On with the “road trip” blog posts….my last post detailed the drive down to the Gyp Hills and our first evening of photography in the Gyp Hills. This post starts off with sunrise the next morning. We had decided to drive the scenic drive from Medicine Lodge to Hardtner over to Aetna Road then up to Sun City. There are a couple of scenic drives around Medicine Lodge and it is easy to get confused. The drive we took (Medicine Lodge – Hardtner-Sun City) is different than the scenic byway along highway 160 between Coldwater and Medicine Lodge. There is also a scenic drive road that intersects with the drive between Medicine Lodge and Hardtner. The whole area is pretty though so it doesn’t really matter what road you take, but it can be a bit confusing at first as to which scenic drive you are actually on.
One of the prettiest stretches of the drive between Medicine Lodge and Hardtner isn’t far from Medicine Lodge. There is a stretch of road that has some spectacular views out across the Gyp Hills. Anyone that thinks Kansas is completely flat needs to visit this area of the state (and actually get out and see for themselves that most of Kansas isn’t what most people think it is!). Dad and I were on the road before sunrise and made our first stop of the day as the sky was just starting to light up. Often the sky is going to have some fantastic colors before the sun has actually risen. On this morning the sky was amazing with soft red-pink light cast across the landscape and brilliant red and orange in the sky. This is one occasion where no photograph can get across what it was like for me to experience (not just see!) the amazing colors of this sunrise.
As the sun started to rise the colors shifted to a bit more blue and some of the pinks, reds, and orange color began to fade. The light was still fantastic though.
I think I could have spent all morning at our first stop. There were so many interesting rock formations and beautiful views. With the light changing as the sun continued to rise the landscapes were changing with the light. The wind was starting to pick up at this point though which was less than ideal, but I’ll take a less than ideal day out with my camera over any kind of day stuck in an office.
As we continued south towards Hardtner the landscape opened up more into farmland. The colors in the trees were amazing and with the sun up now the colors were really popping. I think we timed our trip about perfect for the colors this year.
After going through Hardtner and turning west we went back through some more rugged hill country. It was now mid-morning and the light was starting to get a bit harsher, but it made for some nice contrasty photos of the hills we were driving through. I was really drawn to the shapes of these hills and the erosion patterns running down their sides. Hard to imagine what these hills have experienced in the 260 million years or so that have passed since they got their start. Thinking on the kind of time scale is difficult for me to grasp, but it does help keep things in perspective. The 5 min delay you might experience getting to work because you were stuck behind a slower driver really isn’t that big of a deal is it? At least you weren’t stuck behind a red light for 260 million years…
The landscape started to change again as we turned north for the final leg of this drive. Unfortunately by this time the wind was really howling so we didn’t make very many stops. Next time I’m back in this area I’m going to spend more time on the southern half of Aetna road. Lots of interesting draws and rock formations to photograph in this area with some great colors (white in addition to the red rocks).
We made one detour off of Aetna Road and stumbled into some fantastic colors. We were out of the wind (which had calmed down some already) and had some great photo ops. I’ve always loved cottonwood trees and those in south central Kansas are especially beautiful. They take on really interesting shapes and seem to be larger than those farther north such as around Manhattan.
We worked our way north and headed to Sun City. The drive from highway 160 into Sun City was another really beautiful stretch of road. We stopped a few times on this section and I was amazed at the absolute silence when we got out of the car. The weather was just about perfect at this point as well. I think I could have sat down on the side of the road and been perfectly happy to just sit there all day. Well maybe that isn’t quite true…before our trip I had done some research and came across this blog post by Frank Thompson that recommended Buster’s in Sun City as a great place for lunch. I was really looking forward to trying Buster’s so I probably could have only sat on the side of the road until I was hungry. Maybe if I packed a lunch I could have sat there all day. Anyway…Buster’s did not disappoint. Best brisket sandwich I have ever had. If you are ever in the area, you owe it to yourself to stop at Buster’s (I think eating at Buster’s would be a good excuse to make sure you are in the area sometime!).
After Buster’s, Dad and I worked our way back to Medicine Lodge. What a peaceful afternoon too. I really can’t describe what it was like to step out of the car into these wonderfully wide open, and quiet, spaces. It was soooooo relaxing. If you are not regularly getting out into places in nature that just immediately relax you, please start!
We finished the day off photographing sunset in the same area we started the day photographing sunrise. Sunset wasn’t quite as dramatic as the sunrise was, but it was still really pretty. The soft evening light was great for photographing the rock formations. Couldn’t have asked for a better way to end a great day (except maybe for dinner back at Buster’s!).
This was a longer post than I like to make, but this was a wonderfully full day. I got to see some great landscapes, had the opportunity to photograph them, had a great brisket sandwich at lunch, got to experience some really peaceful places, and most importantly I got to spend the day with my Dad. If this was a Visa commercial I would put prices on the gas I spent, the meal, etc, but the priceless part was the time spend with Dad. It doesn’t get much better than this.