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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