Welcome back and thanks for the kind comments on last week’s photos and narrative. In case you missed it, here’s a link A Medley of Favorites. This week I’m sharing another group of favorite photos, this time from my birth state of North Dakota. After I retired from full time work eleven years ago and my Traveling Partner retired six years ago, we made many trips to North Dakota to keep an eye on our aging parents and visit family. These trips provided an opportunity for me to spend more time photographing sites near our respective home farms.
The first group of photos is from the Badlands of Western North Dakota near where my Traveling Partner was raised. When I mention the Badlands to friends here in Wisconsin, they immediately think of the Badlands of South Dakota. Ok, I admit they are nice and awesome but I think the North Dakota Badlands are even prettier and more photogenic. Over the last several years, I’ve spent many hours and miles driving the back roads west of U.S. Highway 85, between the North Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park to the south near Amidon in Slope County, a distance of about 90 miles. The roads are gravel or scoria, a reddish cinder type rocks that is plentiful in the area. In some areas the roads are quite well traveled, mostly by oil field trucks. On other roads, it’s rare to see another vehicle. More than once, when I’m parked on the side of the road and shooting photos, a rancher or one of his or her hands will stop to ask if I need help. When I tell them that I’m taking photos of the landscape features, they would look off in the distance then say, “have a good one!” I wonder what they are thinking when they see this now city slicker with a clean truck out in the boonies.
The first photo in this series was taken at the south end of the area described above. If I recall correctly, it’s one of the trailheads for the Maah Daah Hey Trail system that winds through the Badlands and the Little Missouri National Grasslands. I parked in the small lot and hiked about a half mile through the rolling hills smelling the sage and juniper and keeping an eye out for the prairie rattlers. This is one of the first HDR photos I shot using my iPhone 6S.
This photo was taken on the same day just north of the photo above. I came to a cross roads where there was seven or eight mailboxes but not a farmstead or ranch in sight. I noticed this corral just off the road and the colorful buttes in the background. I drove as close as I could while staying on the public right-of-way. Every ranch truck has a rifle hanging in the back window and most ranchers don’t take kindly to trespassers. To get separation between the foreground, middle ground and background, I had to stand on the bumper of my truck to shoot this photo. If I was lighter and more limber, I would have stood on the roof of the truck! This is a photo I’ve included in exhibits and displays. I hope to find this place again and capture another view of this scene.
The next two photos were taken on one of the backroads south of the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park and near the Little Missouri River. The road leading to this bridge requires drivers to ford a creek that at times of rain or runoff contains quite a bit of water, a 4-wheel drive is required. I have a few versions of this scene taken at different times, I like this one the best because the road leads the viewer to the bridge and then to the rugged buttes in the background.
This windmill is along the same road as the bridge, I can’t drive past without a stopping for a photo. I have a winter version that I like too.
Below is a view of the Little Missouri River. I like the curve of the river that leads the viewer through the photo. If you expand the picture, note the buffalo in the far background having a drink of water from the river.
The next two photos were taken in the North Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The one below I titled “Rolling Rocks.” The rocks are Cannonball concretions and are found in a few places around the world. How they form is too complicated to explain here but to me they are geological wonders. I’ve returned to this site a number of times in recent years hoping for more photos. It doesn’t look like this anymore.
The panorama below was two years in the making. On every trip to North Dakota, I would crawl out of bed at 0 dark thirty and drive to the Oxbow Overlook in the North Unit for a sunrise photo shoot. One time it was so windy that I had to hang onto my tripod so it wouldn’t blow over. Upon arrival the day I took this photo, I was disappointed to have so many clouds but patience paid off as spotlights of sun lit up the scene in the valley below. This is four images stitched together. From that file, I created a 40 inch by 12 inch print that occupies prominent wall space in our living room. One of my top five all time favorites.
The Killdeer Mountains are poor third cousins to the Rocky Mountains five hundred miles to the west. But for the flat plains of North Dakota they qualify as mountains. They rise between 700-1000 feet above the surrounding prairie. One warm summer day, I decided to hike up to the Medicine Hole formation where it’s reported that Native Americans escaped advancing Army troops intent on rounding them up. The trail was a rigorous workout especially toting a camera and tripod, at one point I lost my footing but saved the camera! I found out recently, this site is on private property and the landowner has posted the land and blocked access to the trail. Apparently, people were disrespectful of the owner’s property rights. After I made the climb, I stopped in Killdeer for some water and snacks. I saw there was a small gift shop that advertised itself as a tourist information center. I popped in and had a nice chat with the lady behind the counter who provided a lot of interesting information about Medicine Hole. She asked me if I took my pistol with me when I made the climb, I replied “the only thing that have that shoots is a camera!” She informed me that a few weeks prior she and a friend made the climb and shot a rattlesnake that didn’t like it when they encroached on it’s space. Hmmm. Maybe a good thing it’s now closed lest I be tempted to make another visit!
It was early December 2011, about 4:30 in the afternoon. I was about 40 miles from my destination, my home farm, when I saw the steam rising from the stacks of the Minnkota Power Plant near Center, North Dakota. This scene made me pull over and make a few photos. To me it tells the story of the coal powered electric generating plants that dot the area and provide good paying jobs for thousands of workers. Some of the plants are being decommissioned due to the abundance of natural gas and the increase in sustainable energy sources like wind and solar. Only time will tell what the future holds for the coal industry.
Photos of North Dakota wouldn’t be complete without a few images from the notorious cold and snowy winters common to the region. The top photo is of the Luther Gemeinde Cemetery where my great grandparents are buried. During one of my winter visits, I was driving around looking for interesting winter scenes on this snowy, windy day. I like the strong contrast between the sign, cross, and tree strip against the white blowing snow.
This photo was taken on my home farm on a sunny, blustery afternoon as the sun was close to setting. The farmstead can be seen in the far background on the left. One of my memories of growing up in North Dakota is that wind is omnipresent and part of daily life. It’s also a truism that farmers almost always start a conversation about the weather, how cold or hot, how hard the wind was blowing, and how much rain fell or didn’t fall. One can tell an optimist from a pessimist by how they describe the weather. As an example, an optimist might describe the photo below by saying, “it was sunny today.” While a pessimist might say, “it was cold, and the windy blew right through you.” Both are true!
The last photo in this series is of the Missouri River about six or seven miles from my home farm. The property I’m standing on was purchased by my grandfather the year I was born, I’m now one of the owners along with other members of my family. It’s landlocked, in other words, we can’t drive there without crossing property owned by others. When I go there, I hike with usually with the permission from the landowners. Anyway, as a kid I would help my grandpa move his cattle from his farm about ten miles away to this summer pasture. I’d ride my pony, Penny, behind the cows thinking I was on a cattle drive just like in some of the western movies common at the time. Upon arrival at the pasture, the cows would start munching on the tall native prairie grasses or head for the stock dam for a drink of water. I’d ride my pony to the promontory where I was standing when I took this photo and look over the river valley below. To me it’s one of the most beautiful scenes in the world.
I hope you enjoyed a few of my favorites from North Dakota. Join me next week when I’ll share some favorites from a foreign land, I’ll keep you in suspense!
Until then, happy virtual travels!