A Sunday stroll up Chimney Butte

It doesn't look like a chimney, but that's what it is called, "Chimney Butte."

It doesn’t look like a chimney, but that’s what it is called: “Chimney Butte.”

It’s been called “Chimney Butte” for more than 200 years, but I’m not sure why; it doesn’t look like a smokestack.  Lewis and Clark used it as one of their markers when they trekked the Missouri River a few miles north.  You can find it between Mandaree and Keane between Highways 22 and 23 in McKenzie County.

The McKenzie County road past Chimney Butte is well-maintained and an easy drive.

The McKenzie County road past Chimney Butte is well-maintained and an easy drive.

It was our target for the Sunday hike because for one reason, it’s public-access land.  We didn’t have much time because the sunshine we’d enjoyed all day disappeared; rain clouds moved in at the same time we parked along the road on the south side of the butte — a well-maintained road.

We’ve been adding to our Beautiful Bakken Facebook page and thought this Sunday photo hike would help add to the collection of images displaying the beauty of the Badlands, the Bakken oil field.


Here’s the address –https://www.facebook.com/beautifulbakken

and our gallery of Beautiful Bakken photos on our website at this address —


Rain approaching from the southwest gave us a sense of urgency.

Rain approaching from the southwest gave us a sense of urgency.

We packed only our cameras and something to drink, then crossed the prairie and up the slope toward the base of the rocks. There, we stopped long enough to survey the incoming rain behind us to the south.

Chimney butte wildflowersOur mission was to photograph a seasonal transition,  capturing the change from early spring’s dormant brown to the more lively green.  A few hints of spring met us along the slope such as the wildflowers sprouting ahead of the green grass.

Once at the base of the rocks, we followed the grass line around to the opposite side where we could more easily follow a switchback to the top.

At our destination, the top, we could survey the entire region of the heart of the Bakken Oil Field, eastern McKenzie County and western Mountrail County.  To the east Chimney Butte’s partner, Table Butte invited us to hike and climb to the top, but we declined. It’s private property and we thought we’d first get the rancher’s permission to climb Table Butte.

Table Butte looks more like a table than Chimney Butte looks like a chimney.

Table Butte to the east looks more like a table than Chimney Butte looks like a chimney.

While at the top, we could see where we’d started and there, a mile or so away, was whatMike shoots from Chimney Butte copy Chimney butte mare and coltlooked like dogs running across the region.  I used my telephoto (as low-power as it is) to try to get a better glimpse. It wasn’t dogs, it was a pair of colts.  I zoomed in on one when it ran back to its mother at water’s edge.

After resting a bit, we hiked back down the easy side.  It would have been faster to go down the rock side, but that would mean a jump of 70 or 80 feet.

At the bottom, we hiked back across the grassland base.  Over the hill, a different sign of spring watched us — a mare and her colt. This was not the same ones we had watched when we were up on top.white mare black colt appear over the hill

white mare black colt walk by in the trees sigWe stopped to see if the white mare and black cold would get closer. We were between them and the water — their apparent goal.  Mom chimney butte white mare black coltprotected her babe, so they skirted around us. We stopped, watched and photographed their patient easy stroll past us.   They disappeared over the hill.




Oh, and those first two colts we spotted?  They had moved on, but not far. We looked around for them, but they were safely out of sight. We got back in to our pickup and drove around Chimney Butte to the east side.  There they were! The mares and their colts didn’t mind us driving by. We stopped long enough to grab a shot or two of spring’s new life.two colts and a mare on a hillside

two colts








two mares two coltsWe’d met our goal. We’d captured signs of spring in the beautiful Bakken region of North Dakota where nature underground is yielding a harvest of plenty and where nature above the ground displays the beauty we’ve come to see.



Back to the Badlands — Magpie Creek (with pictures — you’ll like the last one)

Badlands at sunset 2

General Sully, I disagree; I see this as heaven on earth

One of the things that seemed to pass from father to children is the love of the wild.  I don’t mean wild parties, but the wild, the wilderness, the outback.  In this part of the world that means The Badlands.  General Sully said they looked like what he imagined as “Hell with the fire burned out.”  I disagree with General Sully.

My son Caleb is an accomplished wilderness explorer, primarily the Boundary Waters Canoe Area where he kayaks, canoes, hikes and camps with others who are up to it.  This would be his first foray in to the Badlands of North Dakota and a different style of survival. Here in the Badlands, water is as rare as it is plentiful in the BWCA.

We weren’t sure where we’d find to camp. We thought we might hike in, set up a base camp and hike out from there. So, we packed just a few essentials when we left my home in Wilton.

Shelter, food and water for two men and a dog.

Shelter, food and water for two men and a dog.

We took a back road in to a region south and west of Grassy Butte.  It’s considered wilderness by the fact there are only a few people in miles and miles of range land, and very few roads.  After negotiating a two-track trail through grass and over rough 4-wheel-drive terrain, the road finally opened up so we could relax and get out to inspect the mud collected on the bottom-dragging Ford.

Finally! A good road!

Finally! A good road!

We did not expect to find good camping, so we felt blessed to discover Magpie Campground along the Magpie Creek. We were the only ones in the entire camp!  It meant we coulda brought more supplies, a cooler and food for real meals.  Instead, we brought only the bare survival supplies. We brought no firewood because we didn’t want to have to carry it in to a base camp. So, one of our first tasks was to gather firewood from the dead scraps in the draws near the creek.

Badlands Caleb gets firewood

Gathering Firewood

The first times Caleb and I camped was more than 25 years ago. He was a pre-schooler and we camped along the Missouri River in Mandan.  Now as a grown man, he was more skilled at handling the camp master duties.

Caleb the Camp Master

Caleb the Camp Master

But we weren’t there to sit around the campground and so we headed out for our first hike and no little bump in the ground was gonna do it for us.

A little bump in the ground

A little bump in the ground

We were headed for something much bigger. Our legs were fresh and our spirits high. We decided to tackle Castle Rock. Caleb and his dog Shifty took right to it, heading up the steep slopes with little to grab on to but only an occasional mudslide shelf for footing.

Up the side of Castle Rock

Up the side of Castle Rock

Shifty the dog seemed to find the best route for four legs, but going up on two legs was more of a challenge.  After all, it was several hundred feet.Badlands Caleb and Shifty up side of Castle Rock wtrmrkNot to be outdone, I had to follow suit, but being the seasoned Badlands Traveler, I knew there had to be an easier way. Sure, enough, I found a grass-covered mudslide slope to labor upwards.  Once at the top, I got my first panoramic view of the region.

View from Castle Rock

View from Castle Rock

Of course by the time I got up where I wanted to be, Caleb and Shifty were headed back down.  Yes, people do look like ants from way up high!

There! Down below! Right center, Caleb and Shifty beat me to the bottom

There! Down below! Right center, Caleb and Shifty beat me to the bottom

The view from the top of Castle Rock showed us the weather was about to change. So we hustled back quickly.  Storm clouds were moving in.

Storm clouds move in

Storm clouds move in

With only about 20 yards to go, the first rain drops hit.  We were in camp no more than 5 minutes when the full rain fell.  For me, the sound of rain on a tent is as sleep-inducing as a sleeping pill.  I slept through a storm of loud thunder echoing from hill to hill to hill.  Caleb soaked it all in from the safety of his tent.

Once it was over, we climbed out and headed to a new vantage point to see the back end of the storm move east toward farm country.

And as always, God marked the moment with a reminder of His promise, and I caught it, just for the record, you know.

A rainbow promise

A rainbow promise

Have  you camped in the Badlands? Do you camp at a campground or go primitive?

Collecting North Dakota’s beauty

mykuhls tree storm

ND Tree and Storm for art show display

  I love displaying North Dakota in ways others have not seen the state.  That’s why I relish opportunities such as the Blue Collar Cafe Open House and Art Show this week.  If you attend, you’ll see North Dakota displayed several ways.  Most obviously will be the images you will see such as the tree and storm clouds pictured above.  The image of course is a prairie vista ahead of a storm, typical of a spring day in the state.  That’s North Dakota.

Surrounding the image is more North Dakota — the barn board frame. I was fortunate enough to get good solid siding from a barn that was torn down. The siding is in good shape and I use it to make frames.  It’s North Dakota.

That barn also supplied wood for the image below of a farm house in a stubble field.  I shot this near Rugby and again, North Dakotans will see something that reminds them of their state: stubble field, horizon, storm clouds and huge house sitting empty.  That’s North Dakota.

mykuhls farm house wtrmrk

Then there are a select few people who will recognize the bottom image as also being North Dakota.  Those select people are bikes.  They know the state for its  smooth roads, little traffic, wide open vistas make for great rides in the state.  It’s North Dakota.

mykuhls print bikers on hwy and skyThese three images are part of the collection of North Dakota that I’ll be displaying at the Blue Collar Cafe Art Show.  It’s a little North Dakota Internet Coffeehouse run by North Dakotans, in North Dakota’s capital city, across the street from the big North Dakota Department of Transportation district offices.

North Dakota images. North Dakota barn board. Assembled by a North Dakotan.  Shown in a North Dakota venue. Even the images themselves were produced and processed by a North Dakota lab.  The Blue Collar Cafe Open House and Art Show is Tuesday, February 12.

That’s North Dakota.

July 23

Southwest North Dakota

Go back to the July 5 entry in North Dakota 365 and compare it to this image.

This is the opposite side of the state.  I’m standing on a hill south of South Heart, North Dakota, along the road to show that THIS is what most of North Dakota looks like. The gentle rolling hills, the variegated green of the landscape and the wide open view of a storm passing to the east is what most of the state looks like outside of the Red River Valley.

On this particular day, I was in the western part of the state of an event I thought I was going to shoot.  The event was all weekend long and turned out to pretty much be a bust.  So, I drove gravel roads that allowed me to penetrate the vast unpopulated region of southwestern North Dakota.

I actually had intended to go further south and east in to the white butte region of the state, but my gas gauge limited my enthusiasm.  It was at about this point I realized I needed to head back to civilization to fuel up or I’d be out here forever.

I had meandered my way to this location without marking my route. And as you can guess, there are few if any directional signs or street signs to guide you to where you want to go.

Since I had been looking for photo ops, I had visually studied the landscape and traced my route backwards from where I had started at South Heart.  It was a good thing I did, too because when I got back to Dickinson, I was down to the last gallon of gas in my tank.  I suppose a GPS might be a good thing to have if I were to do this often.  But in all my hiking, hunting and backpacking days, I’ve never gotten lost yet.  So, to depend on a GPS is like depending on an electronic calculator when you’ve sharpened your mental abilities to do complex calculations in your head.  Do you need a GPS?

July 7

Soft green wheat field

North Dakota’s evening beauty is nothing if it is not soft, even after a passing storm.  What starts as a rugged black field sprouts green in the spring and then as the small grains develop their head, the field softens.

Cows graze storm passes

In this case, the soft small grain field is marked by the tire tracks of a sprayer that had gone through the field a few days earlier.  Off in the distance the evening glow of cumulus clouds signify that someone is about to get some rain.

Meanwhile several miles south of the wheat field, cows graze as another storm passes.  The softness of the pastoral hillside and the cotton ball clouds create a sense of peace that is typical of North Dakota: calmness even as the storms pass.  The calm pastoral beauty of North Dakota is best seen in the evening, the “golden hour” when the harsh light of the mid-day sun has passed and now the indirect light of the western setting sun adds contrast to the countryside.

June 6

road to the storm

Here are a couple of photos I have displayed in my home.  This road to the storm has a certain appeal to it. There are plenty of colors to make it “purty” but even more so is the story it tells of the gravel road and the storm clouds moving past.  It’s apparently been a wet spring because there is plenty of green in the ditches.  The fields are not yet tilled and for this date, that’s an indication of a slow start.

Not far from the gravel road and storm was this old barn.  I am attracted to old architecture of the prairie farm. This one is no exception.  What I like about it is that I was able to play with some filters to give the barn a more “painterly” effect. Come by my place and you’ll see this hanging on my wall.  Maybe. I rotate the photos through the frames on my wall.  Is that weird? How often do you rotate wall hangings in your home?

June 5

Field of wind

I love the contrast of North Dakota’s peaceful prairies, the clouds and the power of those giant wind turbines.  On this day, the passing storm clouds provided a good backdrop for an impressive view of the state’s two most consumer-needed commodities, food and energy.

It was one of those picture-perfect days, perfect for taking pictures, such of this pairing of old and new.  The two wind turbines, the two transmission towers and the two abandoned farm buildings.  I’ll bet you can imagine your own story to go with this photo of  a family that grew up on that farm and had no idea that anything more than small grains would be harvested, certainly not the wind.

When once upon a time, North Dakota’s landscape was dotted with water pumping windmills, those have been replaced with more efficient systems to bring water up from down below. In the place of those old windmills are wind farms, hundreds of wind turbines towering above the prairie.

May 27

The evening was full of colorful surprises. First, as I watched for the sunset, I caught an unusual sight.

a broken sun sets behind the clouds

What a weird image the sun presented when it broke through the clouds this evening.  While I sat on a hilltop looking at a potential storm to the west and on the phone visiting with a friend out west in the storm’s path,  I caught a glimpse of the sun for just a minute. I was a rude conversationalist at that point and dropped the phone to snap this very short-lived image.

It was several minutes later, still on the phone that I caught the vivid colors of sunset that I’ve come to expect when conditions are right. North Dakota’s sunsets are nothing if they are not colorful.

But the sunset alone was not enough. I needed something in the foreground, a feature item or focal point.  The gates to the cemetery provided that.

I backed up and took a couple of shots, one with a flash and one without.  The one with the flash allowed me to shoot the sky and surroundings when it was darker than the shot I took without the flash. Without the flash, I had to use available light. With the flash, I used the speedlight, slowed down the shutter and absorbed more of the natural sky light.

Which do you like better?

May 24

Spring storms

Unpredictable. Spring storms are never what you think they could be. They’re either worse or better than expected. This one look nasty, but it didn’t turn out too badly. Still as an old storm chaser (weekends for WOI-TV in Des Moines)  I just gotta be there when they roll through.  They’re as beautiful as they are exciting.

This one rolled through Sheridan and McLean county then down to Burleigh County. It didn’t produce much action, but it sure gave me some great images. I like the one here of the live and dead tree and bush that line up with the edge of the dark clouds.  If you could see this full image you’d see the grass is brilliantly lit in the strange light of the moment. The spikes from last fall’s growth glow against the green grass.

I didn’t move far, nor fast to shoot this storm, but I kept my eye on it because like I said, you never quite know what it’s going to do, and dang! I hate getting caught in the open prairie when one of these things cuts loose.

Prairie storms are magnificent to watch because you can see them from so far away you can watch their movement and their development, but you need to be ready to run!

How good of view do you have where you are right now of the next  storm that comes your way?  Do you have a preferred direction?