I’m tired of the noise. Aren’t you? The noise of the election. The noise of culture clashes. The noise in my own head.
So, when an assignment to shoot landscape out west, came along, I jumped at it immediately.
The Badlands in the distance interrupt the hay fields of the National Grasslands
The assignment was to photograph 20,000 acres of land along the ND/MT border that hadn’t changed much since Theodore Roosevelt ranched and hunted there in the late 1800s. 20,000 acres is about 30 square miles of rugged ranch land; the Beaver Creek Ranch. It was a warmer than normal November day, and weather conditions promised good light and good temperatures for exploring.
The further west we went, the more noise I left behind.
On the North Dakota/Montana border we turned north off of Interstate 94 on to a state highway, (we = Mary, Gunnar the foster dog and me). Instantly, traffic disappeared; as far as we could see, the two-lane highway was ours. Our mission was to find the rancher who owned the land designated as PLOTS land – Private Land Open To Sportsmen.
The sign marks land set aside under a cooperative agreement with the rancher. It is Private Land Open To Sportsmen, or PLOTS.
We saw the triangle signs marking PLOTS land, but it wasn’t what we were looking for.
Oh-oh! The noise in my head started coming back as I searched fruitlessly for the region I was assigned to photography. I was frustrated, and so was the dog. He wanted to get out to explore, so did Mary and I. We kept driving. The old saying about finding your destination in North Dakota is true: If you think you’ve gone too far, you’re halfway there.
We checked out one gravel road to the east. A herd of antelope grazed in a hay field. That’s not what we were looking for, but it was a promise of things to come. Things were getting quieter.
Antelope – or prairie goats as some people call them are wary critters who keep a long distance from people.
Back on the highway, a bit farther north and we found it. The Beaver Creek Ranch. And wouldn’t ya know it, there it was, right on Beaver Creek.
The Beaver Creek Ranch PLOTS acreage is well-marked and includes a map that designates three parking areas. The area is for foot traffic only.
Earlier, I had called the rancher a couple of times and left voice mails, but got no reply. I did get hold of one of the sponsors of the PLOTS program who told me to go on in. He said I’d find at least three parking areas and recommended the one further in, back by the corrals.
The road starts out like a gravel road, and later it becomes a two-track trail. We rumbled and rocked across the basin where Beaver Creek meandered.
The beginning of the road in to the Beaver Creek Ranch is an easy gravel road until it turns in to a two-track trail that leads to a parking area.
The bottom ground is the bottom of a basin that is sliced by Beaver Creek. The rancher has one bridge but most of the time, he has to cross the creek by fords.
The bridge over Beaver Creek.
By the time we got to the corrals, the day was ending, the sun was setting and the moon was rising. Now that may sound like a bad time to arrive, but it was a good time. It’s called The Golden Hour when shadows show contrast and the landscape is golden. There was no noise, not in my head, not in the surroundings.
While the sun was still illuminating the golden rocks, a nearly-full moon rose.
As Mary explored the hills and ridges to the south, I went north.
A two-track trail gives the rancher access to the southern part of his ranch, but it’s foot-traffic only at this point. A parking area is at the start of this trail.
It wasn’t exactly silent, there is always a bit of a breeze rustling the grass and sweeping around the rocks. But that’s not noise. That’s a lullaby. It’s soothing enough to make a fella breathe easy. When I got to the top of the ridge and looked below me, the entire basin of Beaver Creek Ranch wandered northward from my perch. The longer I gazed, the more I could see. And none of it was noisy.
To the north, the rancher’s access road snakes through the hills.
I sat down and traced the distant trails where deer and cattle crossed the basin. I scouted the hills to the north to trace where water flowed down to the creek, and where the rancher could access further pastures and hills to the north.
The sun was setting, the colors were turning gold and the contrast of shadows on the bluffs slowly covered the landscape. And there was no noise.
Once the sun disappeared, wildlife appeared. Mule deer abound in the region. The area also includes turkeys, coyotes and elk. There is evidence that an occasional mountain lion crosses the region.
It’s the absolute contrast to the noise of civilization, a part of North Dakota that many people don’t know about. Does that sound like something you could use in your world? Glad to give you directions if you want.