The tale of a doggone rescue

Ever get to a place that wasn’t what you expected and you can’t get out? You can’t go forward? You can’t go back?

That happened to my dog Gunnar on our last hike of the year.

Blue sky over the autumn landscape of the Badlands

Looking up at a distant hill, we start plotting our course. The public lands of the Badlands provide good hiking territory for dogs and their owners — with a few dangers such as porcupines, skunks rattlesnakes and coyotes

Thanksgiving is generally my last day-hike of the year. This year, the destination was the Little Missouri River Valley near where it empties in to Lake Sakakawea between Killdeer and Mandaree.  The bluffs, buttes and hills are fairly rugged, so we picked our route carefully through the valley.

Badlands riparian ridges provide good viewing of the landscape

Typically, we follow hogbacks, or ridges along the tops of valleys to see the landscape and pick our course. Since hunting season was underway, Gunnar wears a hunter’s blaze orange vest.

We found fascinating rock formations, including a wall of rivulet erosions down the hillside.

rivulets, erosion, rocks, hillside make for difficult hiking

Looking down the steep hillside, we pick a course to follow to the bottom

 

That’s when the dog decided he’d find his own way down.

The dog stops on a ledge looking down

Gunnar picked his own route to the bottom, but discovered it didn’t get him where he wanted to go.

Happily he scampered down…part way. Only part way.  He stopped.

 

With only a dozen feet to go, he came to an “Oops” moment.

 

Now what do I do?

 

He looked left, right, down and above.  He decided to just sit until the photographers did their things. He looked perplexed. He waited for the rescue squad to come in and help.

Dog sits in the rocks.

Recognizing his route to the bottom did not work, and that he could not climb back up, Gunnar stopped to look around

 

So, I did.

 

It really didn’t take much. I grabbed his shoulders, firmly, securely so he knew I had him.

 

The dog sits in his perch waiting for me to climb up and get him.

I climbed up to give him the physical security and guidance he needed to climb down from his perch.

I lowered him a bit down and he was saved!

Once he was coaxed off the rock ledge, he continued to make his own way down

Once he was coaxed off the rock ledge, he continued to make his own way down

 

You know, I think there’s a sermon illustration in there somewhere.

When Gunnar got to the bottom of the rock wall, he decided he'd had enough exercise and just wanted to rest.

When Gunnar got to the bottom of the rock wall, he decided he’d had enough exercise and just wanted to rest.

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How to silence the noise of the day.

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.

hay field, grasslands and in the distance, the Badlands

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.

Triangle PLOTS signs mark areas where hunters and others can enter even though it is privately owned.

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 prarie goats were often spotted by Lewis and Clark when they came through here.

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.

Beaver Creek Ranch sign, PLOTS sign and map

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.corral-rising-moon-sig-small

Once the sun disappeared, wildlife appeared.  Mule deer abound in the region.  mule-deer-pauses-inlight-sig-small young-mule-deer-on-ridge-toward-sun-sig-small mule-deer-doe-with-burrs-sig-smallThe 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.

 

 

Million-dollar farming– will there be a payday?

john-deere-combine-comes-combining-sunflower

A $500,000 John Deere combine comes to the end of a 12 rows of sunflower.

They are million dollar crops in million dollar weather using million dollar machines.

joihn-deere-combine-corn-away-small

Taking advantage of the million-dollar weather, a half-million dollar combine opens a field of corn, making the first pass. The machine “combines” several processes, slicing the corn stalk, removing the ear from the stalk and the kernels from the cob, separating the chaff to blow out the back of the machine.

There’s a lot a farmer can do to produce a profitable crop…and a lot he can’t do — it’s out of his hands.  This fall, North Dakota farmers are reminded as they bring in their crops, they made some good choices on nutrients, timing, crop variety.   They know too, that this wonderful fall weather of no snow and warm temps is helping them get the job done.

combining-corn-john-deer-sunset-sig

Farmers put in long days at harvest, taking advantage of every weather opening provided. If it’s raining or snowing the stalks are too tough and the crop has too much moisture to harvest.

It’s a very expensive job.  One combine, such as the first one above, working a sunflower field, is about a half-million dollars.  That’s just part of the investment.  14992051_10155638816387619_3125389476639882384_nThe immense fields, some a mile-long are too large for a combine to make it across the field and back without emptying. So, the combine operator will empty on the go, continuing to pluck the crop from the stalks while emptying in to a grain cart that carries the crop to a waiting semi truck.

harvest-the-wind-and-the-wheat-sgntre

A tractor and grain cart roll along side of a working combine to receive what is in the combine’s hopper, then carry it back to a waiting truck. North Dakota supplies the world with food and fuel, as the wind turbines in the background create electricity for places such as Minnesota and Wisconsin.

john-deer-and-grain-cart-in-corn

A four-wheel drive John Deere tractor with large dual wheels to prevent wheel depressions in the soft earth pulls a grain cart on tracs. It follows the combine to retrieve a load of corn when the combine’s hopper is full.

Even though the work is uplifting, gathering in the fruit of a year’s labor’s, it can be challenging when the weather does not cooperate. In those years, the harvest is completed in the snow — after the cold-blooded diesel engines on the large tractors get started, which is a huge and frustrating task on most mornings.  That’s another reason this year’s million-dollar weather has been helpful — the machinery is not having to work hard with sluggish oil and brittle components.

Not every harvest takes place in accommodating weather. Most years, this is the view from the tractor pulling a grain cart down the road.

Not every harvest takes place in accommodating weather. Most years, this is the view from the tractor pulling a grain cart down the road.

Despite their investment, it’s possible they will have nothing to show for it this year.  Northern plains farmers, such as these in North Dakota, have millions of dollars invested in their harvest equipment, and millions more in their planting equipment. The weather is only one of the factors outside of their control; prices are abysmal.  Crop prices, such as corn, are at or near the break-even point.

That means that for all the work, for all the investment, it’s likely that many farmers will not make a profit this year.  They will go unpaid for their labor, barely earning enough money to pay the bank for the loans they took out to buy their equipment. Hopefully  they will have enough money to plant next year’s crop.

A Depression-era song that Ry Cooder recorded sums it up:

We worked through spring and winter, through summer and through fall
But the mortgage worked the hardest and the steadiest of us all
It worked on nights and Sundays, it worked each holiday
Settled down among us and it never went (away

The farmer comes to town with his wagon broken down
The farmer is the man who feeds us all
If you only look and see I know you will agree
That the farmer is the man who feeds us all

 

7 wild reasons to see North Dakota in the fall — A photo safari (Part 2)

You’ve been busy all summer, and now winter is closing in. We’ve been blessed with a mild October..only a few snowflakes when some Octobers we’ve already had two blizzards.  So, here’s motivation to get out and see North Dakota wild before it get’s unbearable — check the wild open spaces of North Dakota.

Later in the day, especially along the river, you can see some of the state’s largest wildlife — mule deer and white tail deer. They’re not easy to see because they blend in so well. Deer in the brush, down in a slough will only pause a moment before they take off.

two-deer-crop-vig-sig

Deer in the brush, down in a slough will only pause a moment before they take off.

Pheasants are more easily spotted if you’re in central or southwestern North Dakota. They like the cover provided by wetland grasses, tall pastures and stubble fields. Often they’re along the side of the road and can get up just as you pass by, which can mean a broken grill.geese-pheasant-doesnt-fit-in-sig-smallIf you have a dog with you,  he can help you see them because they’ll huddle down in the tall grass until the last moment.bird-gets-up-2-sig-desat

Hungry hawks will be lingering on perches such as fence posts, telephone poles and trees. Click here to get the ND Game and Fish guide to identifying ND Hawks.

hawk-sig-small

A group of blackbirds is most correctly called either a cloud, a cluster, murmeration or a merle of blackbirds.  blackbirds-cu-vigDid you know a similar group of larger birds, such as crows is called “a murder?”

blackbird-flock-in-tree-top-sig-small

Central North Dakota, through the prairie pothole region east of the Missouri River, is under the Central or Midway flyway where waterfowl migrate across the region. That’s why through much of October, depending on weather, Great Canadian Geese are in fields and waterholes.   A stroll along an unused road with my dog kicks up geese from their hiding places.

two-geese-take-off-from-gunnar-sig-small

As long as you’re in the wetlands region of North America, stick around until about 6:00 p.m. — sunset.  The hour before, the golden hour with long shadows and a golden filter on the sun is great photo time.  Immediately after sunset, sunsets in the sky are repeated in waterholes where geese and ducks are floating.

sunset-on-waterhole-with-ducks-sig-small

Finally, the most rewarding and hardest to spot wildlife is south of Watford City along the Little Missouri River. Big Horn Sheep populate the area.  I’ve never worked too hard at trying to spot them, which may be why I’ve only seen them once or twice.  If you’re careful not to spook them, they’ll pose for you.

two-big-horn-sheep-on-a-hill-nearby-sig-small

Other rare-to-spot animals in the state that run free are moose and mountain lions.  Moose sometimes wander in to towns or farmsteads.  Have you seen one in town?  Or mountain lions — have you spotted one?  What is the predominant wildlife you spot in the fall where you live?

Reasons to see North Dakota in the fall, photo safari — Evening gold Pt 1.

sunflower-gravel-road-and-golden-hour-sig-small

Domesticated sunflowers never rotate with the sun unlike their natural cousins that follow the sun. That’s why this mature field of sunflowers face east with the sun at their back. (One reason I like this photo, besides the leading lines is the hot/cold contrast of ground color and sky color.)

This fall, I’ve taken to exploring the last hour of the day with camera and dog.  That’s  easy to do because the golden hour is actually pretty early these autumn days; the colors are warm and the contrasting light is illuminating.  The golden hour, the golden sunset and the golden colors are striking.

mike-gunnar-sunset-prairie

Gunnar the foster dog leaps through tall prairie grasses on our walks. The golden grass, yellow skies and his yellow fur compliment each other

About 4:00 or so, the dog gets pretty alert and by 5:00, he’s ready to go.   He’ll pace back and forth or stand by the back door until I am ready.  Then he gets to the truck to wait for me, and off we go to find an abandoned section line road to explore.

eight-wind-turbines

Even just eight wind turbines disrupt the horizon. Imagine what 105 turbines do to the landscape.

Up until about 8 years ago, there were more opportunities, but more than 100 wind turbines were set up south and east of me.  There’s not much enjoyment in shooting miles and miles of wind turbines.  I find them to be intrusive. So to avoid the wind turbines, now I explore west and north of Wilton, mostly north.  There are not too many golden hour opportunities to the west. The Missouri River is about 8 miles from me, the hills and valleys separate section line roads. I stick to roads and section line paths, staying off private property, so there are not many chances to get out and photograph the area without trespassing on a farmer’s property.  I’ve been heading north of Wilton where there are more gravel roads and abandoned section line roads.golden-sunset-north-of-wilton-corn-and-gravel-road-sig-small

Our routine is similar each night. We drive until we find a good place to stop, then walk, looking for patterns, images to capture. Well, I look for them. The dog, he’s just off running.  It’s his free time.

abandond-house-in-the-middle-of-he-prairie-golden-hills-dark-sky-sig

I couldn’t see any approach roads. It’s just a house in the middle of the stubble field.

Sometimes we come across a surprising revelation. In this case (photo below),  we parked the truck, hiked up over the hill and caught the lower valley beyond the hill. An abandoned house with no noticeable roads or lanes nearby, just sitting in the middle of a small grain stubble field.

mature-sunflower-head-with-bokeh-sig

No longer yellow and green, but still attractive with the nubbly texture of a raw sunflower head.

Other times we walk along a yet-to-be harvested field. As I noted above, sunflowers are some of the last to come off, weeks after small grains and beans.

john-deer-pulling-grain-cart-sig

Hauling roughly a half-semi trailer of grain, a powerful John Deere on tracks not wheels heads to the working combine to unload the combine hopper as it keeps moving down the rows.

Sometimes we’ll be headed down a trail, and can hear the sound of million-dollars of machinery working.  Fields are so large that farmers need a grain cart pulled by a high-powered tractor to collect the grain from the working combine out in the field, and then haul it to the end of the field and a waiting truck.

Drive or walk to the other end of the section and you’ll come up on the combine doing it’s season-ending work. .

combining-corn-john-deer-sunset-sig-small

Sunset behind, the farmer keeps working to finish his cornfield.

It’s not too profound of a statement to say that this is an agricultural area, but that does not mean there are not opportunities to get in to wildlife regions.  I’ll see what I can do to show you that, next time.  Do you have fall hiking areas in North Dakota that you can recommend?  What are section line roads like in your area?

 

Between the rancher's fence lines is what used to be an active road, a section line road laid out on every section on one-mile grids. Most are no longer accessible or visible.

Between the rancher’s fence lines is what used to be an active road, a section line road laid out on every section on one-mile grids. Most are no longer accessible or visible.

 

October 22 moody images

Pontiac under the moon in the weeds

In this set of photos, my goal was to capture the mood rather than the image as a snapshot.  The Pontiac under the moon is one of my more complimented images.  I think it would work well as one of a series of notecards. What do you think?

You can see the moon barely visible just above the front left corner of the car in the trees.  It was another one of those hazy, overcast fall afternoons. My goal that day was not to photograph the car.  In fact, it was an after thought. My goal was another set of images of the old Wilton Coal Mine entrance — again here stylized to represent the surreal and even “spooky” mood of that area.

Wilton Coal Mine entrance

Photoshop filters enhanced the natural light and glow of the golden hour to create that warm surreal effect.  In the photo of the coal mine entrance, can you spot the full moon? It’s just above the horizon next to the mine entrance, between it and the tree on the horizon.

This scene is just east of Wilton about a mile.  It captures my imagination every time I see it or visit it because of the old stories I’ve read about life during the mine’s peak — a time when this region of the United States was in its infancy and growing quickly.

Moon glow

Scattered around the pasture are other reminders of days gone by including the old Pontiac.  In a few days I think I’ll have to return to capture more of the imagery, but most capture more of the mood of the region.  The full moon rising only added to the surreal spooky atmosphere.

I dunno. How do you present an image with its natural “feel” by merely pressing the shutter release on a camera.  I believe some crafty artwork applied post processing helps tell the story.

October 21 Images larger than life

Clark, Sheheke, Lewis

Here we are again, a seasonal visit to the larger-than-life images of three people who shaped the United States like no one else has done.William Clark, hired by Captain Lewis visit with Mandan Chief Sheheke.  The three represent the lost art of cultural curiosity and cultural acceptance.  Clark and Lewis stayed months with the Mandans at a campsite just under the hill from these statues.  They learned from the Mandans, and thanks to the hospitality (which still marks the Mandans today) they were able to live through the winter and carry on their expedition.

Chief Sheheke, curious about white man’s life went back to Washington DC to meet President Jefferson and to learn of this culture he did not know existed until he met the Corps of Discovery.  Sadly, it was not a good move for the Chief. When he returned to his people he was not well-received, nor were his stories of white man’s civilization readily believed nor accepted.  He lost status, leadership and eventually his life.

These statues stand at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center at Washburn, just above the Missouri river. See that tree in the background, it’s literally on the crest of the hill overlooking the Missouri River below.

Most travelers through North Dakota stick to the Interstate, or don’t even bother to head west to see North Dakota outside of the Red River Valley, and so they do themselves a disservice by not exposing themselves to the beauty that Lewis and Clark encountered,  a region fairly unsullied by modern life, a region where the actual trees the Corps of Discovery walked through are still standing, living and growing.  The Interpretive Center is a hidden jewel in America.

Have you been up the Missouri River to the near-wilderness areas of North Dakota? Have you been to the Interpretive Center or nearby Fort Mandan?

oOctober 18 My most popular image of Mandan

Mandan as seen from Bismarck at sunset

There. That’s better.  The week’s dreary, grey, lifeless sunsets were disappointing this week, but on this night, the clouds and the sun worked together to give a good backdrop to the landscape.

I was on the hilltop overlooking I-94 to shoot traffic and the bridge for one of my contracts, but the imagery of the cityscape took precedence.  I was surprised how the camera picked up the blue of the galvanized chain link fence.  The Interstate is blue, the bridge, and support structures are blue. They add a chill to the contrast of the warm sunset.  The river provides a good dividing line with its soft peach tones.

If you look closely to the north (right) you can make out the lights just starting to glow at North Dakota’s only oil refinery.

All in all, a good moment to capture forever.

Have you noticed how colors change, such as the galvanized fence, when the sun is filtered through the cloudsd?

October 10 Wilton’s pond at sunset

Sunset at Wilton Centennial Park

This is one of my favorite images in my year-long project of shooting North Dakota every day of 2010.  Some days my photos are so amateurish and bad that I don’t post them.

But on this day, just a short walk from my home I saw what might work for a good image. Of course it’s the Golden Hour, and it shows.  The color is radiant in the trees and along the horizon.

Most unusual (and if you’re from North Dakota, you know what I mean) there is no wind.  The reflective glass of the Wilton Centennial Park pond is perfect to bounce back the trees and light around it.

I could easily vote for this as my favorite photo of the year in North Dakota 365.  What do you think?

October 7 Cuttin’ corn

Binder down the dusty road

I could smell it when I drove the back roads looking for a photo of the day.  Somewhere some place, someone was cutting corn silage.  It’s an unmistakable sweet, wet/sweet smell.  Growing up in the Tall Corn State of Iowa, I grew up with the smell, knew it well.

Then I saw the silage truck headed back out to the field to get another load.

Dumping silage in to a truck

Silage cutting

There he went, down the road out in to a field where a silage cutter was taking care of the corn field, getting it cut and chopped to feed cattle all winter.  The trucks drove out in to the field to get a load dumped in to the box from the wagon pulled behind the tractor and silage cutter.

There musta been a half-dozen trucks keeping up with the tractor and cutter, hauling to a silage pile about 3 or 4 miles down the road.

I learned this was a neighborhood cutting bee. The owner’s wife was gravely ill and he was spending his time and money on her and her medical treatment.  So, the neighbors got together and  did the farmer’s work for him.

That’s the way it is out here.  We may not agree on everything, and sometimes downright disagree, but doggone it, when someone needs help, we’re there.  That’s what these neighbors did…they were there for the farm family. Not only did they supply material relief and help, their involvement in their neighbor’s plight musta been an encouragement to the farm family.

Would you agree? Sometimes it’s not what you do for someone, but just the fact you did something that really counts?