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?

September 30

Last days of a golden era

Last days of a golden era

It won’t be long now and you’ll not see this site again.  The building will be gone. The McLean County Courthouse at Washburn, one of the few Romanesque courthouses in the country has stood overlooking the Missouri River for a century.  Compared to other structures of this age, it’s in good shape — not perfect, but good.  However, it’s been overrun with bats who have caused an airborne toxicity for workers.

Voters decided that indeed, it’s time to govern the county from a more modern and healthy building.

My buddy Kat is a willing model and here leans against the retaining wall at the courthouse front entrance.  In the long tall shot above, she’s posted against the front entrance railing.   She’s wearing the right colors for the building shot in the golden hour — my favorite time of day.  Shadows are long, contrasts are great and color is warm.

I hope to capture and show more of this grand historic structure in the weeks to come before it’s only a mark in history.

Have you noticed how the emphasis in years past was on local government and so courthouses were an important center of activity as well as outstanding architecture?

In your county, does your courthouse represent an era gone by, or an edifice of modern technology?

September 14


Sioux Pilot House


It stands with promise..the promise that it will get the attention it needs. It’s only a promise, little work goes on to give Washburn’s Sioux Steamboat the face lift she needs.    The Sioux Steamboat stands on the banks of the Missouri River where a vibrant steamboat trade existed until the state built a bridge over the Missouri in 1971.


Even now, at least one farmer has land on an island in the Missouri and has to cross back and forth to tend to his crops.  I understand that since there is no more steamboat trade, he traverses the river in the winter on the ice, shuttling supplies and harvested crops back and forth.

Below the water lies at least one wrecked steamboat, and an entire fort.  The river shifted some in the years since the early 1900’s, and more changes occurred when the Army Corps of Engineers dammed the river at several locations.

So, for now, as a reminder of what lies below, the Sioux stands above, waiting for a fresh coat of paint.

August 5 part deux

Sunset over the bike at Double Ditch

After photographing the images of the deer along the river, I got down to Bismarck. Just north of town I swung by the ancient Mandan Indian site called Double Ditch where the people in the village had built two protective moats around their village. Thus, “double ditch.”

This bike was parked near the interpretive trail and gave me a chance to try an impromptu shot.  If I were set up for this shot for a paying customer, as I often do, I would have set up soft lights on the bike to make it glow against the darker backdrop.

So, some day, you may see a posed shot that duplicates what I learned from this impromptu shot.

August 5

Like mother, like fawn

This time of year, does are leading their fawns in to new territory. They’re leaving their birthing grounds, moving to feeding grounds. It won’t be long now until the pair separate.  For now they’re moving around, and creating a traffic hazard.  Sadly, I’ve seen more than one fawn carcass by the side of the road.  This pair, however,  cross ahead of me and gave me enough time to drive up a bit to shoot them before the exited from view.

That was not the case with this three-some. I had to stop and wait for them to cross the road, the fawns leading the pack.  They dashed up a hill and off they went.

All of these were taken late in the day along the Missouri River north of Bismarck.  I was unprepared for these kinds of action shots. Next time, I’ll be more prepared with my camera on my lap, set to a fast speed and auto-focus.

How often do you see deer where you live? How prepared are you to photograph them?

July 25

Ben and Chuck Suchy

The father and son duo of Chuck and Ben Suchy says more about North Dakota than just a couple of music makers getting together on a Sunday afternoon.  As you may know if you’ve been reading North Dakota 365, the Suchys farm south of Mandan. They’re quiet, unassuming people who diligently go about their work.  Chuck has been at it long enough he is easing out of the farm, passing it on to the next generation, Ben’s siblings.

Chuck Suchy

Chuck is also known as the North Dakota troubadour. He writes his own music, lyrics and  melody.  His lyrics tell stories, perhaps of a 1928 Indian Chief Motorcycle, or of a family matriarch whom everyone can relate to.  If you listen to Garrison Keilor’s Prairie Home Companion, you’ve heard Chuck sing his stories.

On this Sunday afternoon, the father and son duo were on the patio of a local watering hole on the banks of the Missouri River in Mandan.  They played solo and they played as a duet. They played as a team as equals who share a common gift, the gift of song.

These are the kind of summer days that make memories in North Dakota. They’re the kind of days that get you through the long cold winters because you know in a few months, you’ll be back out on the patio, listening to Chuck and Ben sing the stories of life on the Northern Plains.  They carry their music all across the Midwest.  Have you had a chance to hear them?

July 17

I can only imagine what motorcycle travel was like 40 years ago, heading north along the Missouri River.

I was riding my 1978 HD superglide with that vibratory shovelhead engine, heading north up River Road, or State Hwy 1804.  Years ago, this was a good road by travel standards. A few miles to the east was federal highway 83, a more straight shot from Bismarck to Minot.

On this night, I had left a weekend-long party north of Bismarck.  It was dusk and I wasn’t real comfortable with the ability to see deer crossing the road as they do at this time of day.  My headlight on that old bike isn’t very powerful.

Still it represents some of the best riding a person could have enjoyed in the 1970’s.  It was a warm night, so I didn’t need to wear my leather jacket.  That’s it bungeed to my handlebars on the bottom of the image.  In the 70’s few bikes had windshields and a rolled up sleeping bag or jacket did a noticeable (though not “good”) job of breaking the wind and deflecting bugs up over the head of the rider.  That’s still the way I ride.

July 6

Construction season

North Dakota has some of the finest highways I’ve ever ridden.  Here’s why — it’s constantly construction season.  The state has enough people who are spread out across a large region that a network of good roads is essential to safely move people and goods.  The North Dakota Department of Transportation is second to none for its work at keeping up the road system.  Under-staffed and under-funded the hard-core work ethic of North Dakotans carries the state’s DOT when in other states the road system would be bankrupts.  It’s not the legislature, the executive branch or management that makes North Dakota’s roads what they are — it’s the men and women who give all they have well beyond what they are paid for, to keep up the road system

North Dakota is the first state to complete the Interstate system border to border, some 600 miles of four-lane roads intersecting at Fargo give travelers a safe route across the state.  But because North Dakota’s Interstate system is as old as it gets and because it is subjected to extreme freeze-thaw cycles expanding and contracting the pavement and bridges, the system is in constant state of replacement.

This project is at the Missouri River crossing, Grant Marsh Bridge on I-94 between Bismarck and Mandan. Farther west in Mandan, more work squeezes traffic down to one lane in both directions.  Barrels like this are common sites, and I’m sure travelers groan when they see the yellow markers ahead, but they can be sure that when they come back next year, this section will be smooth sailing.

I’m fascinated by the work that is done, each nut turned on a guard rail to each bucket of dirt moved is just one element of what combined is a huge task of giving travelers a road they won’t even notice because it seems all they really notice is when the road is rough, or under construction.

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!