Badlands Artist-in-Residence Journal, 1998

January 28, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

BADLANDS JOURNAL, 1998

 

March 8: I left Broomfield this morning just before 7am. It was hard to say goodbye to Deb - I wish she was coming with me. It was cold but clear, and I had wonderful views all up the front range as I headed up I-25. Longs Peak highly prominent; everything covered in a nice coat of white frosting from the storm yesterday. The rolling hills looked like larger versions of snow-covered dunes on the Cape. Every frost-covered blade of grass glistened in the sun, every speck of snow sparkled like mica. Horses and cattle huddled up to protect against the cold wind, their exhalations visible in the frosty air. Windmills and oil rigs stood starkly against the open plains. Ft. Collins passed quickly, as did Cheyenne. Then the Laramie Range paralleled me to the west. The wind whipped streamers of snow across the road. The occasional fog bank tucked in low against the mountains, their peaks rising above. When I finally made the turn east at Orin to head for SD, I crossed the North Platte River, billowing steam up into the frigid air, which then froze on the branches of the cottonwoods, creating a crystal palace.

     The Badlands were more amazing than I remembered. The castle ramparts and spires that greeted me were awesome, particularly as they were blanketed in snow, creating wonderful contrasts in color, texture, and light...

     ...After calling Deb, I took a night shot near the Wall below Cedar Pass. The landscape eerily bathed in 3/4 moonlight, I was standing in a field with badland walls nearly encircling me. The snow crunched underfoot, and sparkled in the moonlight. Dead silence. Spooky, but enchanting. A wonderful way to end the first day.

 

March 9: Slept fitfully, waiting for the alarm to go off. Got up beforehand at 5am. Had a granola bar, packed up my gear, and headed out into the dark and cold. Snowing lightly. Nothing stirring. I walked the Notch Trail in the growing light - somewhat hairy in the snow - walking a ledge over a deep ravine. The sun was slowing breaking through the clouds, slowly working its way down the sides of the canyons. Slippery to walk, and with drifting snow, can’t tell how far you’ll sink in. Lost my footing once and crashed in on my calf - no major damage. Great views out through the canyon and over the prairie - hazy sun, light snow, and frost shimmering in the cold like diamonds. On the return from the Notch, ran into Scott Lopez, Chief Ranger. He had seen my car parked on the road; wanted to make sure I hadn’t slipped, or gone out there to commit suicide. I think he thought I was a little crazy, but after finding out who I was, offered to show me around later...

     ...met Scott, and we took off driving the Loop Road. More staggering scenery. Saw two bison from a distance in the Sage Creek area. On the return, saw another on the prairie near where the park corrals them (they cull the herd every two years, and give them to the Natives). Scott headed off cross-country so I could get some closeups. Bison are amazingly big - up to 2000 lbs. Scott headed off towards the corral to show me the setup - humming across the prairie, bouncing hard, fish tailing, snow flying. We got close to the gate and had to slow down - I knew we wouldn’t make it through the huge drift. Had to dig the truck out and turn us around - no easy task. As the sun set, we freed ourselves, said so long to the bison as we passed, and screamed back towards the road a la “Mr. Majestyk.” It was quite a ride...

 

March 10: Up at 5:30. Already getting light. Looking out the Window Trail, the sky had some nice color, but a con-trail was right in the way. Drove out the Loop Road to see where the sun was hitting. The myriad colors of grasses, from rust red to bright yellow, emerge from a blanket of snow. Mule deer and rabbit tracks are everywhere. I stopped at every pullout, but the wind quickly picked up and it was bitterly cold, especially on top of the Wall. I found out later it was -3 degrees, not counting wind chill, which could have easily put it at -30. As bundled as I was, it was brutal on my face, and I didn’t wander far. Took some shots of the ice-covered grasses out the car window. The sky flattened with gray almost from the start of the Loop, making picture-taking difficult. Took some shots of some mule deer between Dillon Pass and Pinnacles Overlook, but they were skittish and I didn’t get too close...

     ...after lunch, still cold. But not wanting to sit, I drove out 44 to check out the turnoff for Sheep Mountain Table. It was covered in snow, so I’ll have to wait to get up there. Kind of a tricky drive back - high winds blowing sinews and blankets of snow across the road - hypnotic, mesmerizing, hard to focus. Snow falling as well as blowing, little visibility. Back at Cedar Pass, the pinnacles were half lost in falling snow. Still flat light, so I put on a warming filter and tried a few shots. Hard to keep the snow off the lens, and soon headed back to the apartment. At moments I feel guilty about not shooting every spare second, but also realize that I need to re-charge. Sun and wind have parched my face and wiped me out...

 

March 11: Up at 5:30am. Super cold this morning. Found out  later it was -21 degrees, which is not surprising, since my car had an absolute seizure when I tried to start it, rocking back and forth like the cylinders and rods were about to come through the hood. After a 15 minute warm-up, I was off. Saw a beautiful sunrise at the Window. Started to take pics along the Castle Trail (just across the road from the Window), and somehow just kept going, despite achingly frozen feet. It was just so beautiful with the bright sunshine on blinding white snow, jagged pinnacles rising 200 ft into a clear blue sky. Animal tracks everywhere. Grasses (56 species here) coated with frost and glistening in the sun, standing out starkly against deep blue shadows in the snow. It was calm again at sunrise, but the wind picked up with time (as usual). My feet would begin to warm and I trudged through the snow, but then I’d stop for photos and they’d freeze again. Hard to walk when you can’t tell how deep the snow is. I’d get surprised from time to time, sinking in to my hip. Walked out to the old Northeast Road, then back along the main road, taking pics, until I got back to the car. Had a frozen snickers and bagel while I cranked the heat. After that I did the Saddle Pass Trail up to the top of the Wall. Cool mushrooms (cap rock) along the way, and wind-blown cornices on top. Often I see mule deer footprints outlined in blown snow as if fossilized...

     ...left at 2pm to drive out to the Pinnacles Overlook for sunset. Sunny, but the wind was screaming, shaking the car. Snow was blowing up the cliff and over my car. In many spots in the distance I saw snow blowing up and over various ridges and pinnacles. Spotted two bison far away munching, oblivious, on a sod table. Amazing how the cold doesn’t seem to affect them. So well adapted. As usual, clouds screwed up the sunset at the last minute, so I returned home and played volleyball at the school in Interior.

 

March 12: It was much warmer when I walked out the door at 5:15 this morning than it was yesterday. Nice change. The near full moon was obscured by a bank of clouds, but the lower edge of the clouds was lit white by beautiful rim light as the moon began to appear from underneath. In the east, the sky hinted the approach of daylight. I drove out the old NE entrance road, and started out Castle Trail to the west, quickly trudging through the snow. I finally got into position to shoot the full yellow moon as it descended towards the snow-covered buttes. In the distance, the dark shapes of mule deer bounded away, like Pepe LePew, when they became aware of my presence, their white rumps visible before they disappeared behind a sod table. Around me, birds sang and trilled to bring in the new day. The prairie breeze hushed through the dormant grasses, bowed over to the south in submission from the incessant northerlies. Somewhere, a pack of coyotes let their voices be heard. They barked, howled, and screamed like banshees at the setting full moon. From another direction, a second pack answered these howls with their own, and the exchange between the packs lasted for some time. I continued on, shuffling through the knee-deep snow, so light and fluffy that it seemed to flow around me as I walked. Behind me, the sun was struggling to emerge from behind scattered clouds. It intermittently lit up sections of the Wall to the south, and added flickering bits of candle light to the high cirrus clouds above. The ramparts and spires to the west suddenly became bathed in yellow light. The mule deer that had earlier scattered before me stood in dark silhouette against the well-lit backdrop. Again, they bounded away at my approach. As the sun broke free, the sparkling snow turned from a pastel blue to a blinding white, dramatically setting off the clearest, deepest, sky-blue imaginable. It was a winter wonderland I had all to myself...

 

March 13, 10:30am: Took an easy afternoon yesterday, trying to nap, knowing I’d be out all last night with the biologists, spot-lighting the black-footed ferrets. (The most endangered mammal in North America, they are trying to re-introduce them here. They are nocturnal creatures, so in order to find them and see how they’re doing, you need to go out at night.) I went out to shoot the sunset, which wasn’t great, then met Doug, Craig, and Valerie, the “ferret people.” We drove out across the full moon landscape to the Pinnacles Ranger Station, where we met four Forest Service folks who were also on the project. They loaded up four trucks, and we left about 9pm, heading for the grasslands where the ferrets had been released. Saw a huge green meteorite along the way. I was with Craig and Valerie, who pointed spotlights out the open windows to catch the green eyes of the ferrets. We found one quickly, and Craig put a transponder over the prairie dog hole (ferrets eat prairie dogs, then take over their burrows). A chip under the skin of the ferret set off the transponder, and signaled who he was. I tried to take photos, but it was dark, even with the spotlights. It was a beautiful night, with a full moon, but cold (14 degrees), and long, just driving around the same area for hour after hour. I started to nod off around 3am. At 5am, we got stuck and had to be pulled out by the others. We returned to the Ranger Station as the sky was brightening in the east, Venus still highly visible. After unloading, we headed back to Cedar Pass. Craig was nice enough to stop at Pinnacles Overlook so I could get some moon-set shots, the moon sitting in the pink/blue light inversion, and the pink settling in on the snow-covered pinnacles below. Beautiful.  The sun broke out as we continued back, lighting up the giant wall, ablaze in yellow. Went straight to bed when we got back...

 

March 13, 7:20pm: Headed out in the afternoon, just around the bend past the Interior cutoff. I parked, and walked in along the base of the peaks and pinnacles. Nice erosional features - banding, mushrooms, channel sandstone, and tons of nodules, round smooth balls of rock somehow laid down with the rest of the sediment. Walking was ugly - mud city from the melting snow. The formerly dry creek beds and gullies are now running “amuck.” Another beautiful afternoon - crystal blue sky, highs in the 30’s, sun slowly sinking, changing the colors of the rock to darker, more saturated shades of red and creme. I headed up Norbeck Pass, hoping the clouds would light up after sunset, but the sun couldn’t get underneath them. Afterwards, I headed back over Cedar Pass to see what the full moon (plus one day) was doing. From the Window it came up bright yellow - gorgeous over the distant canyons!

 

March 14: Tough getting up at 5am. Almost went back to bed, but discipline kicked in. The clouds didn’t light up in Norbeck Pass, so I parked in the Fossil pullout and headed down the Castle Trail towards Saddle Pass. Found an interesting flat area with small rocks scattered everywhere on the hard pan (I learned later they were all washed down from the Black Hills millions of years ago). Some of the rocks were tiny toadstools themselves, balancing precariously on a minute amount of sediment underneath that had yet to be washed away. Very cool. No slopping through mud at this point, since it had all frozen overnight. I explored off the trail, investigating various fingers of a deep canyon system. Had to retreat back to the “hand” each time I wanted to explore another finger. The snow continues to hide holes - I dropped into one up to my thigh, bruising my knee. The canyon was beautiful, with a mud stream weaving its way sinuously out the bottom towards the prairie. Saw a cool “mudfall,” or “mudcicle,” where a muddy stream dropping over a ledge had frozen overnight. Also found some geodes. Clouds moved in, and I headed back. Flat light until 4pm, when I headed out to shoot the big mushroom at the base of Norbeck Pass. The sunset was clear, although no clouds to light up. Went to Scott’s for dinner.

 

March 15: Up at 5am, and out to Pinnacles Overlook. Waited for a sunrise that never materialized. Scouted locations on the way back. I want to shoot the yellow mounds, but they still have snow on them. At 10am, met Ranger Mark, Greg, and Casey, and we went up Saddle Pass to meet up with Bruce and Lee, who were searching for a dead bighorn (radio collar alarms go off when the collar doesn’t move for a period of time - suggests the animal has died). They found the dead bighorn, and we hauled it out to the road. It’ll be taken to Laramie for an autopsy.

     ...cold and overcast the entire day, despite forecast for 50 degrees and sunny. Stayed inside all afternoon.

 

March 16: Was supposed to go up in a plane with a biologist, but the flight was canceled. Beautiful, sunny, windy day (about 50 degrees). Walking would be sloppy, so I drove out to Robert’s Prairie Dog Town. Shot half a roll, although they’re skittish, chirping their alarms around the colony. Continued on to Sage Creek Campground, spotting 3 bison along the way (too far for pics). Walked along the river in some slop, but couldn’t cross over because of snow melt. Walked up a nearby hill - very sloppy, but good views of the area. Drove back slowly, taking pics along the way. Stopped at Pinnacles for sunset, but as usual, clouds swallowed the sun before it reached the horizon.

 

March 17: Went to Norbeck Pass for sunrise under overcast starless skies knowing the sun would never break. Overcast, flat light all day, with winter storm watch in effect. In the afternoon, the ceiling lowered and winds picked up to a low howl. I read most of the day.

 

March 18: Went to Norbeck Pass before sunrise. A light dusting of snow last night and deep fog - deep enough that you couldn’t see the formations. Headed back, figuring there wasn’t much to shoot, but ended up stopping several times. There were places I could get close enough to actually see the peaks. The fog caused a nice, even, moody light to fall on the landscape, giving me a much different look. It was sleeting and raw, but fun, and I hope the shots turn out.

     ...sat in on a class at the Interior School. I’ll be giving a talk to the kids next week. Then met and had a nice talk with the Park Superintendent. Nice guy. Bill Supernaugh. Handlebar mustache. Rides a Harley.

     ...overcast most of the day. Finally got some interesting light breaking through. Got a handful of shots from the Cliff Shelf before the hole closed. Headed out to Saddle Pass to wait and see if the sun would break out again. It didn’t. Volleyball again at Interior.

 

March 19: Up at 6am. Drove to the reservation to give talks to 6-8 graders at the school. Better looking school than Interior, probably from federal tax dollars. Most kids fairly distant and uninterested. Very noisy. Right before I started with the 7th graders, two girls nearly broke out in a fist fight. I realized I shouldn’t be surprised at the lack of interest - I’m showing slides of places they’ll never hope to see, talking about photography when they’ll probably never pick up a camera.

     ...headed out about 2:30 to take pics. Good sun, good cumulous clouds, good afternoon light. As usual, the sunset failed to materialize, the sun disappearing behind a cloud bank 20 minutes before setting. No cloud color.

 

March 20: Up at 6am. Beautiful sunny day breaking for the first day of Spring. Met Greg and Casey at the VC (Visitor’s Center), and we headed off on a field trip to Devil’s Tower. Still a lot of snow there, at 5000 ft. Impressive tower, with sheer, vertical columns, rising from a boulder field. We walked around the base, gazing up at the columns, giant turkey vultures circling on the thermals. Casey and I scrambled up to the base of the columns, and I had a sense of vertigo trying to take photos of the sheer rock.

     ...Deb arrived about 6:30. Great to see her! We went into Interior and had dinner at the A&M Cafe.

 

March 21: Beautiful warm clear day. Deb and I did the Door, Window, Notch, and Cliff Shelf Trails, then drove out to Sage Creek, stopping at every overlook and spotting bison along the way. I’m glad Deb could see them. Great light on the way back. Saw a coyote cross the road on the way to Norbeck Pass. Once again, the clouds wouldn’t light up for sunset.

 

March 22: Deb and I shuttled our cars to the Fossil and Door parking areas so we could walk the length of the Castle Trail. Overcast and 40’s. My first time on the trail with no snow. We took lots of shots of erosional details and stream closeups. Found some fossils along the way. Deb went crazy over the field of rocks I had seen before, brought down from the Black Hills. Showed Deb the deep canyon I had explored before, which she really enjoyed seeing. Overcast when we finished the trail.

 

March 23: Deb left this morning. Overcast all day today. Worked on a “How to Photograph the Badlands” pamphlet for the park.

 

March 24: Couldn’t sleep. Up at 4:15am. Headed out to the Air Quality Overlook, but again no sunrise.  Read in the car and waited for the sun to break through, which took a while. I stalked some pronghorn antelope across the prairie, getting some shots but losing my lens cap in the process. Spent some time in the yellow mounds area. It’s 60 today, and the snow is gone from the mounds.

     ...Met Rachel Benton (the park paleontologist) at 3pm, who took me and Mark Gorman on a little geology field trip. Rachel pointed out the Channel sandstone, the Rockyford Ash, clastic dikes, faults, nodules, and a rhino femur fossil up off the Castle Trail. Very cool! After the tour I drove out to Norbeck Pass, the sun casting great beams across the landscape as it appeared from under the clouds. The post-sunset light failed, but I did shoot a hoodoo in the blue light before I returned home.

 

March 25: The alarm went off at 4:45, but I stayed in bed until 6:30. Judging from the clouds, I didn’t miss much. I worked on my pamphlet until lunch, then gave my slide show at the Interior school. After the show we took them up to the Doors/Window area, and set them loose with disposable cameras to play with. They scattered immediately, and required a watchful eye. After they left, it started to rain, but passed over quickly. When I walked up to the Window I was greeted with a FULL DOUBLE RAINBOW, END TO END! Just incredible! Needless to say, I blew a lot of film on the rainbow, as well as the brightly lit buttes backed by the dark storm clouds.

     ...Ended up at Pinnacles Overlook for sunset. Some of the clouds lit up nicely, but that wasn’t the real show. Most of the heavens seemed ready to open up and pour down all around me. It started as fine streamers of rain pulled down from the brooding sky. The tempest quickly escalated. Soon the sky was like roiling smoke, in viscious shades of black, gray, and blue, rips and gashes tearing away at the fabric. The wind was suddenly sprung upon me, gusting out of nowhere, howling in rage. As the storm passed to the east, the giant head of the thundercloud was still visible in the fading blue light. Its dark underbelly had been ripped open, the insides spilling onto the prairie. It lashed out in pain with bolts of lightning that, for an instant, broke the black pall hanging over the landscape. I followed the lightning all the way back to Cedar Pass...

 

March 26: Up at 4:45am. Had a bagel, geared up, and headed out on foot across from the VC to see if I could climb up to the slump area where there’s a grove of juniper - and where I saw some bighorn through binoculars on my first day. I was able to climb up there, in the growing light, and eventually reached a saddle looking over the north side of the Wall. I sat and watched the sky brighten, and then watched as the tips of the buttes lit up, the warm yellow light slowly working its way down. After many shots, I considered the way back. It was steep, but doable the way I had come. I was more interested in whether I could find a way down the north side. Glad I headed the way I did. I found a beautiful window in the glowing yellow wall, the deep blue sky penetrating through. I took about a dozen shots, verticals and horizontals, bracketing, just to make sure I got it. It should be a winner if it turns out. I continued down the canyon, breaking out of cool shade into warm sunshine, and was greeted by a symphony of song, bouncing off the buttes in all directions, coming from the western meadowlarks. The songs are sweet and pure, unlike any I have ever heard, trilling up and down, complex, always changing. I sat down in the grass to listen...

     ...I followed the road back over Cedar Pass, but detoured off road on the way down, through another grove of sweet, incense-smelling juniper, past deep gullies, and back into the grasses below. Here I had the luck of having a meadowlark land not 30 feet away. Beautiful yellow breast and black V-neck. Such an incredible voice for such a small bird. Got to within 15 feet before she took off. Great morning!

     ...at 4pm I went to get Scott, but he was still in a meeting. I was a little concerned about making it to Sheep Mountain Table while it was still light, and also worried about the forecast of rain. Scott didn’t appear until 4:30, then had to change clothes, let Bill’s dog in, get a phone number from the VC - finally under way about 5pm. Of course, doing 80mph gets us there in good time. The seven mile road up the table was dry, but very rough, and I’m not sure I’d take my car up there. Deep ruts, and no place to turn around. The edges of the table are very steep - five people, mostly drunk natives, have fallen off and died up there in the last year. We drove to the end of the table, and it was incredible. The walls of the canyon are shaped like the hoodoos of Bryce, but buff-colored. And more extreme. The drop-off takes your breath away. Scott walked out onto a fin where the canyon arced around you for 180 degrees, a meandering stream running through the bottom far below. The problem was, the fin was EXTREMELY NARROW. At one point, you have to step down a little dip, and the place where you put your foot was only about two inches wider than your foot! On either side it just dropped away, a couple hundred feet straight down. All this on crumbling rock. Carrying a camera and tripod. My legs were shaking. Deb would never have done it, but two things urged me on - the desire to get the shot, and fear of embarrassment from Scott. So I held my breath and did it. But even farther out, where it was “wider,” I still couldn’t spread out my tripod legs because they would have gone over the side. These shots BETTER turn out. There was a sliver of red light on the horizon below a bank of dark clouds, as the setting sun worked its way underneath. It did make it out briefly, turning the pinnacles far to the east an incredible glowing red/salmon color, and casting a soft warm glow on everything else. Then the clouds lit up, pink filling half the sky. Finally, some magnificent sunset color!

 

March 27: Up at 5:30am. Looked out the window and two mule deer were right outside. As soon as I opened my door, they bolted. Greg, Casey, Mark, and I left at 8am for Mt Rushmore. They’re spending millions on a new VC and parking garage. It’s pretty sick. It sprinkled while we were there, so no great shots. I drove us from Rushmore to Wind Cave, along a crazy winding road through beautiful pine forest. Driving through Custer State Park, we encountered a pack of wild burros, who, when we didn’t offer food, took to licking the car...

     ...Wind Cave was somewhat disappointing. It’s a dry cave, so no stalagmites or stalactites. And they don’t take you very far.

     ...The highlight of the day was driving back through Custer. We saw about 100 bison, some not 5 ft from the car. Very impressive animals. We also saw lots of pronghorn and mule deer, much less skittish than in the Badlands. Good photo ops.

 

March 28: Up at 5am. Grabbed a pop tart and climbed a small hill in back of the housing area. Breaking the silence was the wonderful warbling of the meadowlarks, along with the squawking of Canadian geese flying overhead. To the east, it was brightening behind the serrated, silhouetted pinnacles of the Wall. At their base was a low blanket of fog, slowly sweeping in from the prairie to the south. I could see the blanket thickening as it moved north and stacked up against the impenetrable Wall, obscuring the peaks one by one. Blocked to the north, the fog bank hugged the Wall and moved west, gradually consuming the rolling mounds in front of me before I, too, was overtaken. The bank silently rose up the sides and flowed around Angel Peak, just to my north. The valley just opposite the VC was completely consumed. Then, just as the high clouds over the pinnacles began to take on color, the fog bank gracefully surrendered to a stiffening breeze, allowing me to shoot the pinnacle peaks with fog below and the yellow/pink-colored clouds above. To cap the moment, a group of eight mule deer climbed a small hill in the foreground, mystical in foggy light, posing dramatically for my shot. Wonderful. Couldn’t have asked for a better setup. I took more shots as the sun itself rose above the peaks, its brilliant light doused by the fog, its outline still visible. Around Cedar Pass, the fog yielded to the wind and sun, receding back into the low-lying prairie. Part of me wanted to be everywhere at once, but I was more than content to stay where I was and watch the show unfold before me...

     ...I went back inside to have a shower, and emerged to find dark, overcast skies. The rain started soon after, and continued throughout the day, punctuated by bursts of hail, and some large wet snowflakes.

 

March 29: Up at 6:30am. Still raining. No point in getting up for sunrise. Turned quickly to wet snow. After lunch, when it really started accumulating, I went out across from the VC to shoot. It was a pretty world, every blade of grass white with snow, every stream, every creek, every rivulet running a light chocolate brown, like the chocolate rivers in Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. The tops of the peaks were faded in snow and clouds. Found a flowing mudfall, and took shots of that, along with the chocolate streams. Hard to keep the camera dry in wet snow, and hard to keep the snow off the lens. Somewhat frustrating. Came in to change film, and tried a little more out on the Cliff Shelf. Still frustrating.

 

March 30: Still snowing lightly this morning. 4-6 inches on the ground. Overcast, flat light. I went up to the grove of junipers opposite Cliff Shelf. They were beautiful, their green bows garnished with white snow. It was very peaceful in the midst of the grove - nature’s cathedral. While taking shots of the trees I spotted mule deer. I had a good time stalking various groups of them around the grove. They’re still skittish, and I didn’t get many shots, but had a good time anyway...

     ...flat light the rest of the day...

 

March 31: Up at 5am. Sunrise failed to materialize. Still overcast and flat. 45 degrees today. Snow disappearing. Read most of the day...

     ...Right after dinner the sun broke out of the clouds, and lit up the Wall to the east. Backed by a thin veil of dark clouds, the Wall glowed yellow, and revealed a wonderful soft texture. As the golden light moved slowly down the pinnacles, a pinkish glow moved up the veil above the Wall, first in the east, then gradually moving west towards the far horizon. I followed the color around the sky as it silhouetted pinnacle after pinnacle, the silence broken by a huge rockfall somewhere west of the pass. The pinnacles receded into the fading blue light until darkness consumed them...

     ...Greg and Casey and I watched a movie in the library after dinner. Walking back in the dark, I looked up to see a waning crescent moon slowly setting through a thin sheen of high cirrus in the west. Above me, the stars shone brilliantly, looking close enough to touch. I could just see the outline of the Wall. The breeze is cool, but the sting of winter is gone...

 

April 1: Up at 5am. Headed down Rt 44 towards Scenic as the sun came up behind me. A frosty morning turning into a beautiful day. Saw groups of mule deer alongside the road, and several owls lifting off from their fence post perches as I cruised by. Turned west on Rt 2, thinking I might try to get up on Stronghold Table, but still a lot of snow in this area - can’t drive the muddy jeep roads. Turned up Rt 41 to Red Shirt Table Overlook. One of the teachers I met said it was the best view around. It’s nice, but doesn’t hold a candle to Sheep Mountain Table. On the way back, drove the Loop Road for perhaps the last time (tomorrow I give a slide show to the park staff, and Friday is another road trip with Greg and Casey).

     ...A beautiful sunny afternoon, 55 degrees, not a cloud in the great expanse of sky. But frustrated by the inability to walk in the mud, I feel stuck in mud myself. I could get back in the car, but I’m burned out on that. I’ve put over 1000 miles on my car, and the main Loop Road is only about 22 miles out to the Pinnacles entrance. Back and forth, back and forth. There are endless buttes and pinnacles to shoot. The challenge becomes, how do you make a photo that is different from the 1000 shots you have already taken? Short-timer’s disease has set in. I can’t wait to see Deb again...

     ...In the late afternoon, I took my book and sat on top of the low rise just behind the apartments. Just to read, with no camera, and watch the changing light on the pinnacles, was a good thing to do. It refreshed me; reconnected me with the landscape. Sometimes the camera gear is a burden - with it I feel like I should always be shooting something, or at least be actively searching for the next “great shot.” By having such a singular purpose, its easy to lose “sight” of the landscape itself. I can get so tied up in the work (however enjoyable on some levels) that I miss the simple experience of “being” outside, of immersing myself in the environment, of being open to what it offers. While reading, I was surrounded by the chorus of meadowlarks, coming in from all directions, in stereo as the music bounced off the buttes. Two rabbits hopped along in the short grass. Playful, they squared off against each other, almost nose to nose. One would jump forward, the other springing backwards to stay just out of reach. Amazing what comes to life when you sit, quietly, rather than noisily tromping across the landscape...

     ...lovely wisps of cirrus lighting up in the southwest - yellow, pink, lavender...

 

April 2: Up at 6:30. No alarm, because I wanted to be rested for my talk this morning. A beautiful start to the day here so far. Blue sky, scattered cirrus.

     ...the slide show went well - everyone seemed to enjoy it. After lunch went for a walk east of the housing area. Still some muck, and I went down on my wrist once. The worst part was having to bypass a rancher’s barbed wire fence. I thought it was park land out there. The sky has hazed up with high cirrus...

 

April 3: Great day. Nice sunrise with bright pink clouds. The meadowlarks are singing. As for the magpies - a throaty single note spewed forth in staccato bursts. They should sound better, given how beautiful they look.

     ...Greg, Casey, Mark, and I went to Jewel Cave. Really spectacular. Blows Wind Cave out of the water. A two hour tour, walking through huge rooms, narrow passages, feeling like we were in a giant fish bowl, with walls of different colored coral all around us. Flowstone, geodes, soda straws, a wild 20 ft ribbon deposit coming off of a wall, some stalactites, stalagmites - all very cool.

     ...saw more bison as we returned through Custer State Park. Incredible warm light driving in through Cedar Pass at sunset.

     ...Shared some beers with Greg and Casey for my last night here. A nice way to end my stay. Tomorrow, the drive home.

 


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