Why these Fargo Airsho tickets never got used

airsho_ticketsI was so enthusiastic about the Fargo Airsho that I bought tickets for both Saturday’s and Sunday’s shows.  After all, the Airsho was cancelled in 2013 because of the Blue Angels’ cancellation due to politically motivated budget cuts.  This time I was all set to have a blast with my best friend and my two little boys.

The Blue Angels were AWESOME.  The fact that we entered through the Fargo Air Museum and were able to browse around there was an added bonus.  The F-M Ambulance gang had brought a neat contraption: an EZ-Up canopy rigged with PVC pipe that misted people if they walked underneath, a sure necessity in the scorching heat of the weekend.  The static displays and exhibits were really cool.  I saw the largest UAV I’d ever seen, my boys got to peek into a Harrier cockpit, and my youngest even caught a frog (He does that everywhere.  Seriously.).

So why didn’t we go back Sunday?  Frankly, because of the view.  Or shall I say, the lack thereof.

  • Nearly the entire show line was lined with VIP canopy tents.  There were two little corners where the little people could try to angle for a little bit of space with a view of the runway.  Of course, most of the action on or just above the runway took place in a spot that we couldn’t even see.  To make matters worse, my little kids could see even less due to their height.
  • They were excited when they saw bouncy houses, and thought they could at least do that…but that was actually part of another HUGE corporate area that took up an enormous slot of space near the south end of the runway.  What’s sad is that the inflatables appeared to go mostly unused throughout the day, although we saw other kids walking around the orange fence trying to find a way in.
  • Apparently there was a rocket-powered bus and stuff.  I heard it.  For a second I actually caught a brief glimpse of it between two VIP canopies.  My kids were out of luck.
  • The aerobatics were really neat, and I guess they did some nice low passes along the runway.  Never saw them.
  • One of the pilots landed his airplane on a moving truck as it sped down the runway.  Didn’t catch that either.  I heard it on the PA system.

We braved the heat and had a good time, fortunately being at the south end of the runway when the Blue Angels started.  Thankfully they did most of their maneuvers down on our end, so our day actually culminated in being able to actually see what was going on in the show.

When we woke up in the hotel room Sunday morning and began to review our plans for the day, the heat was a factor.  I was ready to brave the heat and try to get their even earlier than before, to stake out the best spot I could manage despite all the Reserved areas.  I left my camera behind on Saturday to scope things out for Sunday and enjoy the show with my children.  But when we considered the fact that we couldn’t see much of the show anyway, we decided to just bag the entire thing out of frustration.

I was going to drive up to the airport and give my tickets to someone waiting in line, but we’d had such a poor experience with the lack of traffic management the morning before (shutting the road on us within sight of the FargoDome, even though we were there 45 minutes before show time) that we decided to just write it off and find something else to do.

So, if you’re considering going to the Fargo Airsho again in two years, you might want to do one of two things: make connections to get a corporate tent to sit under so you can actually see, or hold off on buying tickets until the Saturday show has commenced, so you can get a report on whether or not all the good viewing is out of your reach.  If so, you can either stay home or park along a side street and get the same view for free and save $25 per ticket.

I’m not a smart man, Jenny…but I know this trick

capitol_2015_32539Last night was a little ugly for photography. It was cold. It was windy. I was preoccupied with taking my little guys to Mandan to light a few dollars’ worth of fireworks, then bringing them home for story time with Rush Revere.  I checked the weather on and off through the night, but the wind and cold kept me indoors.  That’s okay; I had another plan, anyway.


capitol_2015_32537One problem I had right off the bat when doing photos of the capitol with the windows lit was the dark surroundings; the lit windows looked like dots floating in the dark.  I realized that I needed a brighter background if I wanted the photo to look better, so I started chasing my capitol photos just before dawn.


capitol_2015_32546Showing up a little before dawn gives one the flexibility to let the light you want come to you.  It’s a delicate balance between having things too dark and too bright, because you want the “2015” to stand out.


capitol_2015_32551Of course, it’s half part luck. If this morning had been sunny, I’d have been sunk.  The cloudy sky, however, diffused the waxing light of the sunrise just enough to give me what I needed.  The snow and capitol were lit, as was the sky in the background, but not enough to blow out the numbers in the windows.


capitol_2015_32555It’s a just-perfect set of circumstances that will allow you to get a shot like this, where it looks like daylight but the windows are still visible.  I didn’t do any Photoshop or Lightroom trickery to make any of these shots happen.  It’s all by trying to glean an understanding of the light, being in the right place at the right time, and having the good fortune of the weather conditions required.  I was out of bed, done with my photos, and back home before my first bleary-eyed little boy wandered out of his bedroom to say good morning to Daddy.

Happy New Year!



Ta da! This year’s Christmas Tree adorns Memorial Hall

capitol_tree_32392Isn’t she lovely?  This is the 2014 Christmas tree in the Memorial Hall of the North Dakota state capitol.  The ceremony, as usual, was wonderful and a highlight of my year.  There were Christmas carols, Bible verses, and of course cookies and cider.

In conjunction with this festive occasion, the capitol windows once again display a Christmas tree shape in green and red.  I didn’t stop for photos of that, but I’m sure I’ll take advantage of the opportunity soon.

Amid continued rumors that fire code keeps threatening the possibility of switching to an artificial tree, I was pleased to find that we have a real Douglas Balsam Fir again this year.  Both the governor and lieutenant governor have told me that they’re resolved to keep a real tree part of the tradition.

Incidentally, and I didn’t know this until just now, the tree’s arrival was actually delayed by a day.  I was otherwise engaged last Monday and was unable to hang around awaiting its arrival.  I guess the weather was so cold that the temperature change from bringing itside could have damaged the tree and caused it to shed many of its needles.  Thankfully, it’s here and looking healthy.

Oh, how I love this season!

This post takes the cake

125th_cake_32051I mentioned a while ago that I was able to play with my new macro lens and grab some close-ups of the various decorations adorning North Dakota’s 125th birthday cake.  Here are a few…and by a few, I mean many.


125th_cake_31991I’ll start off with a piece that you’ve already seen: the state capitol building.  It’s missing the J-wing, but that’s alright.


125th_cake_32025Let’s start with the eastern border of the state.  Down near the Wahpeton area we have sunflowers…


125th_cake_32028To the north a bit we have Roger Maris’ record and Cass-Clay for the Fargo area…


125th_cake_32004Let’s not forget the NDSU Bison…


125th_cake_32030Then of course we have the sugar beet and (I presume) wheat or other crops…


125th_cake_32023As we reach the Grand Forks area we have a catfish (and UND, in the background)…


125th_cake_32033Topping off the Grand Forks area is, of course, the Grand Forks Air Force Base.


125th_cake_32012I presume this is a tribute to the North Dakota honeybee, who are all probably wintering down south somewhere at the moment.


125th_cake_32013Hat tip to Devils Lake and the Spirit Lake nation.


125th_cake_32009We then move westward to Rugby.


125th_cake_32010Here’s the Floral Clock, one of the attractions at the International Peace Garden.


125th_cake_32011Turtle Mountain representin’.


125th_cake_32035Good ol’ Lake Sakakawea and the Garrison Dam are featured.


125th_cake_32017To the northwest we have a tribute to oil country.


125th_cake_32016Here’s the far northwestern corner of the state.


125th_cake_32008Now we head south into Roughrider Country.


125th_cake_31997Here we have the Bully Pulpit and Medora.


125th_cake_31996If I’d gotten the focus right here, you’d think that Dickinson was known more for the Dinosaur Museum than for I-94.  In the low light I had to use a wide aperture, making the depth of field very shallow.  Excuses, excuses…


125th_cake_31995Not much in southwestern North Dakota.  I’d have put a police car with a mannikin in it to celebrate Amadon, at least…but instead we head east toward Standing Rock and a hunting scene.  My friend Nathan just got a big buck like this one.


125th_cake_32019Strasburg celebrates the home of Lawrence Welk, don’tcha know.  Bubble machines come to mind.


125th_cake_32020Next we have Gwinner and the Bobcat plant.


125th_cake_32001I’ll wrap this up with the enormous bison at Jamestown.

There were a couple of other fittings on the cake, such as some tractors and nods to the Bank of North Dakota and the North Dakota Wheat Commission.  It was a really cool tour around the state, and I made sure to get a slice of Slope County, where the cake is thickest.  See, it helps to know a little bit about my home state of North Dakota!

32,000 at 125

125th_cake_32000Yesterday was a day of milestones, one of which was the 32,000th photo through one of my cameras.  I captured it with my new macro lens, and the subject was the North Dakota state capitol.  Well, it was actually a facsimile there of, as I’m sure you can see.


125th_cake_31990This was part of the state’s birthday cake, as yesterday marked the 125th anniversary of North Dakota’s statehood.  I’ll have more on this cake at another time, featuring many of the unique decorations from around the state.  Yes, I did get a chance to eat a chunk of Stark County late in the day.

Happy Birthday!

capitol_125th_31825Lots of events are planned at the Heritage Center / State Museum today.  I know that our neighbors to the south are celebrating a birthday as well, but we here in “Best Dakota” are going to have a blast with ours.

Rumor has it there’s free cake at the Heritage Center!  Don’t tell anyone…

Happy Birthday!

capitol_125th_31825I was unable to attend the festivities today, but I’m told that as the rain subsided the crowds began to fill the capitol mall.  Good deal, today is a day worth celebrating!  I was satisfied to just swing by after everyone but the stage teardown crew had gone home and take a couple of quick photos of the occasion.

I must begrudgingly admit that the ND 125 in the windows totally escaped my radar this year.  I’m glad I saw a photo of it elsewhere Friday night, or I may have missed it entirely!  I’m pretty sure nobody’s on staff to change the lights on Sunday, so you may still have a chance if you haven’t grabbed a picture already.

‘Twas a good week to be a boy


skytypers_31000 Last week I got to treat my little guys to lots of fun boy-stuff, thanks to the generosity of some friends.  I thought I’d share a few highlights:


thunderbirds_31425We got to see the Thunderbirds perform at Airventure 2014, in Oshkosh.  Once those F-16s rolled on the throttle at the beginning of the runway, it was like slowly pushing the Smile Lever on those little faces!


wall_of_fire_31787As if that wasn’t enough, there were also simulated bomb runs and dogfights, along with the notorious and aptly named Wall of Fire.  My youngest boy’s favorite, naturally.


thunderbirds_31371I got a really cheap deal on renting a nice telephoto lens from borrowlenses.com, and it performed admirably.  I have so many cool shots like the one above that I’ve hardly had time to sort through them all.  To top it all off, later in the week we went to see Planes: Fire & Rescue at the Grand Theater back here in good ol’ Bismarck.  It’s still the nicest movie theater I’ve ever seen, and I appreciate the effort they put into providing a good experience.


natl_night_out_ip_3306Next, we attended National Night Out on August 5th.  This is where various agencies like Police, Fire, Sheriff, State Patrol, Red Cross, et al put on displays for the kids (and parents) to showcase how they protect and serve our community.


natl_night_out_ip_3275Kids love trucks as much as firefighters do, and they got to sit in this one until it was called away.  There was also a hose set up and the wooden “fire house” where kids could grab the hose and knock down the ‘fire” in the windows.  Always a big hit.


natl_night_out_ip_3333Robots are a staple in the life of any kid these days, and Bismarck PD’s got one.  Target was kind enough to not only host the event, but provide free hot dogs, hamburgers, pop, and chips too!


medora_musical_ip_3504The finale for the weekend, bookending a long stretch of fun times, was the Medora Musical last night.  I hadn’t attended since my friend and show host “Gentleman Wade” Westin passed away.  They did a nice tribute to past hosts of the show this year, as it’s an anniversary for the Musical, and that was nice to see.


medora_musical_ip_3465The kids got to take the stage for the singing of the national anthem, and each got a little flag to bring home with them.  Something I didn’t get a shot of was the colors of Old Glory splashed on the wall of the hill behind the stage at the end of the show.


medora_musical_ip_3496A tribute to the hosts of the Musical.  My boys had never seen this show before, and they really liked it.  Especially the acrobats who performed during intermission and the battle scene reenactment from the Spanish American War.

As you can see, we’ve been a little busy lately.  That’s a nice break from the things we’ve been dealt over the last year and through which we are still struggling.  If I can provide my little guys with some joy and excitement along the way, then I feel like I’m at least doing my job as Daddy.  This past week was full of little victories in that regard.

Ramblings from a relaxing Independence Day

capitol_iphone_2863For such a low-key Independence Day, I must say that I really enjoyed myself. Nothing really over-the-top exciting happened, but it was simply a good day.  Here are a few highlights:

  • Due to continued recovery from surgery, my wife was stuck in the house with no plans to attend the parade.  I’m still regaining my mobility, so the idea of taking my little ones to the Mandan Parade and lugging along supplies wasn’t really an attractive prospect.  Nevertheless, for the kids’ sake I loaded up the truck.  As we left for Mandan, the skies looked fishy to me.  A check of the radar led me to want to call it off.  Once we got to our secret spot, which provides a great view with very little pre-planning, the rain and wind stepped up and even the kiddos decided to do something else.  Then my wife called with news of the cancellation.  The nice thing is that my boys weren’t disappointed or let down.  Whew.
  • I looked up a few remote geocaches that were right beside the road, took my boys out to find a couple, and had a nice afternoon without pushing my body too far. Then we stopped at a friend’s fireworks stand and got ’em some of those little snappers you throw on the ground.  They’ve wanted them for a while, so now we’ve got a bunch.
  • I got a NAP.  A serious one.  Oh, rest does the body good.  Apparently that and medications do as well, because my sweetie was able to come with us to view the capitol fireworks! Thankfully our usual spot doesn’t involve much walking.
  • We went to the best place to watch the capitol fireworks, the lawn across from Job Service and the Gold Seal Building on the north side.  The fireworks look like they’re almost right overhead, and they’re very close.  The weird thing about last night was the wind from the south; we got a little bit of debris, to my kids’ enjoyment. How often do you get a strong southerly breeze on a July evening in North Dakota?
  • As we waited for the show to begin, there was a nice sunset (pictured above).  One big cloud looked like it was trying to achieve enough lift to storm, but it ran out of energy and the top sheared off.  Made for a nice photo.  I did not bring a camera with me, but thankfully phones do pretty well these days.  This is actually part of a panorama.
  • Just before the show began, a car drove by with the worst timing ever.  A passenger was holding a Roman Candle out the window, shooting multicolored balls into the air.  People were cheering, but the cheers turned to jeers at the end of the next block.  A Bismarck Police car was waiting to turn onto Divide, and the officer hit the lights and pulled over the offender.  Fireworks bring a Class C Misdemeanor in this town, which can be up to $500 and some jail time.  The funny thing was, as they pulled over, the colored balls were still shooting into the air.  It’s not like they could just switch it off!
  • The din of Mandan was breathtaking last night.  I don’t think I have ever heard such a ruckus, even on a nice Mandan night on July 4th.  It was non-stop, loud, steady, and big.  The sustained intensity of obviously large explosions was impressive.  A friend said it took him 25 minutes to traverse The Strip, and that visibility in places could be measured in mere feet.  Party on.
  • I didn’t miss my 20-pound camera bag…I’ve photographed the heck out of July 4th in Bismarck-Mandan, have been on a lifting restriction from my docs, and wanted to watch it with my family instead of through my viewfinder.  It was great.

As far as the cancellation of the parade goes, this wasn’t a couple of people in a booth making the call based on some pusillanimous fear of passing thunderstorms.  There were multiple people from various backgrounds making informed, professional decisions based on the information at hand.  As I’ve posted in a few Facebook comments: This storm, while short-lived, had a LOT of lightning.  ONE lightning strike in that crowd turns into a mass casualty situation immediately. And with the congestion and resulting chaos, responding to it would be nearly impossible. The various people and organizations that came together in agreement to cancel made the right call.  If they’d simply postponed it, people would have hunkered down in place…exactly what safety crews didn’t want them to do.

Our party happens tonight.  Some friends run a fireworks business, and they host an hour-long show at their home, far from Bismarck.  It should be a real treat.

Five years ago and twelve degrees colder – and I was out with my cameras

January 26th, 2010 was a great day. The fact that it was even colder than today’s bitter winter Monday didn’t dampen my spirits, as I was on site for the move of the Falkirk Mine’s dragline “Chief Ironsides” from the west side of Highway 83 to the east side.  I was being paid to document the occasion, as it happens very infrequently.  I’m glad I dressed in layers; while Sunday’s low in the area was -7 with a mean temp of 12, the low that day was -4 with a mean temp of -2.  I’m using the mean temperature for the title of this post.

In order for Tuesday’s dragline walk, enormous preparations had to be made. For instance, a gap in the power lines running parallel to Highway 83 had to be made. The machines are simply too tall to go under. The railroad tracks had to be covered as well.

Next, a compacted dirt road several feet thick had to be constructed. This served the purpose of protecting the paved road as well as creating a level deck for the scoop and draglines to traverse.

Crews worked from each side of Highway 83, meeting in the middle. Enormous excavators filled dump trucks, which deposited their dirt at the end of the constructed road on their side. Big dozers pushed it into place, and the biggest grader I’ve ever seen did the grooming.

A bed of shredded straw was placed on the highway prior to the dirt work, presumably to aid in the cleanup. This way the dirt wasn’t plastered onto the roadway below. I got to stand really close to where these guys were doing their dirt work, but at a safe distance. Of course I brought my hard hat, vest, and safety glasses with, and I had an escort the whole time to make sure I wasn’t in danger.

With the road complete, it was time to get the “small” stuff across. The two machines in this shot are on tracks, simply driving across instead of the meticulous “walking” of the big dragline.

This equipment is electric, running with giant extension cords that lead back to the power plant. When they need to take a trek like this, the smaller ones are powered by a generator on a trailer. The truck follows dutifully behind or beside this scoop shovel as it tracks across.

For bigger equipment such as this tracked dragline or the big Chief Ironsides, they operate tethered to their usual power source. There’s a new power cable waiting for them on the other side.

This “little” tractor isn’t so little. Its sole purpose in life is to guide the electrical cable supplying power to the big dragline. It’s got a hoop-shaped guide on the back that is used to push the cable around to where it needs to be.

Weather delayed things a bit, but we finally got going just before sunset. That made for some challenges with shooting video. Stills are one thing in low light, but HD video is another. The main shot I was set up for was a time lapse of the roadway crossing, and the light was changing on me very quickly.

It was quite dark by the time the thirteen million pound behemoth, controlled by a woman named Melody, crossed the road. There was a thick dirt road constructed across Highway 83 just for this purpose, since the dragline needs a level deck for moving. It also protected the highway from the immense weight of the machine.

There was a dedicated crew for this task; the rest of the mine’s operations didn’t skip a beat. Talk about a daunting task: close the highway, build a new road capable of handing a thirteen million pound load, get the equipment across, then remove that road…all within 24 hours. Great job, gang! That’s an impressive day’s work.

I froze myself silly, but I got the shots. I had one HD camera, tucked in the Suburban parked sideways in the median due to wind, doing the 1080p time lapse while I ran around getting other angles and video footage with a second HD camera. Of course I kept my trusty still camera bag with me at all times.  Thankfully I dressed really warm, and had a real blast!