Konza: Overlanding and the Night Skies of the Prairie

Kan·sa

/ˈkanzə,-sə/
noun
plural noun: Kansas
  1. a North American people of eastern Kansas.
    • the language of the Kansa.

     

  2. or, Konza (Konza Prairie)

I’m just going to go out and say it and clear the air here. I love Kansas. Not many seem to. That’s fine, we all like certain things and places. But us photographers and those of us with an open mind to the world’s beauty tend to see that beauty anywhere. As photographers, we are constantly out searching for landscapes that leave people in awe.

Kansas may not have 14,000′ mountains or the greatest Great Lake, but its subtle hills and wide open prairies leave plenty of room for not only views that are hundreds of miles long. You can watch a storm system unfold hundreds of miles to the north, yet watch another storm begin to unravel to your southeast. The Kansas prairies also are home to some very vast views of our galaxy. With little to no light pollution especially in the western two thirds of the state, it allows one to see the night sky that many in the eastern half of the entire United States are missing out on.

DSCF4285
Certain roads demand certain vehicles.

This particular trip was a mission to focus on a bit of overlanding. That is, traveling to a remote location via some very remote old rutted dirt roads. Overlanding isn’t new by any means. But, it is somewhat new here in the United States. Australia, Africa and the Far East have all been into this for decades. Like all other backcountry or wilderness adventures, the act is all about self-reliance. Being able to get yourself out of a pinch is key, knowing your route and vehicle limitations and essentially being ready for anything is vital—have a backup plan to your backup plan. With the home base being a vehicle, your options of travel significantly increase and home is where you park it.

DSCF4271.jpg
Prescribed burns on the Konza Prairie.

So I drove an extra 2 hours on the backroads of the Kansas prairies just to get to my destination. Overlanding is really more about the journey than the destination. In this case, my destination was one of the closest pockets of true night sky just west of Missouri. Now, I know we have a handful of pockets of true dark here in Missouri. But Kansas has far less people and more openness. So if I had a choice I’d choose to drive further not only for the dark skies, but for more adventure in itself. No joke, I have zero issue with driving to Maine for a lobster dinner only to come back the next day. The interaction with other people/cultures and ways of life creates an open mind. An open mind this world desperately needs.

 

DSCF4389.jpg
The Milky Way and Jupiter shining bright above my favorite type of hotel room.

That open mind I believe came to me when I was a young kid. I had the opportunity of a lifetime and that was going on an African safari. For almost two weeks my family spent everyday in a Land Rover overlanding through the rough roads of the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, Amboseli, Masaai Mara and more. That vastness of the landscape brings back so many memories of our safari when I am on the Konza and I certainly enjoy the translation of those memories into exploring this state. When you have that open mind it’s easier to see things. And when you can see things with an open mind, it lets you appreciate even more (like Kansas). I, for one, am anxious to get back there.

I sure hope you enjoy the Kansas scenes that I’ve captured on my most recent trip. A beautiful sunset followed my day of driving. Many prescribed burns were going on to help with the ecosystem of the area. Around 2am the Milky Way made an appearance. I was slightly nervous about the smoke from the burns overcoming my view of the galactic core. But I finally didn’t get skunked on a Milky Way shoot.

—Jake

2 thoughts on “Konza: Overlanding and the Night Skies of the Prairie

    1. Thank you Greg. Part of my college studies involved travel journalism. I certainly enjoy doing it and I’m glad you enjoyed it!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.