S: Welcome ~ Tallgrass Prairie Preserve
FC: Photographed and written by Brad and Madison Dishman
1: The Tallgrass Prairie In the summer of 2008 I finally made it over to the Tallgrass Prairie. I had heard many people share their adventures at the prairie and the abundance of bison that they had encountered on their trips. I knew it was not that long of a drive to Pawhuska, Oklahoma from Owasso. I had recently purchased my Canon 20D camera and I was looking for a new challenge to photograph. I had no idea how much I was going to enjoy this beautiful landscape of rolling hills of grass, dusty roads, the animals that I would encounter, and the occasional woodlands typically found in valleys. This book was produced from four seasons of images over a two year period, 2008-2009. I am so ready to return to this unique and natural environment. I hope those that look at these beautiful images feel the same way and will make their own adventures at the Tall Grass Prairie. The sounds (and lack of sounds), smells, nearly constant movement of air, and visual distance and beauty that it provides cannot be explored anywhere else, but at the Tall Grass Prairie. These pictures are only a calling, they cannot even come close to experiencing it first-hand. Enjoy! Brad Dishman, December 2012
2: When you arrive in Pawhuska, in the middle of Osage County, you turn north onto a city street that is first surrounded by turn-of-the-century buildings that make you want to stop and explore their history first if you did not have the prairie awaiting your arrival. A few blocks north and you come to a welcome sign that lets you know you are getting close.
3: You begin the hilly, curvy road that takes you up out of the woodlands and onto what at first would be called a table top covered in grass. This transformation takes about ten minutes of driving north out of Pawhuska. It is like you get to the top of a roller coaster ride and there is no drop. Only tall, undulating grass that is nearly always waving with the openness to the distant winds. It was astounding the first time I saw it. One minute in rolling tree covered hills, the next minute looking across miles of grass covered prairie.
4: Upon entering or exiting the prairie you would drive across cattle guards. At the entrances you would be reminded that you were entering the home of the bison and that they demanded your respect of distance if you were to leave unscathed.
10: From looking at the prairie from this vantage point you would think it goes on forever. It appears to be a carpet of meandering, grass-covered slopes. In the center of this picture you can see a working oil well. It is amazing how far sound travels. There were times you could hear an oil well pumping or a vehicle engine and know that it was far off in the distance. Other times all you could hear was the wind in the grass or ... nothing.
11: The next two pages show images of the gravel roads that travel you through the prairie. When the roads were dry they would give away the locations of other vehicles as the plumes of dust would rise up above them and then quickly be dispersed by the breeze. Once you were on the prairie, fences were nearly nonexistent. The gravel road was one of the few changes that has ever occurred to this pristine land.
14: On some of my trips to the prairie I had a partner, Madison who enjoyed exploring as much as I did.
15: On our first trip we had a picnic under a large walnut tree across from the headquarters building.
18: On that same day, Madison and I went for a walk down the Prairie Earth Trail. It started out in a hardwood cross timber section that was near a creek that lead up a narrow trail out onto the open prairie. The walk was extremely quiet. The only sounds was of the wind in the grasses, birds, and insects. It was quite a sensory experience to stop and sit while closing your eyes.This is one of the few places you can go and not hear other human-made sounds, only nature and sometimes it's quiet!
20: As we walked along the trial, we noticed what looked like miniature dried up crawdad ponds. They had short spotty grasses growing down inside them. I soon identified them as bison wallows.
21: The trail that went back into the prairie traveled a good two miles. You would walk up and down slightly inclined hills of grasses and wildflowers. | Milkweed - one of the favorite plants of the monarch butterfly. | Annual or Daisy Fleabane
22: Toward the middle of the walk you ventured down into a valley which had a small pool and stream of water. | As you crossed the bridge and peered into the quaint, crystal clear stream below a solitary perch quietly swam while absorbing the warm afternoon sunlight.
24: The miniature pool of water attracted frogs and insects such as the grasshopper and Azure Bluet damselfly on the next page. The water was a unique and vital oasis in the middle of the sea of grass for prairie animals' survival.
26: The prairie hosted a tree that is becoming one of my favorite which is the burr oak. I am fascinated by it large elongated leaves and it symmetrical acorn that can't be missed by it enormous size. It takes nearly forty years of growth before a tree can produce acorns.
28: Once you enter the preserve you know that there are over 2,500 American bison. What is amazing with that large number of animals, 39,000 acres of open range land certainly can hide them well! One of our last trips to the preserve was on a hot summer's day. We did not see one bison except in the corral that is a quarter to a half mile off of the public road. Yes, it was hot and they were not interested in coming out of the shade or water. Fortunately, all the other trips have been quite fruitful in providing us with viewing of this magnificent animal. So on the many pages that follow, I want to share some of these close and not so close encounters with the bison of the Tallgrass Prairie.
29: Headquarters and Gift Shop | Historic 1920 replica bunkhouse
30: The bunkhouse on the previous page is a replica of a former building where cowhands would live while working on the ranch. You can peer through the windows and see how the rooms might have looked many years ago.
38: Sunrise over the prairie
45: Dad and Mom went with Madison and me on one or our trips. It was April 18, 2009. The day was cloudy but it was on its way to becoming spring for it was warm, the March winds were subsiding, and the grass was beginning to grow. These images show a section of the prairie that they had performed a controlled burn. It was void of last year's tall native grasses but also the encroachment of trees and weeds. Without the burns the native grasses would have lots of competition.
46: The vastness of this prairie is truly breathtaking. As I mention before, these images just cannot take the place of one's own senses getting to take in all the beauty and expanse this place has to offer. One must experience (many times in different seasons) to appreciate its totality and uniqueness.
47: My pictures that included Mom on this day were quite poor to say the least. We decided once we made it into Pawhuska at the end of our trip that we would travel west to Fairfax, OK which is where Mom taught during her first years of teaching in the early 1960's. It was getting quite dark when we located the high school and the first place she lived in. Madison and I enjoyed listening to the stories she shared of her happy memories of this time in her life.
48: Sun | On December 28, 2008, Madison and I left Owasso after stopping at Quiktrip at a little before 5 AM. Our goal was to see a sunrise at the prairie. Upon arriving at our destination, the temperature was 13 degrees.
49: Rise | There was a slight breeze which made it feel more like zero. We sat wrapped up in a blanket spread out on a blue tarp that we held down with nearby sandstone rocks. The only sound was the slight breeze that added a chill in the air. What a beautiful sight!
52: The oil industry is still an important part of this region of Oklahoma. The bison find the equipment useful when they need a strong scratching post.
62: I enjoyed photographing these trees. They lived many years and appear to be the defiant few that peered over this grass-covered prairie. I am curious if they finally succumb to the multiple fires they must have endured.
66: The pages that follow are of other animals, plants, and views of the prairie that I wanted to include. | This is a gray hairstreak butterfly on a blackeyed susan. Blackeyed susans are some of my favorite wildflowers in the summer.
67: We were quite happy to see a bald eagle and coyote in the distance on one of our last trips.
68: Wild Strawberries | Rose Vervain
69: Upright Prairie Coneflower | Common Spiderwort
70: Wildflowers were quite abundant from spring through fall. | Wild Bergamot | Blackeyed Susan
71: Blackeyed Susan | Butterfly Milkweed | Slender Milkwort
72: Each year sections of the prairie are burned. These two pictures were taken in December and again in April. The reddish tinge that these sandstone rock display when seen in the morning sunrise remind me of pictures sent back from the landscape of the planet Mars.
76: We came across some whitetailed deer near the crosstimbers. As they dashed away they flashed their white fluffy tails. The pictures on the right side of the page are of the numerous sandstone rocks that peppered the ground across the prairie. I can't imagine trying to drive a horse and wagon across this land.
84: Turkey Vulture
99: Madison and I have enjoyed our trips to the Tallgrass and hope that we can take many more in the future. We hope you can too!