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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. .

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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.

 

September 29

Producing for the world

A pastoral scene in the center of the state says more than just that it’s pretty out here.  Much of the world depends on the quiet activity of North Dakota producers.  Here, the farm with livestock buildings, the small grain field and the giant wind turbines tell a story of hard work, industry and support for others.   The wind turbines send power to Minnesota and points east.  The livestock and grain go worldwide to feed others.

On this autumn day, I was headed down the road about 30 miles south of the geographic center of the state when I topped a hill to catch the juxtaposition of three of the state’s leading industries — small grains, livestock and energy. Photographically, I like the colors, the peace and the  cleanliness of an image such as this.

Just out of curiosity, what is the sense you feel when you see a pastoral scene such as this?

September 27

wind turbine generator

If you live in the mid-section of the United States, chance are one of these may have contributed to your electricity usage today.  This generator had just arrived at the location where it would be set on top of the stem, blades added and then wired to the system that turns wind in to electricity.

In the background, behind the foreground activity, you can see one wind turbine and the generator on the stem.  From a distance, they don’t look as huge as they are — as large or larger than the semi-truck that hauled in the unit.

These turbines are just east of the Wilton Energy Center at the newly commissioned Baldwin Energy Center.  Crews have worked two or three shifts a day to get the Baldwin Center on line.  When the large Manitowoc crane was done with this pick, it was moved down the road to the next turbine site.  The crane was as wide as the road, there was no passing, just following, much like the oiler who kept the tracks well oiled as the crane walked down the gravel to the next site.

Wind power electricity generation is becoming very popular in North Dakota.  How close are you to a wind farm in your neighborhood?

August 24

 

Harvesting wheat and wind

 

Okay, one more. I’ve caught combine action for a few days now, but couldn’t pass up this one.  I was driving east out of Wilton when I spotted this combine working next to the wind farm. The juxtaposition of the combine and the wind turbine tell a big part of North Dakota’s story, harvesting wheat and wind for people across the Midwest, even the world.

Again, as you may notice, it’s the Golden Hour of sunset and the skies and air have that reddish glow that I’ve mentioned the last couple of days.

I think this image would make a good postcard, or a good image to represent North Dakota.

July 21

Sunset behind the wind turbines

They stand silhouetted against the dying light of North Dakota’s prairies. The giant wind turbines are today’s version of the 1950 electric poles that broke up the horizon when the REA brought electricity to the plains.

For me as a photographer, they give depth and perspective the horizon, though I can see why some people think they are a detraction to the landscape.

They are giants rising above everything nearby.  It’s not just their size, but notice the coloring. I’m intrigued by the surface and the paint of the turbines.  Notice the pink glow on the column?  It reflect the ambient light of the sunset.  So even though their silhouette breaks the lines of the horizon, their coloring causes them to almost (but not quite) blend in to the light of the moment.

You don’t have to go far, though to see something that remains of the silhouettes on the horizon of sunset — the image that pioneers must have seen.  A dead tree stands frozen against the last streaks of light just a mile or two from the turbines.

So, though the turbines disturb some views of the prairie, you can still catch a reminder of what it once looked like here.

July 9

Baling the ditch

The state would have to mow the ditches before winter if it were not for the needs of local ranchers to feed their cattle in the winter. That’s how a cooperative effort is formed between the state and local land owners. The state doesn’t have to mow the snow-catching drift-forming grasses in the ditch, and the rancher can harvest the ditch for his cattle.  It’s a win win and typical of the cooperative culture of North Dakotans who work together, especially to defeat the common enemy of winter.

Across the way, another cooperative effort is underway. The local electric coop is building a wind farm, renting the land from the local farmers to generate electricity from the wind.  The electricity is shipped to eastern states who don’t give a thought about who supplied the electricity or where it came from.  It came from here.  And obviously more is about to come to homes in the east because more turbines are about to be built.  They’re mammoth towers on the prairie as is evidenced by the pickup truck below one of them, driving past the soon-to-be erected tower stems.

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.

February 23

Buried in the snow, but about to be revealed by the soon-to-come warmth of spring, this old Pontiac lays exposed to the afternoon sun.  It’s ratty interior is barely visible.  It’s rusty surface deflects the snow and absorbs the heat.  The snow drift on the side indicates it’s been a windy winter. Again.

I pass this car often on my road trips east of Wilton.  In the spring it stands out against the green pastures. In the late summer, it is framed by blooming wildflowers and weeds.  I’ve never seen any sign of ownership, though it is in a fenced off collection of old cars, trucks and tractors, but as far as I can tell, I’m the only person who pays it any attention.

Wildlife bounces around the Northern Plains in the winter, looking for food and shelter. Deer especially congregate anywhere they can find food, including this farmstead near Wing, North Dakota.  It’s one of the few signs of life you’ll see on the prairie in winter.

Otherwise, it’s not only the cold, but the wind that populate the Northern Plains.  So, next to an abandoned farm house, with its wind-powered water well, is the newly installed wind turbine that harvests the wind 12 months out of the year. It’s never too cold to grab a bit of North Dakota’s plentiful wind and turn it in to a useable commodity — electricity.