I bought a new truck a few weeks ago. Well, new to me – I don’t have the money to buy a brand new one, and if I did I still would hate to take that depreciation hit the minute I drive it off the lot, so I always buy cars at least a year old. Anyway, it’s the most fun four-wheeled vehicle I’ve ever owned, and to prove it I took a 950 mile weekend photo jaunt – Thursday and Friday on my own, and Saturday on a roundabout way to pick up my kids from Bible camp.
After roaming all the way to the South Dakota border (and past it by several feet before dipping back into Best Dakota), I rolled into Medora later than I’d hoped. It was at least 10:30 local time, and I didn’t feel like setting up a tent only to take it down a few hours later. My plan was to wake up before sunrise and enter the South Unit of the national park, so the best option seemed to be just sleeping in the truck. I had already folded the back seats down, so I stacked all my gear on one side, inflated my air mattress on the other (I’d reserved a campsite with electricity), plugged in a cheap little fan I’d bought at Walmart in Dickinson to combat the heat and humidity, and dozed off.
Not only am I pleased to report that I slept like a baby in the new ride, but I also woke up before sunrise without the aid of an alarm. I let the air out of the mattress, hopped into the front, and entered the park just in time for the sun to come up. I hiked down to the Little Missouri and got this:
Steam on the water, rays streaming from the sun, and loads of color all around. I couldn’t have started the day better. Didn’t even have too many mosquitoes at that time of the morning, either!
I made the park loop, but nothing really caught my eye – except some elk you’ll see another time – so it was time to head back to the campground for a shower, into town for some bacon and eggs, then off to roam the North and South Units and the National Grasslands in between. I’ve been tied up with multiple gigs lately that have involved 12+ hour days, so I haven’t sorted through them all yet…but I have loads of photos to share as time allows.
Do it bigger on the farm. Instead of just having an old car on blocks in the front yard, why not have a couple of rail cars? I spotted this along a rural road so far down in the southwest corner of the state that I actually found myself into “the other Dakota” for a few feet. Although, to be fair, these cars are not in disrepair and appear to serve a very utilitarian purpose.
I wonder how they got there? They look hard to move once they’re off the rails.
As the driving rain made its way past Bismarck-Mandan on Saturday morning I was hatching a plan to follow behind it. I had to head to north central North Dakota anyway to pick up some kids from a church camp, so what better way to spend a Saturday morning than depart very early and work in a bunch of camera time along the way?
I’ve stopped at this particular spot along Highway 3 many times, but never had a really dramatic sky to work with. That was not the case on Saturday. There were crazy clouds moving in all directions at around 400 feet or so (if my eyes deceive me not) and the deep blue of the departing storms was a wonderful offset.
Not only did my plan work: I got plenty of photos in various locations with the dramatic skies in the background, but I also found a lot of new locations and took photos there, and I was able to mark a bunch of potential future spots for the next time I head northeast. Trifecta.
My cameras and I were busy over the last few days, though. More on that later.
If you find yourself in the northeastern part of the state and need to suds your duds, consider stopping by this quaint little display along Highway 1 north of Lakota. Better wear skeeter repellent though!
Which reminds me of my preferred method of dealing with mosquitoes, a la 1990s:
I had the opportunity to swing thru New Salem the other night and pay the “World’s Largest Holstein Cow” a visit. The last time I had my little boy with me and he used his toy Vtech digital camera to take some 640×480 stills of it. Well, this time I had a different angle in mind.
I’ve always wanted this angle, although she looks a little angry right now. Maybe that’s when I started getting the Johnny Cash song in my head.
And there’s the gleam in her eye, as she surveys the Morton County Fair site on the east side of School Hill. That won’t be till August, though.
There are other giant fiberglass cows out there, but I can’t find any evidence of one bigger. Here’s a site that details some of them. Didn’t see another holstein, so perhaps New Salem’s claim holds true.
When the skies get dreary, going black and white is a good plan. It also lent itself to this shot of an abandoned church in Judson as I breezed through with a friend on Saturday. We weren’t able to pull off the photo trip we wanted due to weather and soggy section line roads, but we hit a couple of old familiar sites along the way to scratch the itch and get a little something to show for our gas and snack expenditures.
As if the Badlands couldn’t get more picturesque, then the colors begin to change. There is never a time when exploring the Badlands of North Dakota disappoints the photographer. As long as the park roads stay open!
I had the opportunity to stop by one of BIsmarck-Mandan’s nearest ghost towns recently, and although I only had a few minutes to grab some handheld photos before dashing back to town I was able to get a couple I liked. Naturally I want to share.
The church above, I believe, is on its last legs. Its cinder block foundation has lost its walls on the long sides, and all four corners are beginning to crumble. Already the structure is beginning to bow in the middle. This is such a picturesque old church, it’s sad to see its demise imminent.
I don’t believe I have ever photographed the Arena elevator before, and as I rolled up I was given a fantastic window of light as the sun passed through a sliver in the clouds. I took several shots from the window of my truck, but opted to go all JJ Abrams on this one and use the one with lens flare. I don’t usually do much with lens flare, but I thought it really worked in this instance.
I’m slowly easing back into one of my favorite pastimes: sharing my love of North Dakota in pictures. Even going back to a familiar place and revisiting it one more time presents its own new opportunity, because it seems we never have the same weather or lighting twice. For that reason I can confidently predict that this isn’t the last time I’ll be sharing photos of Arena, ND.
On the way home from Fargo last weekend I decided to show my boys the fourth tallest man-made object in the world: KVLY’s tower near Blanchard. It was weird stopping by there as a former employee of NBC in North Dakota, but I still take pride in this structure. It’s a biggun, as they say. The massive structure above is just one set of guy wires and anchor holding it in place.
This tower is enormous, and for quite some time was the tallest man-made object in the world. It has since been dethroned, but aside from the Burj Khalifa its competition edges it out by fewer than ten feet. There’s phone booth sized elevator that goes up the center of this tower…scary. Rumor has it that the former chief engineer would ride up on top of the elevator so that second person could ride inside to go up the tower. I never asked him.
I haven’t been inside this building for a while. Structures near towers like this have heavily reinforced roofs, as enormous chunks of ice come crashing down over the winter and spring months. In fact, I’m pretty sure one has to make a mad dash for the building if going out there in the winter! Facilities built early enough, like this one, have living quarters inside…a throwback to the days when an engineer actually remained on site during all hours of transmitter operation.
Silhouette. Can you imagine how long a shadow this tower casts on a winter day? Its counterpart, by the way, is nearby… a short little 2,060 footer. That tower, belonging to fellow Valley News Live station KXJB, fell twice: once after being struck by a helicopter, and a second time during the storms of 1997.
I’m so accustomed to dropping by this tower when in the neighborhood, hoping the engineers might be there servicing the transmitter, that I didn’t even stop to check if they’ve posted the access road. If you go out this way, check that out. I’m just used to the old days of being able to approach, and it’s been a long time since I’ve been “in the neighborhood”. But something this big has to be seen. If you want more information, Wikipedia is probably your best bet. I don’t think the Valley News Live page has the same tower information page that the old KVLY site did.
I’ve wanted to take a photo of this oddity for a long, long time. I actually got an opportunity today while on the road for another errand in western North Dakota, and researched the odd route needed to reach it.
This and a couple of other items reside along the south side of I-94 west of Glen Ullin, but one has to take a long route to the north to reach them, cutting back across a county road to an overpass and a frontage road.
I guess I can finally cross this off my photo bucket list! It’s interesting to note that as I bracketed exposures to deal with the harsh sunlight directly behind it, I caught the chain actually swaying slightly. I don’t recall the wind being that strong, so maybe it was residual motion from my little boys climbing to the top of it. I guess I’ll never know.