Sunday, January 13, 2013

Autumn on the Great Plains

Autumn on the Great Plains is a little different than most places.  Primarily that means you have to look harder to find fall colors since you have to work more to find trees.  The grasses of the prairies can put on their own colorful display but let's be honest, most people still want trees to photograph.

That usually means looking for cottonwoods along streams and rivers.  However, if one knows where to look there can be other places of color.  

One such place is the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in southwest Oklahoma. Smack dab in the middle of the south plains between Wichita Falls, Texas and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma a small range of granite mountains pop out of the flat prairies.  

Some of the rocky hills here rise around 800' above the surrounding flatlands.  Streams and small lakes fill the flat valleys between the hills.  Bison, elk, and longhorn roam the refuge.  At some 50,000 acres it is one of the largest areas of public lands on the Great Plains.  It is a fantastic location that is off the beaten path of all but a few local photographers.

It also can put on a great little fall color display.  The rocky slopes of the hills and some of the narrow zig-zag valleys contain some oaks that will put on a little color display in early November.

Here are a couple of images of one early November a couple of years ago.  This is Mt. Sheridan (I presume named for General Phil Sheridan of Civil War fame) in predawn light.

The colors were in great shape that year and this display was one of my favorite scenes.  I am glad I captured it then as the drought of 2011 was severe here and hundreds of acres of the refuge burned that year.  This mountain was one that the fires raged on and today many of those trees are just charred remains.  So while nature has renewed itself, it may be a few years to capture this scene again in full autumn glory.

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