2023 Iowa Nature Calendars

November 21, 2022
Cover Image- Fall colors at Palisades-Kepler State Park

With the release of my 2023 calendars, and as I've reviewed my portfolio choosing material for this years editions, I'm reminded once again of my love for photography- and particularly for it's ability to eternalize special moments in time. Every one of my photos has it's own unique story or meaning behind it; and (corny as it sounds) as I share them with the larger world- be it a print, note card, in a calendar, or simply posted online- each carries a little piece of my own story, and of my heart.

With that I thought I'd take a minute and tell a bit more about the images that make up this year's calendars, starting here with the Iowa version. I do this to provide a closer look at the photos themselves (for those who are considering a purchase, as I know the back cover thumbnail from my website may be hard for some to see,) and also to offer a bit more insight to each. In some cases I'll tell more about the location, others I'll add my own personal twist, but my hope is to provide a little depth beyond just presenting a collection of pretty pictures. I'll follow up with images from the 2023 United States calendar in a separate post.

Your 2023 Iowa lineup is as follows...

January- Rock Creek, Cedar County

I chose this photo because I really like the contrast of the white snow and dark water, and the story that's revealed here, having unfolded through seasons and eons told in depth and channels. There are so many subtleties that come to our attention when we pause long enough to consider why the ice has formed where it has, and how the water flows. But this one has sentimental value too, as it was taken on my family farm west of Tipton. I've spent countless hours walking the banks of "the crick" here, from childhood exploration to adult contemplation and reflection- and it's in these quiet moments that I know I'm truly home.

February- Bald Eagles, Johnson County

When I was a kid, seeing a bald eagle in Iowa was a really big deal. I can still remember spotting one for the first time with my Grandma, who was a bird lover, and how excited she was. Thanks to the Endangered Species Act and other conservation efforts such sights are no longer rare. The great birds frequently nest in the state, and in winter can often be found congregating near open waters.

This photo was actually taken a few years back, and the pair was seen amongst many others near the spillway at Coralville Reservoir. It was just incredible examining the intricacies of their behavior, and witnessing so many beautiful birds that afternoon. While more common now, there's still something extremely special about every eagle sighting. Each evokes the same sense of reverence and wonder instilled by my grandmother at first glimpse, many years ago.

At one point I actually thought I might have some newer eagle images to choose from this year. I'd gone home for an event last February when the state was amidst a deep freeze, and I knew conditions would be good near dams on larger rivers where the birds gather to fish. The main reason that I don't usually do wildlife photography (honestly, I would love to!) is equipment. My landscape lenses don't have quite the reach needed to photograph wildlife in an ethical manner. I do hope to invest in bigger lenses eventually, but for now, renting a telephoto is my only real option. So last winter I did just that, through an online company, arranging for the lens to be delivered to my parents house to coincide with my arrival. I was so excited to get out and photograph eagles with a professional set up, but when I opened the package I found that the rental lens had been damaged in shipping (the front element was completely shattered!) Instead of sharing my weekend with bald eagles, I spent it playing phone tag with customer service trying to convince the rental company that it hadn't been my fault.

Fortunately I recently rediscovered this (significantly cropped) image from 2017 to use in this year's calendar, and I do love the textures of this photo and the memories from this day. I'm not sure yet what opportunities the coming months will bring, but getting back to Iowa with a telephoto lens in the depths of winter definitely remains high on my list of photo goals.

March- Dunning's Spring, Decorah

While I'm all about showing people that there is so much more to Iowa than flatland and cornfields, I will admit, you could probably count the number of true waterfalls in the state on one hand. (Don't get me started on those clickbait "Iowa Waterfall Tour" articles that make continuous rounds on social media... like half the listings are manmade spillways!) Dunning's Spring, just outside of Decorah, is a fixture on most of those roundups- but closer to the real thing than most. Although it's probably more of a cascade than an actual waterfall, it is a unique site nestled in the Driftless Region of Northeast Iowa, and certainly worth taking the time to see. I recommend visiting in late winter or early spring, as the springs gush with snowmelt against the backdrop of limestone bluffs over moss-strewn rocks- and when it's possible to enjoy this special place all to yourself, away from summertime crowds.

April- Red Haw State Park

Okay, so I admit this is like the third year in a row that I've used a spring photo from Red Haw in my Iowa calendar. (And yes, the park is named Red Haw... not Red Hawk... I have my "spelling error" corrected by someone at nearly every show when I have photos from here displayed- but the park is actually named for a type of hawthorn tree.) It's hard to resist using these photos though, because this is hands down one of the most gorgeous places to visit in the spring. The park is centered around a lake that is completely surrounded by red bud trees, and when they bloom with rosey purple blossoms in late April or early May- while the rest of the forest is bathed in tender spring greens, it is truly a sight to behold. Unfortunately the park was hit by a tornado recently. I haven't been back to survey the damage since that happened, but I do know that it was extensive enough to close it to the public for quite awhile. Nature's resilient though, and I'm hoping to make my way back here next spring- to see how things look now after that storm (and to get some new material for 2024!)

May- Maquoketa Caves State Park

Without a doubt one of the most unique places to visit in Iowa, not to mention all of the Midwest, Maquoketa Caves is full of subterranean wonders waiting to explore. The caves here range in size from those you can walk through, to passageways where you wouldn't want to eat a large picnic lunch after squirming your way into, out of fear you might not make it back out. This was a favorite destination for my friends and I in high school and through our early twenties. I still recall the musty dark caverns, the sound of dripping water and smell of the mud- along with fighting claustrophobic tendencies I'd have otherwise never imagined if not for squeezing into spaces so small that I literally had to suck my gut in to twist and contort my way through. And I had this one friend who had a knack for vibrating his tongue to make a very specific, and very realistic sound- nearly a perfect match for a rattlesnake (and yes, timber rattlers are occasionally found here.) It never failed, a group of us would muster the courage to work our way back into one of these tiny little passages, with no room to move and arms pinned at our sides, face pressed either against the roof or the ground or the feet of the guy in front of you, and he'd let loose with one of those rattling noises. I'm pretty sure I exceeded my allowable limit of concussions in life from the times he made me flinch and whack my head on the wall of a cave alone! (And in case you're wondering, that rascal is now my brother-in-law...) Good times though, for sure.

June- Yellow River State Forest

Another favorite destination of my youth, Yellow River and the bluff country of Northeast Iowa is the ultimate contradiction of Midwestern stereotypes. Vast forests, steep rugged terrain, unique ecosystems and clear flowing trout streams make for an outdoor enthusiasts dream. It's a great area for viewing wildflowers, such as the early summer phlox seen here growing along sunny fringes of woodland.

July- Wildcat Den State Park

Wildcat Den is one of my favorite "local" Eastern Iowa parks- located outside of Muscatine, about a half hour drive from my hometown of Tipton. It's a gorgeous place with great hiking trails, an old grist mill and school house, and a really nice campground. One thing that has consistently shocked me since I started selling my work and doing farmers markets and shows in 2010 is how often people can be completely oblivious to places like this, right in their backyard. You'd be amazed at how frequently I'll be doing an event in Iowa City (also a short drive from here... or in Davenport, which is closer still) and someone will ask me, upon seeing a photo from this park and reading the location, where exactly it is. I've lost count of the times I tell them and then hear, "Well I've lived here my whole life and have never even heard of it!" as a response.

I mean, I guess I could selfishly say that's a good thing. It's pretty easy to find peace and solitude in Iowa's state parks, and I very rarely see more than one or two other people when hiking the trails here. But I sincerely feel sorry for those who can claim this. I strongly believe in the ability of nature to enhance lives, and the reciprocal relationships that can form when people visit our parks and gain greater understanding of the need to protect our environment and wild places. While I advocate responsible visitation and don't want to see Iowa state parks become overcrowded like many of their western counterparts, I do hope that people will look at my photos, like the one above, and think- "Wow, I wanna go there..."

And I hope they do. Because if their experiences prove anywhere near as rewarding as mine have been, I know they'll come away better for it.

August- Ada Hayden Heritage Park, Ames

A full moon rises over Ada Hayden Heritage Park, on the outskirts of Ames, on a warm summer night. This 137 acre park features a large fishing lake and wonderful trail system, making it a prime example of the excellent outdoor opportunities provided by municipal parks in Iowa's urban areas.

What drew me here were the park's plots of restored prairie, as I sought to photograph native grasses- such as big bluestem- silhouetted against the rising moon (the cover of my 2022 Iowa calendar featured one of these shots.) Iowa was once covered in magnificent tall grass prairie- but since the arrival of European settlement it's been dramatically cleared for the sake of agriculture. The state now carries the dubious claim of having the most human-altered landscape in the world- as 99.9% of the virgin grassland that once existed has fallen beneath plows or concrete. There are still small tracts of remnant prairie that have been saved, which teach us about the incredible resiliency and biodiversity of these special ecosystems, what we once had, and what is possible through conservation and restoration efforts. More and more you're starting to see new prairie projects emerge around the state- in county, state and even city parks like this in one, and on private land. It's long been a dream of mine, when the time comes that I'm able to move back to Iowa, to join in these efforts, and work for the restoration of native habitat.

September- Rock Creek Timber, Cedar County

Few things in life have the ability to speak directly to my heart like September in Iowa. It's such a special time- for it's ageless quality, as memories stir a lifetime of emotion ranging from the excitement of back to school days, to contemporary reflection; cherished scenes flashing through our periphery like golden-rod filled ditches beside a long gravel road, as warm afternoon breeze gives way to crisp autumn night.

This scene, photographed at Rock Creek Timber northwest of Tipton, features one of those prairie restoration projects mentioned above. The print is available as part of my special limited edition collection found HERE.

October- Mississippi River, Clayton County

The October scene depicts a late twilight glow cast over the bluffs and Mississippi River valley near Guttenberg. While every state boasts its own brilliant array of fall color (and maybe I'm a little biased) I will say Iowa is extremely underrated. Up and down the Mississippi River corridor, west across the rolling hills and interspersed woodlands, and even with the unique forests and golden grasses of the terraced loess region- autumn here definitely puts on a show.

While I haven't officially announced this yet, and I'm still working out specific details, I plan to expand my business in 2023 to pursue a longtime goal of leading photography workshops and tours. My hope is to kick this off next fall, and this first year I plan to focus on individual and small group instruction, with dates available to coincide with peak colors in Eastern Iowa and Northern Utah. I plan to release further information and begin booking reservations in the spring, but if you'd be interested in learning more please feel free to sign up for my workshop notification list, found HERE.

November- Indian Creek Nature Center, Linn County

Another fine example of the opportunity Iowan's have to indulge in nature right outside of a populated area, Indian Creek Nature Center at the eastern edge of Cedar Rapids provides access to an incredibly diverse trail network. Trail users can explore wetland boardwalks, hike through hardwood forest and restored prairie, and connect with the seven mile long Sac & Fox Trail- Iowa's oldest designated National Recreation Trail. Wood Duck Way, pictured here, is awesome for late autumn photography with lingering color reflecting in the still backwaters of the Cedar River.

December- Coralville Reservoir

I mulled over a number of snowy winter scenes to close out 2023, but ultimately decided on this image from the Coralville Reservoir near North Liberty. I love the contrasts. You have the frozen lake surface fringed with white edges, the bare dark trees reaching toward a colorful sunrise- even the dormant underbrush catching just enough light to add depth to the forested hillsides. This photo to me encapsulates so much about winter in the Heartland, at the front end of the season before the blankets of snow. You can almost feel the cold bite in the air, but there's also a certain calm to the scene as the landscape lays in silence, and cycles of life play out beneath that beautiful Iowa sky.

So there you have it. A closer look at my 2023 Iowa Nature Calendar lineup. I'll have a post describing the 2023 U.S. Calendar here in the coming days. And please remember- supplies will be limited to early orders this year, and a very small number of carryovers from my final show. Claim yours now to take advantage of discounted pricing, and reserve your copy today! ORDER HERE