Going Home

Sunrise over tiny Aurora, Kansas

When I was the Director of Tourism for my home state of Kansas back in the early 1990s, I often lugged a camera along with me as I traveled from community to community to work with leaders who were promoting their individual towns and regions.  When possible, I took as many photos as I could.

We were always looking for a high volume of new pictures to compliment our advertising programs, publication development, and other efforts aimed at drawing overnight visitor spending to the state. A lot of times we didn’t have much budget for acquiring new photos–so I tried to help fill in some of the gaps.

At the time, Kansas often suffered from long-standing image challenges. For example Carl Becker, in 1910, wrote about a phenomenon that some say still exists today. According to Becker, “Until 1895 the whole history of the state was a series of disasters, and always something new, extreme, bizarre, until the name of Kansas became a byword, a synonym for the impossible and ridiculous, inviting laughter, furnishing occasion for jest and hilarity.”

The Republican River at Clyde, KS

I wish Mr. Becker was wrong and was not more than a bit futuristic in his thoughts and words. But, many years later, I often heard misperceptions similar to what he was talking about.

By the mid-1990s, I had moved to Arizona to run the Grand Canyon State’s tourism marketing efforts. There were a lot of communities, resorts, and attractions that wanted to know what our office was doing. So, I was asked to give a fair number of speeches.

The people who would introduce me before I went to the microphone would often say a word or two about my background and experience. On more than one occasion, the facilitator would say something to the effect of, “Prior to becoming the Cabinet Secretary for Arizona Tourism, Greg served as a broadcast journalist and the Director of Kansas Tourism.”

What happened next?

More often than not, the crowd’s reaction would range from a few snickers to all out laughter. It was not out of rudeness that this occurred; it was because many of them sincerely thought the speaker was making a joke. Kansas Tourism? Isn’t that an oxymoron? “They can’t possible have any tourists in Kansas.”

Greg enjoying Stroud's fried chicken; Photo by Amanda (Gilstrap) Bradner

I have always found Kansas to be home to immense beauty. Often subtle, but dramatic in its own right. I arrived at this conclusion because I knew Kansas. I relentlessly traveled from border to border. I fell in love with the rolling green Flint Hills, the out-of-this-world barbecue in Kansas City, fried chicken served home style in small town restaurants/greasy spoons, the Old West and Bleeding Kansas history that was expertly displayed in places like Lawrence and Fort Scott, and numerous turquoise lakes and reservoirs found all over the State. Kansas doesn’t have a Grand Canyon or the resorts of Sedona, Scottsdale, Phoenix, and Tucson. But, it has a lot to offer. And, it is a great place for photo-remedy. A place where you can get lost behind the lens in pursuit of both interesting and colorful parts of the State.

Because I was acutely aware of some of Kansas’ image challenges, I often thought to myself in the early 1990s when I was taking Kansas pictures, “If everyone could see what I’m seeing through this camera viewfinder, it would be clear that Kansas was indeed a great destination to see and experience.”

This January those same thoughts came back to me when we returned to Cloud County, Kansas to bury my beloved mother-in-law.

Nazareth Convent - Concordia, KS; Photo by William J. Gilstrap

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, travel often is very painful for me and can present some serious physical challenges. This was true for the January Kansas trip. To help combat an aching spine and an inability to sleep because of excessive pain, I left the family sleeping in bed at our hotel at about 4:30 a.m. and set out for some photo-remedy. An opportunity to be creative and to creatively get my mind off the pain I was experiencing.

I got some good black coffee and headed out without a defined plan. I simply decided to get in the car and drive– just explore the back roads of Cloud County and see what I could discover. I found awe-inspiring wind farms, pastoral little towns like Aurora and Clyde, and a myriad of great examples of America’s Rural Heartland. Once again, I found myself repeatedly saying, “If only everyone could see what I am seeing through the viewfinder.” It was a great little journey. It was great photo-remedy.

When I finished, I thought about another Carl Becker quote, “The Kansas spirit is the American spirit double distilled. It is a new grafted product of American individualism, American idealism…Kansas is America in microcosm.”

– Greg

Note: Additional photos from Greg’s Cloud County travels can be found at:http://explorationcommunication.com/cloud_county_ks

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The Circle of Life

Nazareth Convent (2012) Concordia, Kansas

Faith often teaches us that the Holy Spirit is so strong that it can even give us the grace to travel through enormous sorrow.

Sometimes our life journeys back to places of joy are filled with multiple, confusing twists and seemingly unending turns. Occasionally, however, we are fortunate enough to find that delight is no farther away from grief than fragrant aroma is from a freshly-bloomed grandiflora rose.

Our family experienced the latter phenomenon this January.

On January 10, 2012, we laid my mother in-law to rest in Clyde, Kansas. Gevine Hoesli was a spiritual leader and role model to seven children, 16 grandchildren, and 13 great-grandchildren. Her obituary clearly details the difference that one person can make in the lives of others–whether they be from her family, her community, or they were simply another human being who needed help.

The pain of her passing, while not removed, was almost immediately marked by the sparkle of new life here on earth and the continuation of the lineage of the late LaRoy and Gevine Hoesli. Just two days after Gevine was laid to rest, new life sprang forth when Emmett William Gilstrap came quietly into the world. This beautiful newborn is the son of Andrew and Katie Gilstrap.

Emmett is our first grandchild for my wife Mary and I. We are unbelievably excited at the opportunity to be grandparents. And, who knows, perhaps someday we will be like LaRoy and Gevine. Great grandparents.

– Greg

Note: The trip to Kansas also offered significant photoremedy. In our next blog posting, we’ll feature the subtle, often dramatic, beauty of January in Cloud County, KS.

2011 Photo of the Year

With a late surge, the Verde Canyon Railroad pulled into the station as the winner of our 2011 Photo-remedy Photo of the Year. The photograph of the fabulous Sedona-area train was followed closely by our Angry Cat and Boxer Rush pictures.

Thanks to everyone for making this such an enjoyable contest. You can see additional train photos, along with shots from the surrounding Verde Valley in my publicly-accessible Facebook photo album at: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150334029875781.392830.684865780&type=1.

Most of the slides in the Facebook album feature brief descriptions of the Railroad’s colorful history and of the many great attributes–like a growing wine industry and the ever-picturesque red rocks–found within a short drive of the train’s Clarkdale depot.

All the best to you and yours in 2012. For our increasing number of readers who are turning to Photo-remedy for inspiration, we hope you all will remember to ‘Keep Fighting with a Smile’ in the year to come.

– Greg

Verde Valley as seen from the Verde Valley Railroad