Dramatic clouds east of Bismarck-Mandan

clouds_44287-9_fusedA couple of nights ago I saw these really wild clouds east of town, and had to snap a photo once I got home.  They remind me of jellyfish in a way…tendrils hanging down and all that.  Or perhaps something from a science fiction feature?


clouds_44317-9_fusedThese reminded me of birds, perhaps blue jays.  I got home just in time to catch some golden light reflecting off the clouds, so they looked even more dramatic.

Work and stuff is so chaotic right now that I haven’t had much time to chase any sunrises or sunsets, so to catch these clouds at such an opportune time was a really nice break!

Waitin’ around pays off

bethel_church_43477-9_hdrI camped out by this former church in Morton County to allow the sunset to do its thing.  A row of storms had just moved through, and I had correctly guessed that the clouds tagging along the tail end of those storms would provide a lot of color to the sunset.  I was correct.  But I wasn’t done just then…


bethel_church_43550Waiting for the sun to go down and the moon to come up gave me the opportunity to capture some different clouds, albeit with stars sprinkled in as well.   To top it all off, my friend Zach and I headed out to a different prairie church, the one I wrote about a couple of days ago.

Starlight steeple

starlight_church_43558I don’t even remember how I located this old church, but it had to do with Google Earth and Garmin Mapsource.  This little church is in the middle of nowhere, not on a main road, surrounded by trees, and absolutely wonderful.  I had another old church to explore at sunset, so this one became a twilight target.


starlight_church_43555It’s a remarkable little building…while not fenced or posted, it looks privately owned.  I didn’t even consider going inside, although looking through the windows showed an intact structure with a choir loft, pews, and everything.  How fortunate the owner must feel!


starlight_steeple_43563After some long exposure shots it was time to head home.  I had a flat tire in my near future, a blowout actually, but I didn’t know it.  Thankfully that waited until I was in city limits, although still on I-94.  That made for a later night than planned, but I’m sure glad I was able to explore this awesome find!

Clouds over St. Vincent’s

st_vincents_church_40177-9_hdrI actually took this photo a month ago while roaming Morton County.  I was on my way back into town and found myself northwest of Mandan, so I decided to stop over and catch some shots of this church before bouncing down a section line.  The clouds were pretty remarkable, giving an excellent background to this place of worship.


st_vincents_church_40204-6_hdrI’d had a fruitful day with the camera, but when I had the combination of this church and this sky to play with, this was one of the most fun stops of my entire day!

Thursday night thunderhead

clouds_ip_8571We were treated to quite a show here in Bismarck-Mandan tonight.  I was on the east end of Bismarck when I spotted this building cloud to the west.  The sun had just moved behind it, making that “silver lining” glow like a bolt of lightning.  And oh, the rays!


clouds_ip_8564My little boy thought it looked like God was playing hide and seek behind the cloud, and I couldn’t argue that assessment.


cloud_38620-2_fusedBefore long it was in full bloom and moving overhead, so I grabbed my camera from the back of the truck (the previous photos were from my iPod) and snapped one more shot before the cloud dissipated even more.

Wow, what a beautiful sky tonight, eh?

Blue Moon redux

blue_moon_34541Several nights ago a photo pal and I went out to catch the sunset.  It came together rather suddenly and with very little time before the sun actually set, but we hastily set out to see what we could capture.

We were heading toward a little spot I’ve rediscovered north of Bismarck, but due to time constraints we stopped at Double Ditch instead.  The sky was ready to deliver an amazing sunset, with brilliant colors already developing and dramatic clouds.  That’s when it happened: two opposing clouds crossed each other from our perspective, essentially covering the sun and snuffing out the aforementioned brilliance.  Bummer.

We made the best of it (in fact, my last post came from this trip) and came away with some pretty cool shots.  Then we saw the rising moon behind us.  We had an idea for another familiar spot down the road with that moon in the background, also dancing with some dramatic clouds, so we hopped in the Monster Truck and headed back that way.

That’s when it happened: in exactly the same fashion, two clouds scissored together and sliced our beautiful moon from view just as we were rolling up to our stop.  Really.  We hiked a little anyway to see if something would develop, but all that we got for our efforts was a few dozen fresh mosquito bites.

The trip home involved a stop at the Hoge Island boat landing parking lot.  There wasn’t much to see…or was there?  The moon began to peek out, and there was an interesting line of trees…so, what the heck.  We hopped out in the middle of the gravel parking lot, set up the sticks, and took a crack at it.

We had a brief moment of luminescence in the clouds and an unobstructed moon before hopping in the truck and making our way home.  I often say that any photo trip resulting in even one pleasing shot is a success.  This one, bug bites and all, certainly fit that category.  When you’ve got the fellowship of a dear friend, even coming home empty handed would be just fine, too.

Ray of light

airport_rays_4599Clouds can make or break a photo.  Sometimes they obscure the sun just as the skids are about to get interesting.  Other times they provide just the right circumstances for a dramatic photo.  This is obviously the latter.

Taking a sunrise or sunset photo without any clouds just doesn’t work.  They perform an essential service in making the skies more interesting.  Whoa..did I just stumble upon a metaphor for life just now?


iss_31923I’ve had some great shots of the ISS over the years…passing over a Fort Lincoln blockhouse, streaking across the sunrise above the Double Ditch post, and above the Pioneers statue at the capitol mall.  Tonight I opted to grab a shot of it passing over the tower from the north, and it didn’t disappoint.

I like those direct overhead passes because they take longer.  There’s more to see.  But sometimes that poses a photographic challenge, even with a 10mm lens.  When it’s lower on the horizon it’s easier to get a nice arc over your foreground subject.  In any case, I’m relishing every photo opportunity I can get these days!

Moonshadow contingency

Kp_091214The sky sometimes, so unkind
Then again, he’s my best friend…
                                                            – Crocodiles, “Sleep Forever”

See that point where the K index plummets from a tasty 7, indicating a geomagnetic storm, to a serene 4, indicating bubkes?  That’s the point where a friend and I loaded up the truck and blazed north to catch those auroras that we’ve been anticipating.  That’s okay…my photo buddy and I had a backup plan, and it worked out quite nicely.


lake_mitchell_dock_31837Step One: I had this spot in mind, along a little lake northeast of town.  Even though the auroras weren’t cooperating, the moon and sky sure were.  There was a fantastic lunar corona which actually manifested as a couple of paraselenae, or moondogs as the sky conditions mutated.


lake_mitchell_dock_31841We played around at this dock for a little bit, allowing the sky to do some things and letting long exposures turn the rippling lake to glass.  At this point we were still hopeful for some auroral activity, but moved on to the next stage in our backup plan since it didn’t require Northern Lights to bear fruit.


arena_church_31845This is the abandoned church at Arena.  It looks like daylight, even though it was around midnight or so, because the full moon was a-blazin’.  I grabbed my big 6-D-Cell Maglite and did some light painting of the cross atop the church’s steeple, and we let the stars and clouds do their thing in the background.


arena_church_31851In this shot it almost looked like I could see some splashes of color in the clouds, as if the auroras were trying to peek through, but even at full size I wasn’t able to tell definitively.  It was cool to be able to visit this ghost town in the dark, though, and it was another excellent consolation prize since the Northern Lights trip was otherwise a bust.

I have the attitude that any time I return from a photo trip with even one image that I really like, that trip has been a success.  It doesn’t even matter if the photo is relevant to the purpose of the trip.  In this case, I have a few such photos, and they were the result of a solid backup plan, so I’m pleased not only with the results we captured but the success of that plan.