Cruising Along The Cosmic Highway


The plan was very simple. Load up our new VW SportWagen with our bikes and camping gear.  Drive to the Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado on a Friday. Enjoy two days in one of the United States unique National Parks, then drive home on Monday. A quick road trip, but one filled with great promise.

What we had not planned on as we should was how much we would enjoy the “road” part of the road trip. When we turned off I-70 at Oakley, Kansas, we began one of the most enjoyable driving experiences we have ever shared. It all started with the glorious view of what makes Kansas the “Wheat State.” Alongside us the golden fields stood ready for harvest. Combines swept through fields as we passed. Even though the new strains of wheat no longer grow tall enough for the stalks to truly wave in the wind, the beauty remains powerfully heartening.

With nary a car in sight and the cruise control set, we cranked up the Sirius XM radio that kept our pace completely upbeat. How could we keep ourselves from helping the Clash Rock the Casbah? We belted out The Kinks All Day and All of the Night as loud as ears allowed. For the more syrupy songs, that thankfully were not videotaped, I not only serenaded Laura, I smoothly showed off the concert stage moves such songs require even with a seat belt strapped around me.  Of course, there was no need to sing along with the Rolling Stones Happy because we both know “I need your love to keep me happy.”

The usual late afternoon storms in Colorado.

The usual late afternoon storms in Colorado.

Once into Colorado, the traffic thinned further as the Kansas wheat fields gave way to scrub grass and stubby trees. Huge ranches spread for miles. In the distance, the usual late afternoon Colorado thunderstorms developed giving the stark scenery dramatic contrasts as we began to climb up and over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains that rim the eastern portion of the San Luis Valley, the home of the Great Sand Dunes.

After 10 hours of enjoyable driving, we stopped in Alamosa to pick up the gear we needed for our dunes adventure and a good meal at Rubi Slipper, a highly recommended hamburger bar. Fortunately, no one tried to remind us with the tired cliché that we were “not in Kansas anymore.” Seriously, that gets old fast.

In the summer of 1971, the legendary Kansas distance runner, Jim Ryun, used the 9,000 foot elevation of the Dunes area for high-altitude training. I was involved in a film project led by Ryun’s great photographic documenter, Rich Clarkson. Ryun was training for the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany, where he hoped to claim an Olympic gold medal after being upset by Kenyan Kip Keino in Mexico City’s high altitude during the 1968 Olympics.

A film of Ryun’s pre-Olympic training, with me serving as the project’s sound man, brought us to Colorado. Standing atop a dune with my headphones planted over my ears and a boom mike in hand, I guarded my hefty tape deck from the sand as Ryun, looking very tiny in the setting, traversed the massive dunes. That sight remains firmly locked in my memory of great joys. Without another person in sight, we sweltered in the late-July heat. Spread over 37 square miles with dune after dune growing higher, the rich Colorado blue sky gave this 20-year-old a Lawrence of Arabia feeling I now wanted to share with Laura.

We arrived the next morning at the National Park ahead of the mid-day heat to find crowds filling the parking lot. With a sand sled and a sand board in our arms, we crossed a stream leaving the thicket of mosquitos behind us as we climbed up into the steep dunes away from the crowds for our rides. Laura preferred the sled for our fun, while I made over 20 rides down ever steeper slopes on the sand board.

While shaped much like a snow board, the lack of edges on the board and the soft sand made turning nearly impossible unless you traversed sideways across a dune. Since that would not be much fun, these were straight shots down 40-50 foot dunes. The feeling was as close as a land-locked Kansan could feel on the ground to dropping in on a huge winter wave on the North Shore of Oahu.

Of course, for each of those rides, a long climb back up in the soft sand at altitude awaited us. Shoes were mandatory as even a short time barefoot in the sand that can rise up to 150 degrees torched our feet. For every sand board ride, the shoes came off to be carried in hand down the dune. By the end of our time in the Dunes, we felt the workout our fun required. It did, however, prove again that in another time and another life, my belief that my calling to photography might well have been a call to big wave surfing.

Besides the Dunes’ beauty, the sound – or lack of sound – is what amazed us. Thanks to a CBS Sunday Morning News segment, we knew the Dunes are the most quiet spot in the United States. The segment revealed that a recording studio registers at 10 decibel. The Dunes register at only three to four decibel.

Even at our campsite, 10 miles from the National Park, we enjoyed the amazing effects of what quiet can do for the mind and soul. It is no wonder that various Native American tribes consider the Valley to be the most spiritual location on earth. The Tewa Puebloans called the Dunes “Sandy Place Lake” from where their ancestors, all earthly plants and animals, emerged from the “World Beneath.” Upon death, the Tewa people re-enter the Pueblo spirit world using a passageway in the Dunes.

The Navajo tribes view Blanca Peak, which sits just east of the road leading to the Dunes, as one of four sacred mountains that rose from pebbles set in the ground by the first man and woman on earth. At over 14,000 feet, Blanca Peak greets the rising sun each day and impressed us with its dramatic leap from the valley floor. With another peak in Colorado, one in Arizona and another in New Mexico, these four mountains frame the sacred land.

While the Sand Dunes and the V where Zebulon Pike used to enter the area from the north seem close, we were still 12 mies away.

While the Sand Dunes and the V where Zebulon Pike entered the area from the north seem close, we were still 18 miles away.

What we learned the next day on a long road ride was how the Valley is completely rimmed by mountains with the southern views coming from New Mexico. Distances were completely askew. The San Luis Valley encompasses approximately 8,000 square miles. At 122 miles long and 74 miles wide, a spot chosen as our turnaround seemed close but proved to be many miles further than expected.

Surprisingly, that did not matter. Even at altitude, we were riding as well together as ever before. On our return, into a 15 mph head wind, we alternated pulls every mile and negative-split our return time. A soak in the nearby hot springs seemed to be the perfect relief for our muscles and the two days of intense activity.

The 118 degree hot springs water at the Natural Hot Artesian Oasis required chilling before entering a large pool where the 95-100 degree water made sitting in the shallow end about as active as we wanted. Given the fact that the pool was once used to breed catfish, I started to wonder. With local high schoolers putting on a ceaseless display of diving skills, it was impossible to check the deep end for the “pods” found in the 1985 movie Cocoon. Could Laura and I have found water charged with the same life force that in time would have us carrying on like wild teenagers? Just the thought of me as a teenager again was enough to scare Laura,  even though the others surrounding us seemed even more vegetative than us.

Disappointed, I tried the therapy pool, where the water ranged from 105-107 degrees. With hopes of finding my revitalizing “fountain of youth,” trying to tolerate the scorching heat in solitude, my peace proved short-lived.

“You don’t look like you are from around here?” I opened my eyes to find two men and the inquisitive woman way too close to me. “Have you been to the bat caves yet? You need to go to the bat caves. Every night at dusk, bats by the hundreds of thousands fly out of the cave. It’s spectacular.” Despite the scary looks of the trio, I found myself intrigued.

“You’ll have to park, then forge up a river before climbing some ragged areas to get there, but it is worth it.” None of that seemed that difficult.

“However, I need to warn you, that area is clothing optional. If you are bringing your children or grandchildren, make sure you warn them that they will see naked people. I climbed up there last night with just my boots and a backpack.”

Things turned weird quickly. I am not scared of bats and would be happy to go naked with Laura. However, looking at my trio of scary old folk made me remember how many student-athletes come to Laura wanting to major in physical therapy. In their mind’s eye, they see themselves working on taut physiques they see daily amongst their teammates. Then reality sets in as they discover the number of those fit people is only a small minority of the population. Most find themselves sitting in Laura’s office begging to change their major.

On our way to the UFO Watchtower.

On our way to the UFO Watchtower.

This certainly was not a fountain of youth. I leaped from therapy area and broke the rule of running on a wet pool deck to Laura where I pleaded the time to go had arrived. She was more than ready. Of course that was only the start of our strange adventures along a stretch of road openly called “The Cosmic Highway.”

The mythic nature of the San Luis Valley now attracts believers claiming the Valley to be the “most active UFO sight in United States.” We found that proclamation on a list of nearby attractions we discovered at the hot springs. Right there with the Sand Dunes National Park, our campgrounds at the San Luis State Park and the Colorado Alligator Farm, how could we miss out on the UFO Watchtower?

On grounds filled with RV’s and campers, a large jerry-rigged platform rose ominously. In the heat of the day, fanatics sat in lawn chairs atop the tower with eyes straining in the sun to catch a glimpse of a UFO streaking across the sky or coming in for a landing. Since neither of us are believers, we decided the five dollars required for a spot on the watchtower would be better spent on a final dinner in Alamosa.

Awaiting the arrival of our friends from space.

Awaiting the arrival of our friends from space.

It would be nice to say UFO sightings quickly vanished from our minds, but as we walked down the city streets, we could not keep ourselves from wondering how many of the locals were actually aliens from some bizarre Men in Black movie scene? Our waiter might be from a planet far, far away. He sure acted high, high away. Fortunately, back at our campsite with a fire roaring and stalks of sage tossed into the fire to keep mosquitos at bay, we scanned the night sky brimming with brilliant stars but without a streak across the sky from another world.

As we made our way out the Valley the next morning, our thoughts turned to how truly monstrous and majestic is our nation. On our bicycle ride, the mountain peaks behind the Dunes formed a V. Journeying through that V, Zebulon Pike and his men discovered the Sand Dunes during an expedition to chart the vastness of the Louisiana Purchase. Pike earlier passed a peak outside of Colorado Springs that now bears his name, the majestic Pike’s Peak.

Laura discovered that over 80% of Colorado’s population lives along the Front Range between Colorado Springs and Denver. Adding the population that now lives from Denver, past Boulder and up to Fort Collins helps give perspective that traveling like Pike through Colorado can still be a journey of solitude.

Yet somehow through all our country’s highs and lows, there remain enough sane men and women that have helped keep our majestic nation bound together, save for one Civil War. The beauty of it all is that two people can get in their car, crank the radio and drive along many cosmic highways.  We cannot help but thank the Lord for allowing us to enjoy being so ridiculously happy and even more ridiculously in love.  That makes for one great road trip throughout one great nation.

A happy couple heading home.

Heading Home on our cosmic highway.


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The Ride of the New Valkyries

Volkswagen Brigade

Our Volkswagen Brigade featuring Kelly’s “Das Boot,” my “Vagen” and Laura’s “Volks.”

Should you ever hear The Ride of the Valkyries booming from speakers in Lawrence, Topeka and even Kansas City, be warned. Remember the scene in Apocalypse Now when a squadron of helicopters swept in with loud speakers booming out Wagner’s classical wonder? With Robert Duvall in command, the fiery search and destroy mission allowed a soldier in Duvall’s squadron to surf waves breaking along the Vietnam shore.

We now have our own brigade of Volkswagens zooming along the streets each with The Ride of the Valkyries ready to boom from our speakers. Our journey to the point we can park three new VW’s side-by-side is an interesting one that includes no love for the “smell of napalm in the morning.”

When Laura and I married in 2001, I was driving a BMW 528i Sport model. As much as I loved that car, it became clear we needed to find something economical. The BMW was sold, and a used 1995 Honda Civic became Laura’s ride. I took over her old Ford Explorer that I soon grew to dislike. I felt completely detached sitting so high in the Explorer.

In 2005, we traded the Ford for a Subaru Outback and followed that with another used Honda Civic, this time a 1999 two-door coupe I drove for work. We wanted to preserve the Subaru for big road trips and snowy weather. The two Honda’s were cheap to keep running. The Subaru carried our gear for many great vacation and work trips. Combined we began to rack up massive miles on each. The odometer readings on our cars alerted us this spring that changes needed to be made. Laura’s Honda climbed to 240,000 miles and my Honda to nearly 270,000 mile.

We took the Subaru, with 140,000 miles, to our mechanic to evaluate. His words were blunt, “My advice is trade it now!”  There was an exclamation in his voice. He foresaw costly parts replacement on the horizon. We began our search. We sought a good used Honda Element, a very unique vehicle no longer made, that would have allowed me to drive lower to the ground and haul our bikes, camping supplies and camera gear with room for our two grandsons. The now popular cult car limited our choices to either overpriced newer models or older models with just as many miles as our Subaru.

On a rainy Sunday afternoon in April, we stood in the local Subaru lot looking at new models. We then crossed the street to look at Volkswagens because their Golf SportWagen seemed perfect for our work and pleasure needs. We could not believe the drastically marked-down price. It was so low we felt sure it was a mistake. Two days later, we bought not only the SportWagen but added a four-door Golf for Laura at prices combined were only slightly higher than a new Subaru model across the street.

Volkswagen is taking a monstrous financial beating over problems with their once highly acclaimed, clean diesel engines that proved to be sadly unclean. Plummeting sales forced Volkswagen to invest large sums of money into each dealership to ignite sales of their still outstanding gas models. As our sales rep, Hearne Christopher, told us, “You rode on the cusp of Haley’s Comet as it streaked across the sky.”

Our trade-in for the Subaru exceeded our hopes to the point Laura nearly fell out of her chair when she saw the figure. I had to turn my head to keep from laughing with joy. With a sweet bike rack thrown in for the Wagen, we drove off in two new cars.

Our pastor bought Laura’s Honda for his high school daughter. Our big selling point was the fact the old car could no longer accelerate fast enough to get his daughter into trouble. We both hated to turn over the keys of our old friend. We hope it will live on for years.

My old Honda stays with us. Always treated as a beater, it carries Rocket on his beloved road trips, hauls bikes, kayaks and SUP, sometimes all at once. Dents here or there do not matter. Reaching 300,000 is the next milestone. That Honda might well outlive me.

Meanwhile, we seem like kids with our first cars. With true Germanic tightness, we cruise along quietly enjoying technological features we have never experienced. Thanks to satellite radio, Laura commands an array of country stations. I can toggle back and forth between vinyl classics from late 60’s and early 70’s and the latest from the alternative rock station. We both listen to New York Yankees baseball. Fall will offer Laura Oklahoma football and Nebraska football for me.

Vagen_Alamosa_06262016With our first road trip to the Great Sand Dunes National Park and the San Luis Valley of South Central Colorado completed, our Wagen hauled our bikes and camping gear 1,015 miles averaging over 30 mpg. We could not be happier.

The two new cars impressed Kelly so much that weeks later she struck her own deal with a dealership in Lawrence. That leaves the likely question as to why the cars are all white.

My uncle John Pflug remains a true car guy into his 90’s in Lincoln, Nebraska. For all of my youth, his latest Pontiac was always white. I grew to love white cars. Until we bought the Subaru and the 1999 Honda, both in black, I never owned a car that was not white. One look at the brilliant white Volkswagen was all I needed to buy my fourth white VW.

Laura looked at the different colors available. She quickly came back to a white Golf sitting right next to the SportWagen. Kelly’s list of interesting cars initially did not include a Volkswagen, but that changed after one test drive. As for the color, she never considered anything other than white. She is my daughter.

In Scandinavian Mythology, the Valkyries were the “choosers of the slain.” They carried honorable slain warriors from the battlefield to Valhalla. The three of us now agree, a gleaming white Volkswagen would be the perfect vehicle for that final ride to Valhalla.




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Bird’s Eye View of the Sports Photography Workshop

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The eye of the Jayhawk, KU’s beloved mascot, inspired the first part of the title for this post. The photographic feature in Rock Chalk Weekly has become my great photographic challenge and love. For two years, Kansas Athletics has published the weekly online magazine during the school year that allows me creative freedom with the cover photography and the Bird’s Eye View section.

Preparations for my annual presentation at the Sports Photography Workshop, this year in Denver, started with the 2015-16 BEV’s, as Laura and I call them. From the magazine’s inception, I wanted to assure the five images in each issue depicted all of KU’s sports and athletic needs with photographs never published. Finally, the images needed to be shaped as full-frame images with minimal cropping.

It challenges us to think beyond just the games or matches all the while looking for great light and composition.  It took time and planning to make the 170 images used this school year, some of which we share with you. We both are very proud of this year’s BEV’s.

From July 27 through August 2, a group of distinguished sports photographers will share their photographic work and teaching skills at the Sports Photography Workshop. While the BEV’s will be a part of my opening night presentation, it is the teaching that I love the most, as do the other staffers.  Students can photograph a wide variety of sports assignments from training to competition and from youth leagues to the professional level. They can learn how to use strobes to enhance and create dynamic images. With the help of the instructors working beside the students, the knowledge gained throughout the week will last and last as will the fun and friendships.

Every year I gain new knowledge from the instructors and find inspiration from the enthusiastic students for another year’s work, my 20th at KU and 48th as a professional photographer. Students can talk with photo editors from Sports Illustrated, The Players Tribune and other national publications. Sports Illustrated photographers, nationally acclaimed freelancers and newspaper staffers are there to share their vast knowledge in classrooms and in the field. Nikon provides cases of cameras and lens for the students and representatives from the finest equipment suppliers are there to share their products.

My hope is you have enjoyed the photographs and that you will join me and the staff at the best sports workshop in the nation to see so much more. I am grateful to be asked year after year and will enjoy meeting you in Denver.

You will find information on the Sports Photography Workshop here.
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From Fruits and Nuts to Dreamland

The surf along Pacifica Beach.

The surf along Pacifica Beach.

While walking a golf course in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in mid-May, the mother of a golfer from Southern Charleston University struck up a conversation with me. Filled with pride over her son and the school playing in the NCAA Men’s Golf Regional, the very nice woman liked to talk. Eventually, the conversation led to my travels to get to Alabama. I explained that I had not come directly from Kansas but had been in Berkeley, California, for NCAA Women’s Tennis Regional for three days ahead of the golf.

“So, you have been in the land of ‘fruits and nuts,'” she blurted out.

It took restraint to keep me from laughing over her blunt statement. The fact is my travels over eight days had taken me from the University of California, a school steeped in radical free thinking, protest and alternate lifestyles, to the University of Alabama, where conservative beliefs, football and a legendary coach continue to rule. It was quite a trip and one I thoroughly enjoyed.

Travels have frequently taken me to Cal. Set on a series of hills that climb upward from the Berkeley downtown, the setting is absolutely beautiful. The climb through the campus leads to the massive football stadium with a fabulous view of the Bay area. The quality of the education is beyond reproach. There is a saying that it is harder to get into Stanford than Cal, but easier to stay in Stanford than it is to stay in Cal.

With open arms, Cal embraces life styles that often can not find a place in cloistered minds leading to such a comment about the area’s “fruits and nuts.” The same might be said about many people’s views of a school set in the deep South where a deeply conservative view on life remains at Alabama.

The view from my Berkeley hotel room.

The view from my Berkeley hotel room. I am a blessed man.

I grew of age in the late 60’s and early 7o’s when hippies and the Black Panthers dominated the Northern California area around Cal. Meanwhile, former Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace vowed “segregation forever” and blocked the door to keep blacks from enrolling at the University of Alabama in 1963. Though those efforts failed and life styles changed at both universities in their own unique ways, the prevalent opinions remain in the minds of anyone standing at distance with no true idea of people being judged from afar.

To walk through Berkeley is a quick journey around the world. There are so many ethnicities, so many varied food choices, so many alternate life styles. In one block I could have dined on Ethiopian, Thai, Vietnamese, Jamaican, Greek, Japanese and Italian foods. Every block seemed to have a yoga studio. One even offered “dog yoga.” I am not sure what that involved but the thought of Rocket, our 14-year-old  black lab, showing off his downward dog as his equally aged master strained to strike a pose seemed hilarious. In my younger days, I walked along those same streets with the haze of marijuana so prevalent every pedestrian received a free high. In one store, where years ago I sought out rare and the latest LP’s, a crossfit gym loomed with a giant gorilla painted on the entrance.

With the Seabreeze garage doors open, there were plenty of real fruits and nuts.

With the Seabreeze garage doors open, there were plenty of real fruits and nuts.


The Seabreeze Market & Deli.

On my way from the airport to the hotel, Seabreeze Market & Deli offered me the perfect California start. Set next to the bay, the simple old building in a gravel parking lot each day opened a series of garage doors for the coolest convenience store ever. The grill area offered a wide variety of food all adorned with locally grown produce that proved to be outstanding. I ordered a salmon burger and settled in at a picnic table to enjoy the sweet smell of salt water wafting by on real sea breezes.

Jose Cardona roaring with delight after saving a match point.

Maria Cardona roaring with delight after saving a match point.

The KU women’s tennis team returned to NCAA action for the first time in 17 years. Making it more amazing, injuries reduced the team to only five players late in the season. That meant they were already down a point in the best-of-three-match doubles competition and forfeited a singles point.

Despite that handicap, the women fought to tie their opening match against UC Santa Barbara at three-all. However the team’s lone senior, Maria Cardona, was on the verge of losing in straight sets. Down 5-2, Cardona battled back to win the second set after fighting off nine match points. The third set was just as dramatic with a long tie-breaker before Cardona succumbed. The emotion of the moment drained everyone. Cardona’s teammates quickly kneeled around her in quiet support. The significance was lost on no one, making me believe I will photograph more NCAA tennis in the years ahead.

Cardona's teammates gathered in support.

Cardona’s teammates gathered in support.

Some of the "fruits and nuts" in Santa Cruz.

Some “fruits and nuts” in Santa Cruz.

With my work for KU completed, it was time to fly for myself early the next day over the Oakland Bay Bridge through San Francisco and down Highway 1 along the California coast. Gorgeous views of the Pacific, surfing and fish tacos filled the day leading me to the great surf town of Santa Cruz. The only thing keeping the day from being perfect was not having Laura riding shotgun with me.

In the winter, 60 foot waves are common at Mavericks.

In the winter, 60-foot waves often break at Mavericks.

The best stop was Mavericks, the famed gigantic big wave surf spot at Half Moon Bay that was long thought to be unrideable during winter’s big wave season. At 17, Jeff Clark dared to try. For 15 years Clark was the only rider willing to surf the monstrous waves. Now one of the most popular spots in the world, the waves were far from huge on my visit, but just standing there at the site I have seen in many movies and documentaries was a thrill.

By Sunday night, my California life gave way to a new adventure in Alabama. Having only passed through the state on a few trips, I was looking forward to spending time in the fabled football world at the University of Alabama. As I drove into Tuscaloosa from Birmingham, it did not take long to begin to realize how much one man means to the city and the university.

Driving along Paul W. Bryant Drive, I passed the Paul W. Bryant Museum to reach my hotel which was just blocks away from Bryant-Denny Stadium, another short distance to the Paul W. Bryant Hall which also houses the Bryant Grille and Bryant Bistro, along with a massive athletic academic center. Everywhere there seemed to be some reference to the man better know as Bear Bryant, the state’s idolized former football coach.

During the 25 years Bryant coached Alabama, his teams won six national championships and 13 Southeastern Conference titles. Having played at Alabama, and after coaching for three other universities, Bryant returned to Tuscaloosa in 1958 because, “Momma called. And when Momma calls, you just have to come runnin’.” His legendary run concluded in 1982 when the heavy drinker and smoker retired at 69. Four weeks later, Bryant died from a massive heart attack, but obviously in the hearts of ‘Bama fans everywhere, he will never die. In every restaurant I entered, photographs of Bryant abounded. One had an entire giant wall dedicated to Bryant. The school’s current coach, Nick Saban, has won three national championships, but to this visitor he seemed to be an afterthought.

The original Dreamland Bar-B-Que in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

The original Dreamland Bar-B-Que in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

All this led to the story of Dreamland Bar-B-Que. This famed barbecue spot was a must stop since everyone I asked told me it had to be a must stop. It proved to be the kind of spot, like Seabreeze in Berkeley, that I love. The years of smoking meat seems ingrained in every piece of wood. Arms and elbows of customers that knock back beers after every bite of the hefty ribs, covered with best sauce I have ever tasted, have worn and seasoned the wood of the long bar. Picnic tables and booths needed for the game day crowds filled the place I can happily call a “joint.”

The story of Dreamland tied in perfectly with my time in “Bryant World.” From the menu:

Over a half-a-century ago, a brick mason, John “Big Daddy” Bishop, prayed to God asking if there was another way to support his family as he grew older. Mr. Bishops says that God came to him in a dream and told him to build a bar-b-que cafe on the land beside his home and that’s just what he did.

Mr. Bishop built this building in 1958 (the same year Paul “Bear” Bryant came to coach the Crimson Tide) and opened Dreamland Cafe with his wife Miss Lily. At first they sold everything from sodas to postage stamps, but the hickory-fired ribs that he cooked on his pit were what everyone was talking about. His ribs soon became legendary and crowds would line up on game day to get their slab.

I finished my ribs, beans and way more white bread than I have eaten in years because the tangy tasting dip was too hard to resist. I stuck around to talk with the bartender, a young black man with long, braided hair and a brilliant, wide smile as I overindulged with another “must have,” the banana pudding.  He shared the history of Dreamland, what it is like on game days in Tuscaloosa, a bit of the state’s infamous civil rights battles and what it all means to him today. Good food and an education to go along with dessert. All the elements that make my travels so rewarding.

Daniel Hudson blasted out of the pine needles at the Ol' Colony Golf Complex.

Daniel Hudson blasted out of the pine needles at the Ol’ Colony Golf Complex.

Chase Hanna looked for a way out of the bushes off a green.

Chase Hanna looked for a way out of the bushes off a green.

Unfortunately, the rewards of the three days of golf were not what the team planned. Men’s golf returned to NCAA play for the first time since 2007. Playing in a stacked regional loaded with top teams from the Southeastern Conference, KU never got rolling. The Ol’ Colony Golf Complex in Tuscaloosa, a long traditional-styled course was thickly lined with pine trees. The fallen needles, carefully manicured into what became huge sections of secondary rough, required deft touch to escape. However, the subtle rolls and mounds of the greens proved to be the greatest challenge. Pins could not be directly attacked.  Approach shots needed to be played off banks allowing the ball to roll to the hole. Some putts had to be misdirected up banks and then down to the hole. It was a course that needed to be played often to score well.

After three days of walking the beautiful course, it was clear KU would not be advancing to the nationals. When I began the trip, there was a chance I would be moving on from Alabama to another site to cover KU’s softball team in NCAA play. I kept myself mentally ready for another three to four days on the road. Once that possibility passed, I found myself sitting in my room at the Hotel Capstone working on photo galleries and drifting off into my own dreamland.

The Hotel Capstone ottoman.

The Hotel Capstone ottoman.

The hotel on campus, recently remodeled into a “boutique” hotel, featured a huge red, vinyl ottoman anchoring my room. I found myself staring at that ottoman pondering all the fun Laura and I could have. In my dream, that was God telling me it was time to come home to my wonderful wife. I loved all the “fruits and nuts” of California and my time in Alabama and “Dreamland,” but I loved holding my wife in my arms again way more.




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Some Time It Just Bleeds You

The two of us in Indianapolis at the Roberts Workshop in January

The two of us in Indianapolis at the Roberts Workshop in January

A friend and subscriber to this blog approached me at a KU track & field meet saying, “I can tell you must be really busy because you haven’t written a blog in a long time.” That certainly is the truth. Since I do value this friend’s opinion and interest in my blog, the time has come to get back to it.

At long last, it is again time to write about time. Since starting this blog in August of 2009, an annual post based on a song about time has highlighted the rush that comes to my life in the fall, or better said, late summer. My working life’s new year used to kick off with football games in September during my newspaper days. Since beginning my work at KU, the giant ball that drops in Time’s Square to signal a new year officially happens for me when the volleyballs, footballs and soccer balls drop on the court and practice fields the first week of August.

Somehow, in the rush of the most challenging fall ever for Laura and me, my time post never developed even though I have long known the perfect song. From the moment I heard Some Unheroic Hill by Ark Life, portions of the lyrics resonated with me.

Sometimes you’re gonna get off scot-free.
Sometimes you’re gonna pay with your teeth.
Sometimes the magic works. Sometimes it just bleeds you.

Let me share a few stories and photographs that confirm the truth to those lyrics. Laura’s new work life seems to be the perfect place to start. Last May, the athletic department’s senior women’s administrator, Debbie Van Saun, asked Laura to consider taking on the academic needs of the KU track & field program.  The director of athletics, Sheahon Zenger, quickly followed with a very detailed request.

Laura always told me that the last sport she ever would consider working with would be track & field. The request was a shocker that led us to hours of discussion and many prayers. To start with, the program’s 120+ student-athletes makes track & field the largest in the athletic department. Those athletes come in every size and shape and with every conceivable academic need. Those needs, in the eyes of the administration, were not being met, leading them to Laura.

The following is a completely prejudiced statement, but one very accurate. There is no one that could handle this monstrous task better than Laura. The administration knew that to be true. We talked and prayed endlessly about the monster Laura would be facing. My belief was that Laura would choose to retain her work with the rowing and swimming & diving teams. Then one morning she woke up announcing she would accept the position with track & field. That was only the first surprise. She reluctantly gave up rowing, but wanted to retain swimming & diving. That meant working with over 150 student-athletes with the help of only one graduate assistant, a very helpful Denesha Morris.

A brisk, March ride along the river trail in Des Moines, while in Iowa for the NCAA basketball

A March ride while in Des Moines for NCAA basketball.

Now, a year into her new calling, Laura has found many great joys. Working with male athletes again is refreshing. The diversity is infectious fun. Her system of weekly meetings with every freshman and transfer is growing sound roots in the lives of not just the athletes but also coaches.

The “magic” still works, but she did not always get off scot-free.

Getting her plans up and running took a toll. She quickly discovered that track & field was not one big team but actually six, broken into vertical and horizontal jump teams, sprints, middle distances, long distances and throws, each with unique needs. Her cell phone seemed implanted in her ear, day and night. Text message came endlessly. The load stressed her in ways never seen in our 14 years of marriage.

There were always intense periods ahead of enrollment for spring and fall classes in our years together. Over the years I learned to deal with those. This year the stress never eased.  Her stress became my stress. Our hope was always that her job would never get as stressful as mine. At least for this first year it did. We did not always handle it all as well as we hoped. Laura photographed less this year than in past years, and often separated from me. Since she does all that as an unpaid bonus to KU, she did so with my blessings. However, I missed her so much on so many shoots. To see her so weary was disturbing.

Reflections together did not appear as often as we prefer.

Reflections together did not appear as often as we prefer.

We use baseball season as a time of true connection. Until games grow in importance as a season moves along, we enjoy sitting together through nine innings sharing the best of times. This year we did that for only three games. We discovered that track & field has no off-season and all the spring sports spread us very thin.

In April, I turned 65. While that is only a number, and there are so many things I still want to photograph and grow  in process as a photographer and man, the realization is that the time is coming when I no longer can maintain this pace. An aching and degenerating left knee reminded me of that far too often this past year. Over my 19 years at KU, each year something new and challenging arises.  New challenges excite me even though none of my other tasks cease.

As Ark Life sings, Sometimes you’re gonna pay with your teeth.

This year with the help of a KU donor and friend, Rich Jantz, I was able to use a young photographer, Mike Gunnoe, for some work. He did a very good job for us. My hope was that this would lighten my load. Unfortunately, all of Gunnoe’s work only added to the monstrous list of events covered for KU that meant far too many seven-days-a-week loads.

Yet, through it all, this was my best year ever as KU’s photographer and my best in my 47-year career. I grew further in my skills with lighting, covered some of the most dramatic events in my history at KU and made many photographs I truly love.  Now that I am back to writing again, I will share some of those images with you very soon as I prepare for a summer workshop in Denver in July.

Outside of KU, a number of Sports Illustrated assignments proved to be exciting and challenging for me, and the best assistant I know – Laura. The Kansas City Chiefs were the primary subject of our work. While we covered two games with specific needs, two assignment for action portraits of tight end Travis Kelce and punter Dustin Colquitt were very fulfilling. We enjoyed our time with both men and appreciated the fact Sports Illustrated used images from football and some basketball in six issues this year.

In April, 1964, my parents subscribed to Sports Illustrated for my birthday. I never have stopped reading and loving the photographs for 52 years. The magazine called often and used many of my photographs over those years. Yet, every time one of my photographs appears, I still am that 13-year-old kid filled with gee-whiz wonder as I leaf through magazine’s pages.

Watching the surf in Del Mar, California, with friend Joey Terrill.

Surf watching in Del Mar, California, with friend Joey Terrill.

In January, I did a workshop in Indianapolis for an amazing group of University Photographers Association of America photographers. Roberts Camera and good friend Jody Grober hosted the event. Grober has handled my equipment needs for longer than I can remember. As one of the largest camera stores in America, Roberts and Grober have a devotion to not only supply great gear but to teach good photography. After an opening night social, lighting sessions and an evening presentation filled two days. That forced me so far out of my comfort zone, I feared I would surely “pay with my teeth.”

It helped that Joey Terrill was the other photographer asked to take part in the workshop. I am a huge admirer of his work and am proud to call him a close friend. Terrill is one of the most distinguished portrait photographers in the country. Just last month, Terrill was named a Nikon Ambassador. It is hard to explain fully what an honor it is to work alongside him while being completely intimidated by his skills.

Grober honored both of us when he told us for this first workshop that included going to sites for lighting work he needed two people he truly could trust to make the workshop a success. Thankfully, we did that which is a joy beyond belief for me.

The one time I paid with my teeth came in December when I failed to finished my year-long look back on past photography with what I hoped would be interesting stories. The work proved challenging. Digging out negatives for scans and researching facts to make sure my memory was not fooling me proved to be a major task. I wanted the stories to be good and match with the time of the year. Even though I knew what photos and story would run in the final few weeks, a very fun and funny thing happened on the way to publication.

A pile of happy Jayhawks after victory over USC.

A pile of happy Jayhawks after the victory over USC.

KU volleyball did something very remarkable by advancing to the NCAA Final Four for the first time in school history. Even though they lost to eventual national champion Nebraska in the semi-final (I couldn’t lose either way in that match), their journey to Omaha was remarkable because of one match. After winning two matches in Lawrence, the team traveled to the University of San Diego for the western regional finals. A dominating victory over Loyola Marymount set up a match against the No. 1 seeded team in the 64-team bracket, the University of Southern California.

Water streamed down the face of coach Ray Bechard in locker room.

The water drenched face of coach Ray Bechard.

Held in the basketball arena on the beautiful University of San Diego campus, a stop worth seeing should you find yourself in San Diego, the fans of the Trojans were clearly confident of a victory.  Then KU came out and took the first two sets in swift fashion. USC, proving they were worthy of the top seed, battled back to win the win the next two, hard-fought sets. That set up the 15-point fifth set.

This is where things really got interesting. USC fans, in typical California style, began to leave early to beat traffic up the I-5 as the Trojans powered their way to a 13-9 lead. With no margin for error, and only two points from defeat, KU proved to be amazing. Point-by-point they fought back. Long rallies of faultless play saved points. An impossible dig tied the match at 13-all. Finally on the longest point of the match, with the ball passing over the net 14 times, KU secured an improbable victory followed by  a raucous celebration.

With volleyball all wrapped up, Laura and I flew back to San Diego after the Final Four to photograph a KU men’s basketball game at San Diego State on our 14th wedding anniversary. We flew in a day earlier than the team and left a day later to enjoy a much-needed anniversary break along the coast.  By then my blog plans had gone astray.

…but the world is unfair to all of us, each in a special way, some find the weakness to go with the wind – others, as strong, only stay

Where then does all this leave us? Right where God intends at this point in our lives. At the end of the school year, the track & field teams led the conference with 30 Academic All-Big 12 selections. There are far more young men and women whose academic success will never garner Big 12 praise, but now are on a path to success they never would have realized without Laura’s efforts. Laura feels part of a team in ways she never had dreamed. A year in with a pattern of expectations set, we hope things will run smoother for her.

My desire to make meaningful, dynamic and beautiful photographs grows only greater. The athletes at KU continue to give me those opportunities that make my life a joy despite all the hours. The school years wear me out, but my belief is that next year will be my best.

The beautiful Laura along the Pacific coast north of Sand Diego on our anniversary trip.

Laura along the Pacific coast on our anniversary trip.

Together Laura and I laughed, we cried, we prayed and we grew in our work life and our marriage. It is a gift beyond understanding to share my life with a wonderful woman as caring and devoted to me and to her calling as I am to mine and her. For that we thank God every day.

All this talk of magic and getting off scot-free is great for a song and for a tag to this post, but for us it is the belief we share from Proverbs 3-5.

Trust in the Lord with all you heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your path straight.

Our year was not always straight, and we did not always understand. We stand strong against any winds only with God’s help. Our path for the future is straighter now than before because of the Lord’s tests in the past year. We have plans for the coming year to make our life together even better and to deal with the changes that will come at some point thereafter. Who knows, maybe God will lead us to a place like the one in the attached video along with Some Unheroic Hill as the music. We have no idea what hills will stand before us next year other than to make sure we face them together with our Savior.

Thanks for your patience in my writing absence.



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Images: Volume 1, Week 48

Lockett_Catch_11091996The previous look at a football game between Kansas and Kansas State dealt with futility. This story, on the game played between the teams on November 9, 1996, is about ability.

Kansas State came to Lawrence ranked No. 13. They would finish the regular season 9-2. Kansas would finish only 4-7 and would lose the November game to the Wildcats 38-12. Yet, I will always remember that game for reasons far beyond the score or records.

Byrd_Isaac1_11091996Kansas State receiver Kevin Lockett and Kansas receiver Isaac Byrd were supremely amazing athletes. Lockett led the Big 8 in receptions and receiving yardage in 1996. Lockett was not a big receiver, but he was a master of the receiving craft. Byrd was a tall, lanky receiver that could leap for receptions before it became the norm in college and professional football. Perhaps that ability could be traced to the baseball skills he developed playing centerfield for the KU baseball team. Both went on to play in the NFL for years.

In the 1996 game between the two teams, Lockett caught 11 passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns. Byrd did all he could to match Lockett by catching nine passes for 178 yards. For much of the game, All-American cornerback Chris Canty covered Byrd.

There was an electricity about the game I know I felt. I rank that game as one of my finest as a football photographer. I would love to be able to say the same thing after Saturday’s game in Lawrence between the Jayhawks and Wildcats.

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Images: Volume 1, Week 47

Scramble_11071987This Saturday, when Kansas and Kansas State meet in Memorial Stadium, one team will be fighting to avoid a winless season. The other will be fighting for their bowl life. Neither team met their hopes or expectations for the season. Yet, neither team will match the frustration and disappointment of the game the two schools played on November 7, 1987.

That game ended in a 17-17 tie. The Dunkel Index called the game the battle between the two worst teams in football. Other commentators called it “The Toilet Bowl.” Both teams went on to lose their final two games of the season. KU finished that season 1-9-1. KSU  finished 0-10-1. KU fired coach Bob Valesente after the season. K-State coach Stan Parrish lasted only one more season.

In what the late Topeka Capital-Journal columnist Bob Hentzen called “a very entertaining game, given the two teams’ records,” Kansas State drove down the field to set up a game-winning field goal on the final play of the game. That is when the two teams reverted to their futile ways.

The Jayhawks’ Marvin Mattox blocked the 32-yard field goal attempt by the Wildcats’ Mark Porter. The ensuing scramble to recover the ball for some sort of miracle finish proved to be more comical than sensational.

This Saturday’s game looks to be played in cold and rainy conditions. That surely will add to the drama of what I can only hope will be an “entertaining game” that will not end in a comical fashion.


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