I get asked quite a bit where good places are in Kansas for photography. Personally, I really enjoy driving country roads so often my answer to this question is in terms of “a drive.” More and more I’m finding many of my “drives” take me to Wabaunsee County. If you haven’t explored Wabaunsee County you should and one of the best places to start is Skyline Road. Skyline Road is appropriately named as the road takes you up high on the hills and provides some spectacular views of the Flint Hills. On this particular trip to Skyline I was looking for a particular patch of butterfly milkweed thanks to a tip from a friend. Turns out it was good tip; the information about the patch of butterfly milkweed was spot on and well worth the drive out to see it.
You might notice that the photograph above looks a bit misty or perhaps foggy. I wish I had some really cool atmospheric phenomenon to say was the reason behind the ‘foggy’ look to this photo but the truth (as it usually is) is not so exciting. The ‘fog’ is due to condensation on my lens (and camera). I keep my camera stored in a camera backpack in my basement, which during the summer is pretty cool. Since the camera bag is well insulated, when I grab the bag and head out the door for some photography the equipment in the bag stays cool for longer than you might think. And what happens when you take something that is cold into a hot, humid environment? That’s right, condensation forms. Of course this has happened to me before and I know better than to grab my camera bag and go without precautions…which normally entail simply unzipping the backpack and letting the camera gear slowly warm up as I drive out to my location. Water on your camera gear, even condensation, is not a good thing so I get a “bad Scott” on this one for not remember to take care to prevent the condensation. What do you do if this happens to you? Get in your car and turn the heater on and hold your camera and lenses in front of the heater to dry and warm them up. Sitting in your car with the heater on is not a fun thing to do in Kansas in June. Nor is sitting in your car watching the light play over your subject for 15 to 20 min while you can’t photograph it. I have found that cussing, fuming, and generally being in a bad mood does not speed up the process of drying out your gear, who knew?
Once the drying, cussing, and fuming was finished I did manage to make some photographs of the butterfly milkweed in the area. I rant and rave about the butterfly milkweed, but the echinacea didn’t look bad either.
At my second stop along Skyline Road a butterfly even made an appearance and was kind enough to let me make several photographs of it. Butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa), goes by many common names such as butterfly weed, Indian Paintbrush (which I just heard used in regards to this flower earlier this year), Orange Milkweed, Chigger Flower, Indian Posy, and many others.
It is also the food source for Monarch butterfly larvae. I was lucky enough to find a larva feeding in the same patch of butterfly milkweed as the adult was flying around.
I also just recently learned that cattle also like to eat butterfly milkweed which is one reason why you don’t see very many of them out in prairie where cattle are…and why they seem to be concentrated in the road ditches where cattle (hopefully) aren’t. The grass might not always be greener on the other side of the fence, but the butterfly milkweed definitely are more abundant on the other side of the fence!
You can see the abundant butterfly milkweed in the ditch along Skyline Road in the photograph above. This stretch of skyline is where I was photographing some spring burns earlier this year on “the night of the bull”…which was the evening my SUV and a bull were abruptly introduced.
I thought it might be interesting to see a comparison of the area during the burn and a now. The tree in the two photographs above is the same tree. Amazing how green the prairie is only a few months after being completely burned off. Without regular burning this view would most likely be just eastern red cedar trees.
Skyline Road is easy to find, simply head south out of Alma on highway 99, Skyline will be a left turn off the highway. Next time you are in the mood for a drive give Skyline Road a try, you won’t be disappointed. Make sure you take your camera and if you see me along side of the road you had better wave! And if you see me sitting in the car holding a camera up close to the dash, better just drive on by…I probably still haven’t learned that cussing, fuming, and being in a bad mood doesn’t speed up removing condensation from your camera.