Post in color

post_37959-61_hdrAs you probably know, I have a soft spot for rural North Dakota, particularly around Bismarck-Mandan.  I love roaming the back roads and section lines, trying to find picturesque views and document remnants from the pioneer past (which, in many areas, isn’t all that long ago).  I’m a “city kid” who actually spent his childhood in the Rocky Mountains despite being a native NoDak, so I feel like somewhat an interloper in that regard…but I love the natural beauty of North Dakota and the spirit of the people here.

That’s one reason why I love taking photos like this one from Saturday.  There is no other side of this gate; the adjacent quarter is open where this approach enters.  The open fields of brilliant green were offset by a lovely morning blue sky, devoid of clouds for a change.  The drab, colorless post was a perfect contrast to the beautiful natural hues in the background.

I discovered something which I feel is very sad nearby…but I have to get ready for work now, so that’s going to have to be in another post in a day or two.

Need a place to faceplant in Mandan? Look no further

faceplant_zone_ip_1764This sign has since been fixed, but as I stopped near the Trolley Bridge on my motorcycle a while ago I noticed it and thought it was slightly funny.  Opinions may vary.  It looks like the sign is indicating a Faceplant Zone, newly paved for your comfort!


faceplant_zone_ip_1761What happens in Mandan stays in Mandan…

Folks are known to faceplant in Mandan, after all…why not have a zone just for them?  The only problem is the traffic.  Maybe that’s why they reconsidered and fixed the sign. 🙂


What it looks like without any wedding parties in it

heritage_center_atrium__37592I took my kiddos to Bismarck’s 144th Birthday celebration at the Heritage Center’s State Museum last weekend.  One our way out it occurred to me that I hadn’t really done any photography in the Northern Lights Atrium.  This was my chance.  After all, nearly every other time I’ve been there I’ve seen wedding parties getting ready for their photos.  In fact, there were a few such people there when we first arrived.


heritage_center_atrium__37595-2I like geometry, so of course I snapped a couple of shots and looked around.  This space is so busy with portrait photography that they had to start taking appointments and setting forth some common sense rules.


heritage_center_atrium__37590For some reason I really expected this to actually…do something.  But if you’ve driven by at night, you can see the disappointingly faint glow of someone’s homage to Northern Lights.  I’m not looking for a Pink Floyd concert, but some lights that moved or changed in some way would have been nice…and a far better tribute to the real thing.


heritage_center_atrium_37600Again…it’s all about the angles.  The beautiful skies last Saturday helped a lot.

If you’re looking to use the atrium for photography, here is a link to the finalized rules of conduct you should adhere to in order to help keep the building an enjoyable place for everyone as you share the space.

Working all the angles

ww_memorial_37376-8_hdrI recently took my boys to the memorial monument on the east side of the Liberty Memorial bridge.  They read the plaques an wandered around, appreciating both the monument and the nice weather (finally) after so many rainy and/or windy days. I, of course, wanted to do some photo work as I’ve been bouncing off the walls lately.


ww_memorial_37383Here’s the view upward as my camera looks straight up the middle with a wide-angle lens.  A little fill, a little circular polarizer, and I have a satisfying bit if white geometry on a vivid blue backdrop, with a trio of flags thrown in for good measure.


ww_memorial_dji_0085My favorite angle.  Not only does this show the center “aurora” looking spires, but it also looks like something out of a Picasso painting of an eyeball.

I’ve been trying to revisit some familiar photo sites lately, as well as branch out for some new ones…but this is a b usy time of year for me.  Thankfully I still have a few places in mind that aren’t far out of town.  Then I get to post them here and share!

The Arena church is not doing so well these days

aren_church_DJI_0002I recently took a road trip to Arena, the nearest photogenic “ghost town” near Bismarck, to spend some time with one of my favorite subjects: the abandoned St. John’s Lutheran church, one of only a few structures still standing


arena_church_37089As you can see, the old church isn’t looking so good these days.  The cinder block foundation has collapsed on both the east and west sides of the building, and the building itself is beginning to collapse as a result.


arena_church_37090One thing I try to do when I photograph a place like this is to avoid tampering with it, damaging it, or (in most cases) entering it.  Someone else didn’t show the same restraint, tearing off one of the wooden covers over a window toward the front of the church.


arena_church_37135-7_hdrFound it.


arena_church_37092Here’s the west wall of the foundation.  Not only have the cinder blocks caved in, but so has a lot of the dirt along the foundation wall itself.


arena_church_37132Ditto on the east side.  This was actually the first side to cave in, although a portion of it is intact.


arena_church_37119Peeking under the church, one can assess the damage.  Nothing is holding this church from folding in half except a few pillars downstairs…


arena_church_37313…and the concrete around the base of those has crumbled as well.  Craters around the bottoms of these pillars illustrate how, with the cinder block walls absent, they bear the entire weight of the structure.


arena_church_37126-8_hdrA few supplies remain: the screens from the windows and an old stove sit in the corner next to the steps leading downstairs.  I got all these basement photos by lying on my stomach next to the collapsed wall; as I mentioned before, i didn’t want to enter the building.  In fact, while it’s gone now, there was a No Trespassing sign on the front of the church long ago.


arena_church_37274-5_hdrEntry to the basement is barred by collapse as well.


arena_church_37270Since someone else tore off the window covering, I decided to see what was inside the church.  I put my camera on a monopod with a remote and a flash, stood outside the window, and poked it inside with a wide angle lens.  Here’s what my camera saw.


arena_church_37304-6_hdrThe outhouse is also collapsed.  Too bad, because I really had to pee by the time I was wrapping up here.  Thankfully a friend lives nearby, and I was able to stop at their place right after leaving “town”.


arena_church_DJI_0013At some point this steeple’s coming down.  It’s sad to see the inevitable happen to this little church.  I’ve photographed it on cloudy days, sunny days, starry nights, and with the faint glow of the Northern Lights behind it.  It’s such a picturesque little church, in such a scenic location, and so accessible to sentimental photography hobbyists like me.  I guess all I can do is make an occasional trip to Arena and capture as many photos of this little church as time takes its toll.

Another Boot Hill

boot_hill_36765It’s been a while since I’ve seen a fence with so many boots perched atop its posts.  The one north of Bismarck along 1804 is pretty photogenic, but the way it winds around a curve can be a challenge.  This one goes straight up an over a hill.  It’s in Morton County, and I’m not sure I remember where.  I’d have to ask my GPS.

Gazing down the fence line

old_equip_36895On a cold, blustery day a week and half ago I found this old piece of equipment near a stretch of barbed wire fence in rural Morton County.  It’s hard to tell here that it was actually starting to snow sideways, something that makes flash photography nearly impossible.  Thankfully I caught just enough of a break to light this shot and get back into the truck to thaw my fingers!

Once more unto the stump castle

stump_castle_36691I recently took my boys to a friend’s house east of town for an epic afternoon Nerf gun war with a bunch of other boys.  That gave me some time to roam with my camera, and along Apple Creek Road I had to stop by this crazy old stump.  It just keeps getting more and more hollow, and the birds love it on a windy day like the one we were having.  I’ve always been stricken by the way that the stump looks like a castle.

I’m a winner! Of a chance to win at winning

winnerI recently received a promotional mailer from a local business which had a scratch-and-win game on the back.  Well, as you can see above, there wasn’t a whole lot of mystery to the game in this particular case.  I scratched it off anyway, and voila’ – I was a winner of one of many potential prizes…even $25,000!

Well, I could certainly use a new vehicle right now, and $25,000 would buy a pretty nice Toyota Tacoma or something.  So I figured it might be interesting to visit the local business and see what the catch was.  I’m a born skeptic with this kind of thing.  I didn’t plan on any special trips, but kept the mailer in my truck in case I was in the neighborhood.


winnersFor years I’ve had a unique opportunity, as I have received mail at multiple addresses…PO Box, rental property, that sort of thing.  So I was amused when I got my hands on a couple more of the mailers.  Either this was really my lucky week, or something strange is afoot.

As I’d planned to do anyway, I perused the fine print.  It looks like each “WINNER” receives a chance to choose an envelope which may or may not contain a prize.  Makes sense.  The odds of winning each prize are clearly stated on the mailer if you are curious.  They’re far better than the PCH or Powerball, by the way.


I never did venture down to this business; I was simply too busy.  It’s too bad, because I missed a chance to grab a winning envelope.  While you might suspect that I’m ranting against this business for deceptive use of the word “WINNER”, that’s not the case at all.  In 2016, if someone reads a mailer like that and thinks they’ve really struck gold by scratching their way to a big win, then I need to sell them the Grant Marsh Bridge.  It’s just a ploy to get you to pay attention, and by reading the details it’s easy to surmise what’s up.  They want to get you into the store, they’ll give you a chance to pick a prize (at no cost to you, by the way), and along the way see if they can sell you something.  Hard to be offended by that, although I’m sure many would try.

It’s remotely like the Publisher’s Clearing House – if they can keep you busy adhering labels, scratching off “game cards”, and hunting through all sorts of product listings in search of that stamp you need to send back, there’s a good chance they can play on human nature and get you to buy something.  I mean, after all, if you have to do so much to even qualify to win, doesn’t that mean the Prize Patrol could be right around the corner?

I’m of the mindset that if someone offers me a free chance to win something, I’ll take them up on it.  I don’t have any illusions about it, but I don’t mind taking advantage of the opportunity if I’ve got the time.  No hard feelings if I don’t win, and as long as we’re both understanding what’s going on with the contest there’s no reason not to simply take it for what it is: a business trying to attract customers and sales, and a consumer taking a crack at winning free stuff.

I’m clawing my way back – so bring on the windmills

It’s no secret that the photos have been fewer and farther between for quite some time now.  First I and every single member of our family had major health issues to deal with.  Then after we circled the wagons and worked on treatment and healing we took on building a new house, and still have lots of thing in bins and a new Garage Majal to get whipped into shape.  Additionally, my little kids have grown up to a point where they want more Dad time (not as much “Daddy”) and I’ve had a hectic freelance schedule.  Whew.

Well, I decided to knock off a little early on Friday and actually head out with my camera and some new gear I purchased with some of the aforementioned freelance money.  I didn’t want to make a major voyage out of it, but just work the outskirts of town and let the stress of the week melt away.  What better way to get back into the game than to go with my trademark: windmills!  I found a trio of ’em.


windmill_36601I have photographed these before, but they do change over time.  This one has lost more than half of the blades but is still standing tall.  I chose not to remove the power lines in the background this time.


windmill_36608A wider shot may have portrayed this windmill standing alone in a vacant prairie better, but in reality there was a pole just out of the frame on the left where power comes in…presumably some sort of stock tank heater or something.  The lettering on the vane (yes, that’s what it’s called) says “R. R. HOWELL CO MINNEAPOLIS”.  It’s an interesting Google search if you have time on your hands.


sunset_windmill_36661Sunset came quickly, and I once again cashed in on the real Secret of My Success when it comes to photography: being in the right place at the right time, often due to absolute blind luck.  I had a couple of minutes to wait for the sun to set in the silhouette of the water tank next to this windmill, adjusting my tripod to the side periodically to track the sun as it slid down and to the right of the frame.  The way it reflected off the wispy clouds above added to the feel of the shot.

It felt SO good to be out roaming again.  I didn’t even have a potential target when I set out; I just settled on windmills after coming upon the first one.  It was simply therepeutic to get out and start clicking photos again.  All the while I had a Nick Lowe song repeating in the back of my head:


I am determined for my own sanity to get out with my cameras more.  Maybe not as much as in the old days, because I want to be a good husband and dad.  Bringing the kids with on my photo trips will help, and maybe even kindle in them a love of roaming photography.  Meanwhile I hope to have more to share than simply political rants, which don’t take much road time at all.  Back to my love of North Dakota and sharing it online.  Maybe the next song going through my head will be Back in the Saddle Again!