A few days ago a poll came out from Business Insider that said Kansas was the least scenic state in the US. I haven’t been to every state in the country (and I’d bet most of the people in that poll haven’t either) so I can’t say for sure what state is the least scenic. Actually I don’t like the idea that any state is less scenic than any other, all states are going to have areas that are really beautiful and some areas that aren’t so beautiful. And it is important to remember that beauty is subjective, different people are going to find different things beautiful. And there isn’t anything wrong with that (how boring would it be if we were all the same?).
I have to be honest though and admit that I was a little disturbed by the results of this poll. Mostly from the standpoint that I thought it was sad that most people don’t know much about the beauty of the Kansas landscape other than the stereotype that the state is nothing more than one flat, dry field. I think most people that are not familiar with Kansas would be surprised at the diversity of the landscapes we have across the state. In fact, Kansas has 11 distinct geographical areas including, wait for it…the Flint Hills, Smoky Hills, Red Hills, and Chautauqua Hills. Yes that’s right, hills. Kansas does have flat regions, especially in parts of the High Plains. But be glad for that because the fields in those areas (and the fields across the state) help feed a big part of the people in the world.
So why does the Kansas landscape get stereotyped the way it does? Who knows for sure about stereotypes, but for a lot of people their only exposure to Kansas is driving across I-70 at 80 mph in the middle of a summer afternoon. Driving at 80 mph is not a good way to really take in any landscape, but especially the prairie. Prairie landscapes probably are not as immediately visually stunning as say the Grand Canyon, so you can’t really just pull off the highway and jump out at a scenic pull over and take it in. You need to spend some time with the prairie to really “get it”.
You also need to know where to go and that is where Kansans have to take some of the blame for the way the landscape of our state is stereotyped, we probably don’t do all we can to showcase the beauty of the state and to point visitors in the right directions (although there are people and groups out there that make heroic efforts in doing so). And it doesn’t help that Kansas has the least public land in the country at 0.9% percent. That can make it tough for people to find places to really get out onto the prairies and hills and soak it in. People like to make a lot about Kansas having so little public land, but on the other hand, Kansas is an agriculture state and the land is important to the economic life blood of the state. And Kansas’ amount of public land isn’t really that different from other ag states. If you look at the next lowest 5 states in terms of public land they aren’t that much different from Kansas(0.9%): Iowa (1%); Nebraska (1.6%); Texas (1.9%); Indiana (2.3%); and Oklahoma (2.3%). In fact you don’t get above 5% until you get to South Carolina which is number 38 on the list.
But to get to the point of this post, I created a video of some of my photographs made across the state to show people that there are landscapes in Kansas besides just fields (and that those fields can have a beauty all their own). There is beauty anywhere we choose to seek it out. Here is the video:
I’ve also created a list of links to some other photographers whose work showcases the beauty of the Kansas landscape. I’ve been a little hesitant about compiling this list for a couple of reasons though, so first a disclaimer. The list of photographers below is NOT in any way intended to be a comprehensive list of Kansas landscape photographers. It is just a list of photographers that I know or whose work I’m aware of. I’m sure there are people that I know that I’ve forgotten (sorry! The hard drive in my head isn’t as good as it used to be) and of course there are lots of great photographers out there that I’m not aware of. There are also a bunch of great photographers out there that don’t have websites. There are a number of Kansas oriented flickr groups, some great Facebook groups dedicated to Kansas photography, and at least one Google+ community that I’m aware of. Lots of ways out there to find some beautiful images of Kansas.
I’ll leave you with these two great quotes, which are way better than anything I can say.
“The question is always asked by the curious travelers who have crossed the Plains at Interstate speeds, “How can you live here without the mountains, the ocean, the woods?” But what they are really speaking to is their desire to “get it” right away. The sublime of this place that we call the prairie is one of patience and looking. There is no quick fix…If one is to understand the beauty of this place, the old answers just won’t do.”
– Keith Jacobshagen
“While I know the standard claim is that Yosemite, Niagara Falls, the upper Yellowstone and the like, afford the greatest natural shows, I am not so sure but the Prairies and Plains, while less stunning at first sight, last longer, fill the esthetic sense fuller, precede all the rest, and make North America’s characteristic landscape.”
– Walt Whitman