Touched by the Sun

These glade coneflowers, Echinacea simulata, were found in peak bloom during a May hike at Valley View Glades Natural Area.  Pollen color separates this species from the near identical and more widespread pale coneflower, E. pallida, but some differences in growth habit can be seen as well.  Some species of Echinacea are considered threatened or endangered and loss of habitat and the removal of these plants by non-licensed hunters for the pharmaceutical trade are the primary threats.  There can often be found signs of plant harvesting and rock turning (looking for reptiles and arachnids for the pet trade) at this location and nearby Victoria Glad N.A.  It’s a pity that more cannot be done to protect these ever-shrinking habitats.

“Touched by the Sun″
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF17-40mm f/4L USM lens @ 19mm, ISO 400,  f/18, 1/13 sec

Flint Hills of Kansas: The Konza Prairie

Last weekend Sarah and I took a trip west and found our way to the Little Apple – Manhattan, Kansas.  Destination: The Konza Prairie of the Flint Hills, some of the only existing virgin tall-grass prairie left on earth.   Less than 1% of the estimated 250 million acres of this ecosystem remain intact today, most of it lost to the plow before the year 1900.  In this pano it is somewhat obvious why this area escaped agro-man.  The fertile soils of the Flint Hills are shallow and contain a matrix of limestone and flint gravel.  Homesteaders learned quickly that their sod-busting efforts were best spent elsewhere.  In the valley you can see some gallery forest, supported by an early branch of King’s Creek, a tributary that feeds the Kansas River.  Click on this image to view it full-size in Flickr.  Starting my six mile hike about an hour before sunrise, this series was shot just as the first light of dawn was striking the hills.

“Flint Hills of Kansas″
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF50mm f/2.5 compact macro lens, ISO 160,  f/14, 1/13 sec, 13 images stitched

Location Spotlight: Devil’s Icebox Cave

Located within Rockbridge State Park, just south of Columbia in Boone County, Missouri lies the Devil’s Icebox.  This name generally refers to a collapsed section, or sinkhole of this cave system.  One of the largest caves in Missouri, there is an estimated seven miles of caverns, tunnels and sinkhole surface connections.  The geologic features found here were carved of the same Burlington limestone that formed The Pinnacles found a few miles to the north.  This is also one of the most biologically active and diverse cavern systems in Missouri, being home to two endangered species of bat and a very cool species of pink planaria (flat worm) that is found nowhere else on the planet!  I’ve only had the pleasure of two brief visits to this location, but when water levels are low, like we have now, the underground streams and pools drop and allow for relatively easy access to exploring the caves.  Apparently a good sized section is considered easy to explore and a couple of good headlamps are all that is required.  A summertime visit is the perfect time of year to find out first hand why this place got its name.  The temperature seemed to drop about 40 degrees F during our visit this past weekend.  I can’t wait to get back here and explore some more!

“Devil’s Icebox″
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF17-40mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 28mm, ISO 400,  f/11, manual blend of two exposures

Ostwald-Liesegang Supersaturation-Nucleation-Depletion Cycle

Ha!  You thought I was going deep into some high-level physics, right?  This long title is the fancy term for a precipitation process that is the current best hypothesis for the why these structures pictured below form in sedimentary rock.  Known as Liesegang rings, these are composed of precipitating iron oxide embedded in sandstone.  This image was taken at Garden of the Gods in the Shawnee region of south-eastern Illinois, a wonderful place for finding Liesegang rings, but I have also found them on the western side of the state on the sandstone bluffs carved by the Mississippi River.  It’s hard to believe that in this day and age science does not have a firm answer as to why a phenomenon like this occurs.  Do a quick web search and you can find and read multiple hypothesis suggested by chemists over the past century.  This phenomenon has chaos written all over it as there is still no model that can predict every nuance and anomaly despite the work of computer scientists and physicists.  Maybe the answer is not random patterns due to the unpredictable chaos of the natural world.  Maybe there is a hand in this design.  Can you find the depiction of Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio?  😉

“Liesegang Rings″
Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF17-40mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 22mm, ISO 160,  f/8, 0.3 sec

What Would YOU Call a 680 Ton Rock?

Meet Dumbo, probably the largest of the free standing boulders to be found at Elephant Rocks.  I’ve shared images of this beast before.  You can see more photographs of Dumbo and it’s granite pachyderm brethren on my Elephant Rocks State Park Set on Flickr.  I’ve recently started really trying to take my post-processing to the next level.  I have come to believe that I can control what happens to the exposure inside the magic light-capture box almost as well as I could possibly want. I’m not saying I know every trick in the book, but I do not feel that I am missing too much.  Post-processing on the ol’ computer (equivalent of working on prints in the wet dark room of yesterday), I realize I can use some improvements and practice.  So, recently I adopted some new software and set out to better improve my workflow and learn some new tricks on the other side of the negative.  I am NOT saying I want to become a Photoshop/graphic artist, but just desire to be able to control aspects of the file that will allow me to create a final image that best represents my concept of the scene when I hit the shutter release.

What am I getting at and just what does it have to do with this image?  One of the possible adjustments that can be found in the latest versions of Adobe software products is the ability to correct for geometric lens distortion.  This is a very cool correction device that allows issues of wide angle (barrel) and telephoto (pin cushion) distortions, usually seen in at least some respect in any zoom lens, to be easily corrected for in the computer.  Depending on the subject, barrel distortion can be particularly troublesome.  In this photo of Dumbo, I proudly went to ACR’s lens correction tab and hit the go button and looked at the results of the default setting.  All of a sudden the cool, slightly exaggerated perspective of Dumbo was gone.  The image became pretty boring, to be honest.  This was a good lessen for me for a couple of reasons.  First, just as nature photographers might use changes in color-cast, manipulations of tonal range, or cropping unwanted portions of an image, we can also use (or remove) perspective changes from lens distortions to make our desired image.  Second, any of these lens corrections made (vignetting, chromatic aberration, and especially geometric distortion) can and will cause degradation to the quality of the final image.  We must carefully decide what corrections are necessary and use the sliders to make the minimum needed adjustments.  Do not blindly accept the defaults given by the software.  I have not been able to find much to read on this specific topic and I am still learning as I get more practice.

Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF17-40mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 17mm, ISO 160,  f/13, 1/30 sec

The Sandhill Crane

This stained adult Sandhill Crane is currently visiting some soy fields near St. Louis.

“Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty.  It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language.  The quality of cranes lies, I think, in this higher gamut, as yet beyond the reach of words.”

-Aldo Leopold

“A Sand County Almanac And Sketches Here and There”

“Stained Adult Sandhill Crane”

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera,  EF400mm f/5.6L USM lens, ISO 400,  f/5.6, 1/500 sec

The Fabulous Water Mills of Jim Lalumondiere

Several weeks back Sarah and I jumped in the N.E.V. and decided to go put a few more Missouri Ozark water mills on our list.  Armed with a copy George Suggs’ “Water Mills of the Missouri Ozarks”, we decided to go after a few that were closer to home.  The first on the list for the day was the Byrnesville Mill.  After doing some location scouting on Google and Google Maps, I decided to just tell the GPS to take us to the town of Byrnesville, then I would go from there.  Of all the cool things, the GPS led us directly to the mill!  If only all my destinations were this easy.  We pulled into a large drive and I realized quickly we were on private property, with cool farm, pioneer and ruin type structures all around us.  Looking around I see a white-haired gentlemen coming out of one of the buildings.  We strike up a conversation and I let him know what we are looking for.  He goes on to tell us some fascinating stories about the buildings and particularly the Byrnesville Mill.

“Byrnesville Mill, June 2012”
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 35mm, ISO 100,  f/14, 1/13 sec

Jim had bought this mill in 1976 and converted it into a home where he raised a family.  I couldn’t think of a better place to grow up!  This was one of a dozen or more mills along a rather short stretch of the Big River.  Elaborate dams, like the one pictured above, and other containment structures were built with most of these mills in order to efficiently harness the water’s power.  The Big River is a remarkable waterway for Smallmouth Bass fishing and apparently it doesn’t get much better than right outside Jim’s back door.  Talk about envy!  Jim was most gracious and let us walk about the property, including his own personal bridge that the railways used to cross the Big River.  The image below shows some of the fascinating objects one can find by exploring the property.

“Mill & Stone Ruins”
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 47mm, ISO 100,  f/13, 0.8 sec

Further conversation with Jim led to the discovery that he also owned the nearby Cedar Hill Mill, which we had planned on visiting as well.  Jim had purchased this mill in 1982 with plans on using it to generate and sell electricity.  This plan did not work out and he has been doing a pretty good job of maintaining it since.  They are currently brainstorming ways that the structure could be used for business.

“Cedar Hill Mill, IR, June-2012”
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 82mm, ISO 640,  f/10, 120 sec

I told Jim about the boom in micro/craft beers and brewery/restaurant style establishments in St. Louis during the past several years.  This building is four stories with part of a river running through it.  Would this not be the perfect place for a little micro brewery and pub!?!?

“Cedar Hill Mill Workings I”
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF17-40mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 23mm, ISO 400,  f/10, Photomatix-HDR blend of 8-images

Seriously, just relocate the several thousand mud-daubers and the swallows, but leave everything else as is.  I’ll even name the first brew: Cedar Hill Mill IPA.  Easy.

It is interesting to read and hear about the changes that went through the life cycle of these water mills as diesel and electricity became much more efficient sources of power.  This mill, built in 1876, was first built to mill grain for human consumption.  Jim told me it was also used to mill grain for the pet-food trade and the energy captured was also utilized in the production of ice.

“Cedar Hill Mill Workings II”
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF17-40mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 21mm, ISO 320,  f/8, Photomatix-HDR blend of 7-images

“Cedar Hill Mill & Big River Dam, IR, June-2012”
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 32mm, ISO 640,  f/10, 90 sec

The majority of the water mill structures along this popular stretch of the Big River have fallen to time and ages.  Likewise many of the dams have been breached as can be seen in the above picture.  This was a popular spot on this Sunday afternoon as dozens of people swarm to this spot to swim and fish.  Just as Jim allowed us access inside his mill to take photos, it comes as no surprise he allows his neighbors to use the dam and the river along his property.  With the magic of long-exposure photography, you can see no signs of the several people who were moving along the dam when this image was taken.

Even though Sarah and I could not find a great place for a meal (always a goal of mine during travels) during this trip, meeting Jim and taking some images I’m somewhat happy with was a great way to spend the day.  I can’t wait to visit Jim again, give him a print or two as thanks for allowing us to explore his properties and hopefully make some more memories.