Welcome to the Soden Photography/healthy living blog!!!  

I've decided to make my blog about more than just photography, personalizing it a bit, and expanding it to include more about my passions outside of photography.  Included in future blogs, in addition to photography, will be other passions and hobbies in my life including, but not limited to, exercise and personal wellness, travel, family, gardening, and whatever else I decide to write about.   

What you won't find here are rants on religion, politics, or anything else that has a tendency to offend.  I welcome everybody reading my blogs to chime in with thoughts, opinions, and ideas expanding on whatever I decide to blog about!  

Thank you and have a great day!

The Flint Hills springtime prairie burns

March 25, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

The Flint Hills Spring prairie burns

An annual tradition rich in history and folklore

It's that time of year again.  That time when cattle ranchers of the Flint Hills region of East-central Kansas set over 2 million acres of their pastures ablaze, readying their pastures for the cattle that will be shipped to the Flint Hills to graze during the spring and summer.  While most of the grassy prairies in neighboring states have been plowed for crops, the rocky nature of the Flint Hills prevented farmers and ranchers from plowing.  Between 80% to 90% of the remaining tall grass prairies in the world are located in the Flint Hills because of it's rocky terrain.

What exactly are the Flint Hills?

The Flint Hills are a 200 mile long by about 60 mile wide swath of hilly, tall grass prairie that extends from Nebraska at its northernmost point down into Southern Oklahoma (called the Osage Hills in Oklahoma due to the Osage indians being relocated to that region in the 19th century), stretching through east-Central Kansas. The Flint Hills owe its existence to the layers of chert (flint), along with limestone and shale, the result of a large inland sea that covered the central United States region many millions of years ago.  Along with limestone, chert is a hard material that erodes at a slower pace than shale, which creates a series of steep-sided, terraced tablelands that make up the Flint Hills.   

The earliest recorded accounts of the prairies being burned by man begin in the early 1500s from early Spanish Explorers.  In the 1590s, the Wichita Indians reportedly set fire to the prairies to burn out a group of Explorers, only one surviving to tell the story.  In 1679, Father Louis Hennepin witnessed the Sioux tribe fire the prairie on 3 sides of a large herd of bison, the fire forming a horse shoe shape.  The bison, with only one way to run, ran right into the Sioux, whom were waiting to ambush the bison.  In May of 1680, Father Hennepin became a temporary prisoner of the Santee Sioux Indians, and witnessed his captors set fire to the prairies as a way of communication. Hennepin also said that those same Sioux later purposely set fire to the prairies to make their captive "prisoners of war", including Hennepin, march faster.  They had to out march the fire or burn to death!  In September, 1806, explorer Zebulon Pike passed through the Flint Hills, and was the first to give name to this region by recording in his journal "Passed very ruff flint hills.  My feet blistered and very sore".

Later settlers in the 1800s tried to prevent the prairies from burning.  Largely unsuccessful, they began setting fires themselves, mostly as a preventative measure, to keep the inevitable prairie fires from burning their property and towns.  As settlers populated and began farming the heartland of America, the burning of most of the prairie lands ceased, with the exception of the Flint Hills.  Farmers learned early on that the fires re-juvenated the prairies, and starting in the 1980s, an increasing number of ranchers have been burning their pastures, reclaiming their land back from trees, shrubs, and non native, less nutritious grasses that have invaded.

 Why burn the Flint Hills?

Each spring, large sections of the tall grass prairies in the Flint Hills of Kansas are burned off. If your not familiar with this process, it can seem really scary, even devastating. The fires, however, are intentionally set, the ranchers burning off their pastures for a variety of reasons, including but not limited to: 

  1. Keeping invasive species such as sumac, Elm, Locust, and Red Cedar (which is actually a species of juniper) at bay.
  2. Keeping invasive, less nutritious grasses from invading.
  3. Clearing last years dead growth allows the sunlight to penetrate, stimulating the spring grasses to begin growing sooner.
  4. Returns nutrients to the soil, supporting the release of fungi spores, the fungi helping with phosphorous intake of grasses.
  5. Cattle grazing on previously burned pastures have been proven to gain on average, 40 lbs more than cattle grazing on unburned pastures.

The Folklore of the Flint Hills prairie burns

Historically, burning the Flint Hills prairie was not a solitary endeavor, it was a community one.  It united friends and strangers alike. Prairie fires were everybody's business and everybody's responsibility. To this day, ranching neighbors work together to make more efficient work of this task, often lighting the prairies late in the day when the winds have died down.  The resulting nighttime pasture burns have wowed spectators since the earliest settlers and attracted curious visitors and tourists from many other states and even other nations.  The controlled prairie fires are beautiful, often described as breathtaking, riveting and compelling.  Cottonwood Falls, Kansas even hosts an annual "Prairie Fire Festival", an event that is held during the prairie burns every spring. The Flying W Ranch hosts an event, called the "Flames In The Flint Hills", in which ranchers Jim, Josh, Gwen, and Josie Hoy have turned prairie burning into a tourism business.  Visitors come, and for a fee, under close supervision, watch the Hoy's and their ranch hands burn many hundreds, even thousands of acres of pastures.  Now, Jason Soden Photography offers photographers a chance to exclusively photograph this time honored event on a working cattle ranch!!!

Your chance to be part of the history and folklore!!

Jason Soden Photography and Craig McCord Photography have teamed up with the Clover Cliff Ranch to offer photographers and artists a chance to participate in the burning of the Flint Hills prairies.  Jason and Craig host a workshop that is exclusive to the artists that sign up. You'll get to talk to the ranchers who have opened up their ranch to us, and experience their way of life.  There will be a day burn, followed by a night burn.  This coming year, after we photograph a day burn, we will retreat to the Limestone house of the Clover Cliff Ranch Bed and Breakfast, and enjoy a smoked brisket dinner, and listen to the cowboys talk about their way of life and answer questions.  After our dinner, the most exciting part of our workshop begins, lighting the pastures against a Flint Hills sunset.  Photographers love photographing silhouettes of cowboys and prairie fires up against the sunset, then later, photographing the prairie burning under the stars, at times lighting up the night like it was day!

If you wish to take part in our workshop next year, please email me at sodenphotography7@hotmail.com to reserve a spot.  Better hurry, this workshop fills up fast! 


Slow Down

January 14, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Fisherman's paradiseFisherman's paradiseAs I was exiting Rocky Mountain National Park to the west, west of Granby, right before sunrise, there was a random roadside pull-off. I wanted to stop and just relax, listen to the mountain stream. As I walked up to the creek and along a trail, I spotted this loan fly-fisherman in the morning mist. Then, the sun illuminated the fog rising from the stream as the temperatures were slightly below freezing. I'm glad I had my camera with me to capture this random moment of time, made possible because I slowed down in my journey. We should all slow down and take the time to enjoy the journey!


Slow down!

These 2 words seem to contradict our society.  We're programmed to hurry, rush, cram as much into our schedules as what's humanly possible, and not possible.  From the moment our alarms jolt us awake, we hit the floor with an unhealthy, urgent sense of gotta go, gotta go, gotta go, go, go!  Gonna be late if I don't hurry.  I can drive 8 MPH over the speed limit...will save me 5 minutes on the way to work.  Stupid red lights and slow drivers.  Might be a few minutes late now.  Speed walk into the start of my shift.  Hurry, hurry, hurry.  Then, work.  Projects due, deadlines, meetings, more deadlines, reports that should have been done last week.  Lunch time.  Quickly walk to the restaurant.  Oh no!!  There's a line.  Gonna be late getting back.  Blood pressure rises again.  Wait, it never dropped in the first place.  Get your food, rush back to work.  Inhale an entire meal in 5 minutes or less.  Back to the deadlines, meetings, reports, responding to emails.  Then suddenly, your hit with the startling realization that one kid has a ball game, another has recital.  Gonna be a late evening.  Again.  Rush home, spend a short time talking to your spouse about the day.  Wait.  No, never mind, there's no time for that.  Send off a few text messages instead.  By 8:00, you haven't even thought about dinner yet, then end up rushing to the local fast food restaurant.  Put the kids to bed by 10, if the games actually begin and end on time.  At 11, your finally in bed, but highly irritated.  Can't sleep.   Your reading this and chuckle...thinking, YEP!  That's happened to me.  Your journey through life is getting from one destination or deadline to another, never thinking about the importance of slowing down, enjoying the journey.    

After a while, you lose the ability to slow down and relax.  It's no longer in your conscious mind, nor is it a part of your life.  You can't even take a week long vacation without cramming your vacation full of deadlines, schedules, places to see, things to do.  You get back from vacation, feeling ready to take a vacation!  Photographers are no different.  Feeling the need to travel to, for example, 5 national parks, through 7 states, in 8 days, take thousands of pictures of multiple stops, failing to spend more than a day or two in any one state, or more than an hour or 2 in any one spot, except to sleep.  We photographers spend so much time thinking about the destination that we loose track of the journey.  This photo highlights what its like to slow down and enjoy the journey.  I was heading to the San Juan Mountains in southwest Colorado for a week long stay, spending time aimlessly wondering through northern Colorado on the way.  We saw a roadside pull off that accesses the Colorado river, west of Granby.  This particular location is not a national park, nor is it even a state park.  It was just a random roadside pull off.  We decided to slow down a bit, pull off the highway, and spend some time. No deadlines or schedules.  Just a random pull off, to spend as much time as we wanted, listening to the tranquility of the Colorado River and appreciating what the river and surrounding landscape had to offer, breathing in crisp, cool, pine infused Colorado morning air.  My wife walked down to the river and just listened.  I found a trail and followed it around a bend in the river and spotted a fly fisherman and watched him (or maybe her) for a while in the morning alpenglow.  The sun finally rose over the mountains to the east, illuminating the fog rising off of the river in an incredible golden glow.  I watched in awe, and so did the fisherman, standing there for a few moments looking around.  This photograph is the fisherman getting ready to cast after his pause.  

This was the best photo of my entire trip.  An unplanned stop on an unnamed roadside pull out, photographing a random fisherman in a completely unplanned scene, capturing a moment in time that will never be repeated.  Nobody else was there, just the fisherman and my family, enjoying Colorado, and a divine moment in our lives!  When you look at this image, and finish reading this blog post, please, realize that it's important to take a moment and slow down.  You will be amazed at what you can experience along the way, and at what you figure out you would have missed!



The Flint Hills prairie burns, a photographer's dream!

January 17, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

2016 is upon us, which means one thing to us Kansas photographers…The Flint Hills prairie burns are only a few months away!

The spring prairie burns in the Flint Hills region of Kansas marks the end of winter and a gradual transitioning, or awakening of the Kansas landscape that welcomes longer days, warmer temperatures, and the overall feeling of relief, knowing that we have survived yet another winter.   

The Flint Hills of Kansas are 82,000 square miles of unplowed tallgrass prairie that stretches from eastern Kansas to north-central Oklahoma.  This region is an important area for grazing cattle. Much of the Flint Hills have been spared from the plow as the rocky terrain prevents crop farming, which has allowed the tall grass prairie to remain intact, in its natural state.  In a typical year, ranchers annually burn hundreds of  thousands of acres of grassland in late March through early April to reduce the abundance of invasive trees, shrubs, and less nutritious grasses, while promoting nutritionally rich grass for that summer's grazing.  When the hills are ablaze, its an incredible sight to see!  Imagine, controlled fire spreading across the entire landscape!  The prairie burns are even more amazing to watch from sunset into the night as the hills are silhouetted in fire, illuminating the nighttime landscape in a spectacular orange glow that can be seen from many miles away! 

It's a memorable experience to see prairie fires burning as far as the horizon extends,  to feel the warming spring breezes blowing unobstructed across the mostly treeless prairie, listening to the relaxing crackle of last years dormant grasses burning, and if your lucky, you will see hawks circling in an excited anticipation of small rodents exposing themselves to escape the fires. Be sure to watch the cowboys (and cowgirls) working the fires with excited, almost childlike expressions of joy and excitement on their faces, because, lets face it, fire is COOL!  Well, actually, its very hot, but you know what I mean!!!  So use caution when driving.  Don't let the fires get too close, and please be mindful of the ranchers working the fires.

There's only one problem with photographing this fascinating yearly experience.  Nobody knows exactly when the ranchers and cowboys will burn their landscape.  It can be very hit or miss, unless you know exactly when a rancher is going to burn their land. The best way to photograph the Flint Hills prairie burns is to drive into the Flint Hills and hope to get lucky and stumble across a ranch burning hundreds, maybe even thousands of acres of their land, and there's no guarantee of finding a prairie fire, UNTIL NOW!  Fellow photographer and good friend, Craig McCord, and I, have coordinated photography workshops with 2 Flint Hills ranches, The Cowboy Way Ranch and the Clover Cliff Bed and Breakfast Cattle Ranch.  They're allowing us access to their land, giving us permission to photograph the prairie fires and the ranchers (cowboys and cowgirls) that tend to the fires. 

​We're offering prairie burn workshops, giving you the opportunity to photograph this incredible phenomenon.  No more guesswork is involved.  Please email me at sodenphotography7@hotmail.com, or see Craig McCord photography for information on this incredible experience.  These workshops give you the opportunity to build your portfolio of images, using the Flint Hills, and the cowboys and cowgirls of the Flint Hills, burning their land, as a backdrop, guaranteeing unique images that would be hard to obtain anywhere else.  Please see the pictures in the slide show that shows just how incredible the Flint Hills prairie burns are!!!

Thank you.


First Blog Post

July 28, 2013  •  1 Comment

This is a test post to see if my blog posts are actually being posted to the internet.

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