“Kansas isn’t what you think it is.” Those words from one of the September 2010 Splendor in the Grass tour participants pretty well summarize the trip.
It seemed to be a cumulative thought that developed during our week. As our tour progressed from Wichita through the spectacular wetlands of Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira, through bison pastures and on into the geologically bolstered prairies of the Flint Hills, Kansas acquired new meaning. On closer inspection, the state that is supposedly flat, dry and boring turned into a charming place with friendly people and big skies covering wide open prairie landscapes. We entered a living and working landscape harboring a wealth of history and native ecosystems that inspire people to embrace the present, put down deep roots, care for what they have and prepare for the future.
This year we were a bit behind shorebird migration and a little ahead of peak fall color on the prairie, but Kansas gave us a great show of autumn, butterflies, bison, birds wildflowers and weather. We enjoyed warm days and cool evenings and were even treated to an impressive Great Plains thunderstorm that ended our evening with a rainbow!
Prairie plants and tallgrass ecosystems quickly became a comforting countryside that provided surprises and new discoveries at every turn. Big Bluestem, Indian Grass and Switchgrass seemed to reach out and almost demand a caress or handshake as people walked to the crest of a hill. Prairie wildflowers brightened our days with brilliant yellows and showed us how they played host to a gathering of butterflies, other insects and spiders. The wind, a near constant companion, quivered the cottonwood leaves, changed the clouds in the sky, reminded us to secure light objects, blew our hair and cooled our brows. Seven Scissor-tailed Flycatchers gave us an unexpected delight with a greeting from their perch on a power line and even the Great-tailed Grackles surprised us with their clever parking lot food gathering strategies.
And most friendly of all, were the Kansans who greeted us in the small town cafes, shops and hotels, shared their natural and historical heritage in centers and museums and expressed their gratitude for our interest in the place. Looking back it seems like we were hugged by the place.
Sil and I return to lead another Naturalist Journeys, LLC adventure this spring – why not join us May 1-6, 2011?