Sunday, December 21, 2008
My sister-in-law took me to my first Cabela's while on a visit to Minnesota back in the 1990s. When she first suggested going to an outdoor store I didn't know what could be so interesting as I'm not into camping or hunting. I didn't even bother to take my camera. So when we got there and I saw the spectacular animal exhibits I was awestruck and insisted we return the next day so I could photograph them. I returned the next day and shot pictures until my camera battery died. Since then I have made a point of visiting every Cabela's we have encountered in our travels. So far, we have visited Cabela's in Owatonna, Minnesota, Mitchell, South Dakota, Sidney, Nebraska, and Hamburg, Pennsylvania. I missed seeing the exhibits in the Lehi, Utah store by only one week (the store was brand new and wasn't going to be open for another week). And I could not find reasonably priced ground transportation to see the Cabela's on the outskirts of Fort Worth, Texas when I was there for an Educause conference a couple of years ago. Now I understand there are stores in Washington state and outside Boise, Idaho. I hope to visit them next summer.
Cabela's does such an outstanding job of posing the animals in lifelike settings and engaged in lifelike movements that I found their exhibit far superior to the newly refurbished "Hall of Mammals" at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History that I visited in 2004. Cabela's gave me an opportunity to become a virtual wildlife photographer without the travel and physical endurance required by expeditions to rugged and remote environments. The central mountain is illuminated by an overhead skylight so there is enough natural light to shoot many of the exhibits without flash, enabling you to capture the natural colors of the fur or feathers.
A fellow photographer up on Flickr disdainfully commented "but they're all dead!". Yes, that is true, but by preserving their natural beauty, Cabela's provides an opportunity to study the detail of each species and creates a learning environment unmatched by many museums. In fact, many surrounding schools take their students to Cabela's on field trips.
Cabela's also gives aspiring photographers an opportunity to compose images more artfully, and zoom in for the kind of closeup only a highly skilled "National Geographic-type" photographer can produce in the wild.
Each Cabela's store also displays a unique bronze sculpture in front of their store for art lovers like me to admire. This Native America warrior is paddling a canoe in front of the Cabela's store in Hamburg, Pennsylvania.
Cabela's usually place their stores in rural settings along interstate freeways so they are easy to access by car and are frequently advertised several miles in advance for the happenstance encounter. Cabela's provides ample parking and kennel service if you are traveling with a pet and the weather is either too hot or too cold to leave them in the car during your visit. They also house a restaurant so you can take all the time you want and not worry about what to do for breakfast, lunch, or supper.
I designed a website to display some of the beautiful exhibits I photographed on some of my first visits. Later, I uploaded my images to a Flickr photoset since I have taken literally hundreds of pictures and wanted to make them available to students and teachers for learning projects and exercises. All of my images are licensed with Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 2.0 permissions which grant the right to use them freely for noncommercial purposes as long as you include the credit "Photo by Mary Harrsch" and any derivatives are shared in a like manner.