Sunday, September 24, 2017

Montrose & Grand Mesa, CO (9/2017)

Birds often light briefly on the fence around my back yard.  One young western kingbird stayed long enough for me to get the camera and snap a few poses.  There was a light rain at the time, which explains the streaks you see in the photo.
Staying home for the past few weeks, I did get out for a some sunsets and want to share a few of them with you.  Unfortunately, I missed the very best one seen lately because I was celebrating my birthday at a neighborhood "Happy Hour".  Life in the fast lane!

Friday was the beginning of fall, so I decided it was past time to enjoy some fall color.  With a bad weather forecast in the area around the San Juan mountains, I chose to go in the other direction and drove onto Grand Mesa.  As mentioned in previous travelogues, this is the largest flat-top mountain in the world.  There are beautiful pine, gambel oak and aspen forests on Grand Mesa, not to mention 300 lakes and plenty of hiking trails.  My last visit there was in January, when a mini-blizzard was occurring and almost no one else was on the road.  What a difference.

Every time I go up there, I hope to see deer, elk, moose or even a bear, since all are known to live in these woods.  The only wildlife I saw this time was a beautiful Steller's jay hopping around in the colorful underbrush.

I drove out to the westernmost point of the mesa, a place aptly named "Land's End".  It's about 12 miles from the main road, but it has incredible views of the valley below.  Further, it has a very scenic gravel road that leads off the mountain with 12 miles of switchbacks and steep drop offs.  On the way, I passed an old "cow camp" that has been designated an Historic Site.  In a couple photos, parts of the twisty road down the mountainside can be seen.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

South Dakota & Alliance, NE (8/30/2017)

On one hand, it feels ludicrous to sit here in Colorado, safe from weather hazards, and publish something as mundane as a travelogue, while so many are in harm's way from Hurricane Irma, .  On the other hand, I need some distraction from the constant worry for family, friends and property that are in danger back in Florida.  I am tired of the endless barrage of bad news and warnings from the Weather Channel, but unable to shut it off.  Maybe this will help me, recipients can ignore it as long as they like.
Badlands National Park is nearly 250,000 acres of gullies, spires, pinnacles and mounds carved from the prairie by erosion.  Only a small part of it is readily accessible by a 27 mile paved road.  A few gravel roads appear to be seldom used.  More than half of the park is on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, jointly managed by the National Park Service and the Oglala Sioux tribe, with no public access other than for tribe members.  The Badlands Wilderness Area is another 65,000 acres where motorized travel is not permitted.  This area was used for re-introduction of bison and the black-footed ferret. The Buffalo Gap national Grasslands is another 600,000 acres of protected land with no developed recreational facilities and very few roads, but the public is welcome to visit and enjoy it.

My morning in the Badlands was characterized by more cloudy, overcast weather.  There was no significant color before dawn, and the sun stayed hidden until well above the horizon.  Once a little color appeared in the sky, I frantically searched for compositions that took advantage of it.  I readily admit the color in some of the photos was enhanced somewhat by setting my camera to slightly underexpose the scene, making the color a little darker.  Call it "artistic license".

Leaving the park, I drove through the Indian reservation, surprised to find such high-quality roads.  I even found a General Store and gas station long before running out of fuel.  In the town of Porcupine, a Taco Johns restaurant provided a nice breakfast.  A young Sioux man was very helpful in making the best choices, including some excellent Mexican donut bites and a couple churros for later snacking on the road.  From there it was a short drive to my destination, Wounded Knee.

Some may know the history of Wounded Knee, site of an 1890 massacre of some 150 Sioux, including women and children.  I learned that Sioux spiritual leaders and Chief Big Foot had convinced the warriors that "Ghost Dancing" and wearing "Ghost Shirts" made them invulnerable to the soldiers' bullets.  The cavalry, nearly 500 men, surrounded the village amid high tensions on both sides.  No one knows who fired the first shot, but the superior fire power of the cavalry decimated the Sioux. 

This history, and the resulting mass graves, have made this site sacred to the Sioux.  You may remember the book Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee, a 1970 book that described  the history of conflict between Whites and Indians in the late 1800s from the point of view of the Indians.  Several Indian protests against poor living conditions have been held at this site.

While there, a Sioux woman approached me and explained some of the history, then asked for "gas money".  Another asked for money, then offered to sell small dream catchers she had made.  I donated what I could.  At the cemetery, two Sioux men sat on the gate.  We introduced ourselves and chatted a bit.  When asked why they were there, the men told me "it's better than sitting at home".  There is a museum and a community center near the cemetery.  One cannot visit this site without feeling sad for the people of this community.

Continuing on into Nebraska, I headed for the small town of Alliance, seeking one of those quirky attractions that can be discovered on the internet, Carhenge.  This site was developed by a fellow named Jim Reinders and his family in 1987.  Jim, a petroleum engineer, was stationed in England for seven years and became enamored with Stonehenge.  After returning home, he decided to create a "replica" of Stonehenge using junked automobiles.  The initial creation was completed in a week (per Jim, 9999 years and 51 weeks faster than Stonehenge), but has been augmented by various artists over the years.  With no admission charge, it's well worth a visit.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

South Dakota (8/29/2017)

On my return home from Minnesota, I wanted to travel the back roads of South Dakota and visit the state capital, Pierre.  Despite several trips to the state, I had never been to Pierre, and I do like to photograph the various state capitol buildings whenever convenient.  The roads I traveled were in good condition with little traffic, allowing me to make good speed.  Alongside the highways, large fields of corn and pasture land were pretty much everywhere, with the exception of sunflower fields.  I stopped several times to attempt getting photographs of the sunflowers, but it was difficult to find fields where a large expanse could be seen.  The best opportunities came when the field was located on a hill rising from the road.  Even then, the sun's direction and objects in the scene made it a challenge to find the right perspective.
Pierre, a city of less than 15,000, was founded on the site of Fort Pierre, named for an early fur trader named Pierre Choteau.  He must have been a popular individual in those days, because I know of a small town  in Montana also named after him.  Upon arriving, I went straight to the capitol and took several photos, not only of the building, but also of the memorials to SD military veterans situated next to the lake below the capitol.

It would have been nice to stay longer and tour the capitol or explore the town a bit more.  However, I had a goal of reaching Badlands N P in time for sunset, and to stay there overnight for sunrise the next day.  Having visited Badlands twice before, I knew it can be very hot in the middle of a summer day, and that a good sunset or sunrise can add quite a bit to the photo opportunities.

As it turned out, I arrived at the park in plenty of time to get a few shots before sunset.  There was even time to have a steak dinner at Cedar Pass Lodge in the park before going out again.

The Badlands were formed about 75 million years ago when the area was located in the tropics near the equator.  Sand and silt were deposited by an inland sea and subsequently by rivers and streams after the entire area was uplifted.  In the past 500,000 years, erosion has sculpted the spires and pinnacles we see today.  The place is different every time you go due to continuing erosion by wind and rain.  The park has been one of the richest fossil excavation areas in the country, with such animals as alligators, camels, three-toed horses and many others having been found here.

Heavy cloud cover prevented the kind of spectacular sunset I was hoping for, but there was just enough color in the sky to warrant a few photos.

I got a room in one of the motels just outside the park and went to bed early, hoping the sunrise would be better.  However, the photos from the following day will have to wait for the next travelogue.