Clouds-Part 1

Hi everyone,

Thanks for all the looks at last weeks blog post about our Thanksgiving in North Dakota. I learned this morning as I write this article about the proposed Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library to be located just outside the entrance to the National Park in the town of Medora (permanent population 132). The intent is not only to honor the 26th President and serve as a depository for his papers but to draw more visitors to the Park. I applaud the effort and hope there is synergy between the library and park. Something to look forward to!

After Thanksgiving, to pass the time as I was making the long drive back to Wisconsin from my stay in North Dakota, I made observations of the passing clouds and thought about the many cloud photos I have in my archives. Upon arriving home, I began the search for photos where the main emphasis was on clouds or contributed greatly (IMHO) to the composition of the photo. I had lots to choose from and the results and stories are below.

First, a little about clouds. As luck would have it, the morning I’m writing this post, an article about clouds appeared in our local paper in the form of a question to the Weather Guys: How are clouds named? Their simple explanation will serve as the background for what is a very complex weather phenomenon. But first, the word cloud comes from the old English, clud or clod, meaning a hill or mass of rock that then morphed into common use because those structures looked a lot like rain clouds.  In the early 1800’s British scientist Luke Howard developed the cloud classification system that is still in use today by meteorologists. He gave clouds Latin names based on their appearance and altitude. Stratus clouds are those layered clouds that are wider than they are tall; imagine horizon to horizon clouds. Cumulus clouds are those tall, lofty clouds, often taller than wide. These are the clouds that we look at and see shapes of animals, faces of people, common objects and etc. Clouds are also classified by their ability to cause precipitation by using the Latin, nimbus. So the Weather Guys state: “by using the combination of appearance, height and ability to make precipitation, a wide variety of clouds can be identified.” Clouds are formed when water vapor cools and condenses into water droplets or ice crystals and “clump” together to create visible clouds. With that background let’s look at some photos. However, I’m not going to embarrass myself by trying to identify the clouds in every photo!

When I think of my most memorable cloud photo, this is the one I think of, taken a number of years ago on the Lakeshore path between the Memorial Union and Picnic Point here in Madison. I learned after taking and exhibiting this photo that the upper clouds are called corduroy clouds as they look similar to wide wale corduroy. IMG_3182.JPG

The nearby Terrace at the UW Memorial Union is a great location for sunset photos especially when the clouds add to the scene.Clouds-8282

Staying in Wisconsin, the following photos featuring clouds were taken at the Wisconsin State Capitol, Old World Wisconsin near Eagle, the Stoughton Fair, Governor Dodge State Park near Dodgeville, and two photos taken in Door County, one of the bridges of Sturgeon Bay and North Pier Light on the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal.Clouds-3801Clouds-3026Clouds-0773Clouds-0946Clouds-4390Clouds-5122

During a visit a few years ago to our neighboring state, Iowa, I captured these photos, the cloud being the subject that attracted my attention to the scene.Clouds-3683Clouds-3662

Over the past several years, I’ve taken 10,000’s of thousands of photos in my native state of North Dakota. There is interesting story behind the first photo. About ten years ago, we were visiting my wife’s parents in western North Dakota and my father-in-law announced that he wanted to go to the casino at New Town on the Ft. Berthold Indian Reservation. This surprised everyone because he wasn’t much of gambler, he worked too hard for his money, and he was kind of a home body. So we immediately took advantage of his apparent whimsical request and made the nearly two hour trip (one way!) through the scenic Killdeer Mountains and across the Missouri River to the casino. After a half hour or so of low stakes slot machine gambling, we took part in the buffet (the real reason he wanted to go!) and headed back to the ranch. Well, I missed the turn off to the most direct route so kept going on the alternative course. My passengers were dozing after stuffing themselves at the buffet when I saw this scene ahead of me, the silhouette of Watford City against the brilliant red and orange clouds. I quickly pulled over and shot a few photos while the passengers woke up wondering what I was taking photos of, I told them to cast their gaze upon one of the most beautiful scenes ever presented to humankind! Hope you agree.IMG_3477.JPG

The next two photos were taken in the North Dakota Badlands located in the western part of the state not far from the Montana border. Over the years, I’ve explored many miles the backroads that traverse the rugged, picturesque terrain. I’ve found that clouds add to the mystery and allow the vibrance of the landscape to present itself in it’s most positive light. It’s seems when there isn’t a cloud in the sky that the photos are ok but not spectacular.


This photo is made possible by the rays of sunlight (also known as sunbeams or god rays) shining through the cumulus clouds. The location is within a half mile of where I grew up, taken late one winter afternoon. The photo that follows was taken at another time in about the same location but in a different direction and just after sunrise. The clouds look like disoriented corduroy clouds. Clouds-2-2Clouds-1133

The photo below was taken at sunrise in the winter and features the snow and fence on 1/2 section line on the farm where I grew up. That morning the clouds in the background were created by the cool air interacting with the warmer water on Lake Sakakawea just before the lake froze over. It was my good fortune (or was it great planning? Not!) to be there and take advantage of what Mother Nature offered.Clouds-2

The mixed clouds, the setting sun and a low camera angle help to create a dramatic setting for these ordinary rural mailboxes. Clouds-4

That’s enough photos and words for this week. Next week, I’ll feature another series of cloud photos, some taken in the US and others abroad. I’ll also share some history of cloud photography as well as tips on taking good cloud photos. Finally, did you know there is a Cloud Appreciation Society headquartered in the UK? I didn’t, if you don’t believe me check it out at! Everybody needs a hobby!

Until next week, travel safe.


7 thoughts on “Clouds-Part 1

  1. Wonderful pictures you have of clouds. The plains of North Dakota and Montana offer some spectacular landscapes for catching cloud pictures.

    When I started reading your post I instantly thought of the British cloud society. Then saw you added at the end of your post.

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