And there he is!
I leave the trail to walk over to to the fence reaching over to pet his soft velvet nose and have a short chat.
After rejoining Harland we walk a little further before we reach the clanging gate again. But by now, it’s been propped open, ready for the day’s visitors.
Passing the barn again we don’t expect to see the tomcat. By now he’s probably curled up in the barn, sleeping in the straw.
Finally we reach our truck where we remove our packs and get in sinking down gratefully into the seats. There are more vehicles in the parking lot now, probably hikers out on the trails.
We exit the parking lot, leaving the prairie behind, but taking a piece of it with us in memory.
What a splendid way to spend part of my lunch time. The colors are just so pretty. Thank you for sharing. The prairie seems to go on forever!
Doesn’t it though? That’s the wonder of it – that it just goes on and on seemingly without end.
The photos are beautiful – but you guys are nuts! 🙂
A good kind of nuts though, right? 🙂
This is a relaxing post Suzanne, you are so talented and have a knack of seeing the whole picture. Once again I am seeing my life in your pictures of Kansas and Missouri. I did not understand how important my roots were to me. Our memories are the only things. we can take with us. Thank you for the yummy recipes, this one will be appearing at my table.
Thank you Carol. So glad you enjoyed this!
I love this post! The photos are absolutely gorgeous! Your adventure is beautifully described!
Thank you Amy! And thanks for coming along. 🙂
Thank you for a wonderful story, and the pictures too. ‘Tho enjoy the view across the plains east of the Manzanos in NM, your stories and pictures bring back memories from Hoxie & Centralia. (You must get up early to get from home to the Tall Grass Prairie Preserve.)
You were right – Harland got some very nice (well, beautiful!) photos. But you got a really nice video!! I turned up the sound, hoping there’d be some wind noise, but nope. Any idea how cold it was? Brrrr! Thanks for sharing!
Not bad, about 30 degrees, and just a little breeze which is really unusual for the Flint Hills.
I love looking at yours and Harland’s beautiful pictures!
Beautiful! Having lived in Maine, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, the only expanse I have to compare to the prairies, is the Atlantic Ocean! Loved your East Coast travels too!
I meant to comment on Harland’s very HAYry chest!
I’ve been looking at the pic since I posted it trying to figure out why he has a pile of hay on his chest. I don’t remember it being there when I took the pic and neither does he. Weird.
I had to go back and take a closer look at the “hay” on his chest…I zoomed in and then used a magnify-er – I’m almost certain that it’s not something on his chest, but something in front of him. Try it! If you can look closely enough, there seems to be a stem there… What do you think? …the mystery deepens…!
Aha…I think you’re right!
In early summer when the wind blows over the prairie, the tall grass waves in the breeze and it looks like the ocean then.
Lovely pictures. You two really were made for each other. 🙂
Thank you for the photos and video! I just discovered your blog today and felt a kinship as I too was settled in my “forever home” in the country near my family until met my husband through a dating website in 2007…but I moved from Iowa to eastern Kentucky! My husband spent a lot of time in Kansas during his college years and he gets claustrophobic here in the hills of KY – he came home tonight after a busy & stressful day, so I showed him the video and could see him relaxing as he watched 🙂