June 26

Fort Clark walking trail

Sunset at the historic Fort Clark site near Washburn can give only a hint of what it must have looked like 200 years ago when Lewis and Clark passed through this region and where the Mandan Indians called home.

Today, it’s an historic site with reportedly great archeological importance.   Nearby wind turbines in Oliver County overlook the site. Many earth lodge foundations are visible on the walking trail, all marked with story boards to help tell visitors the history of this notch in the Missouri River breaks.

This site goes back to 1822 when members of the Mandan Indian Tribe built earth lodges to create a village overlooking the Missouri River. A few years later, the American Fur Company made contact with the people of the village.  Later, painter/illustrator/historian Karl Bodmer and George Catlin visited the village.  Teh fur trading fort was named for William Clark who with Meriwether Lewis traveled through the area about 25 years earlier.

The village was wiped out when a steamboat with passengers and goods infected with small pox passed the disease on to the villagers.

June 18

The family that dances together...

Can you imagine the hours of hand work that go in to these costumes.  The tiny beads that are threaded together to form a pattern, and then to outfit the whole family, including the growing children must take years of work. The families such as this one who make the powwow circuit invest a lot of themselves in their family tradition.

A friendship connects

The Twin Buttes Powwow is  a cultural, social and spiritual event, not one for amusement nor as a tourist attraction. It’s a generational event passed down from countless generations. Thanks to the federal government that took the land where the powwow once was held near the Missouri River, the powwow is now nestled in the buttes and bluffs next to Lake Sakakawea.   It’s not easy to find.  It’s not well advertised nor marked.  But the people who belong there find it year after year.  Though the federal government once cracked down on powwows and prevented them from their annual celebration, the tradition has survived.

I try to attend many of the annual powwows on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation. There are at least five of them each year, but the Twin Buttes Powwow is my favorite.  It is as un-pretentious as you can get.  It’s authenticity is remarkable and humbling to a visitor like me. I can think of only one or two White European traditions that have carried on for so many generations: Passover, Chanukkah, Christmas, Easter remain but perhaps altered by commercial and societal influences.  Not so with this powwow.

I didn’t get to stay for more than a couple of hours this year, only long enough to greet a few friends, and to see the pageantry of the Grand Entry.  I was fortunate that the light was subdued and even so the photo-ops were even and colors equally visible, neither blown out nor hidden in shadows.

If you care to join me next year to sample a modern celebration of ancient history, let me know. Bring your camera. Let’s go!

June 14

Sun sets behind Oliver County Buttes

I have a hard time, if downright impossible time imagining what Lewis and Clark wrote about these hills covered with buffalo.  When the Corps of Expedition reached this site on the Missouri River, about 15 miles south of Fort Mandan, it was coming on to winter.  The Corps stayed with the Mandan and Hidatsa  that winter and later Fort Mandan was built.  Here, however is where they wrote about vast herds of buffalo covering the landscape.

Today, its ranch country.  Mostly cattle over there on the buttes in Oliver County and some wheat along the bottom ground.  The entire Missouri River valley once looked much like this until the U.S. Government decided to use Indian Reservation land as catch basins for flood control down stream.  Land like this was taken when Lakes Oahe and Sakakawea were flooded behind the dams the government built.

On this particular day or evening, I was headed south to Bismarck along River Road. I could see the sun shifting the colors of the landscape in to a more rosy tint.  I found a place where I could pull over, then hiked a bit to get to the high point along the river where the buttes would visually “support” the sun.  I haven’t found the trick yet to shooting straight in to the sun and at the same time getting the landscape to be visible.  The sun will overpower the aperture and exposure of the camera and everything else will be a black silhouette, but this time, I think I got pretty close to getting the scene as it was.

Have you a spot near you where I can practice my sunset shots?