The weather was calm with a just a slight acid tinge of forest fire smoke in the air. Conditions have improved ever so slightly with the passage of a front. The ridge 10 miles away (furthest) being partially obscured by it’s light filtering/scattering properties. The terrible smoke on the west coast is being blown east to west concentrating it over the major west coast cities. This weather system is sparing us the worst effects of the conflagration on the coast. Soon upper level air will bring smoke from Washington and Oregon that will blanket most of Montana. I will probably get some of that in this next week with more yellow suns and crimson clouds to come in the near future. (This posts about 10 days out from the photos capture. ).
The layers of ridges in this country make for substantial “landscape ladders” for Close / far perspectives. The first ridge is a mile away from me. The next ridge is 5 miles. The cloud bank 20 and the sun…93,000,000. By Definition this is a close/far perspective. The cattle in the foreground hidden until you read this lolol.
This is a typical backcountry Wyotana morning these days. Orange lighting, deep smoke filled valleys. As I type this the air quality is dang good but there is smoke HIGH in the atmosphere over us. The sun this morning was described to my by a friend as “it looks broken”. Here the sun looks to be sliding down hill on the cloud to me. The layers of this landscape creating this visual ladder that I’m always looking for in my work.
IT was extraordinarily still. 20 minutes after sunrise. A perfect mirror in the stock pond. Cattle herds have been watering here for over 100 years for a timeline. Yet longer ago, the Sands of the Cretaceous Hell Creek/Lance formations providing the water that fills the small glass smooth earthen berm’d tank. This water body looks much larger than it appears here. The perspective of the very wide lens messing with us. More of a puddle than a pond. None the less, a provider of a perfect double image for me to capture during this rare (long term) smoke pall moderated sunrise. This is probably the only good effect from too hot a burning forests x 100 … massively cool photographic environments….
Even though the sun appears higher in the sky, it is quite dark under the thick plume from western fires. The forest releasing all sorts of combustion gasses and soot. This isn’t as bad as all the man made structures burning. All those plastic fumes are mixed in with the forest by products as well. This is an unparalleled event as I see and understand the enormity of these combined fires. The hugely damaging “Bobcat fire” alone plus 27 other blazes in California alone are adding to the flavor (literally you can taste this stuff) of the air.
I’ve seen a lot of smoke before from fires but I haven’t smelled the fires as much as this year. Nor have any previous year I’ve experienced in my 30 years living in Wyoming been this thick with mixed haze. As a geologist I will tell you that this isn’t 1 / 100,000 of how an exploding Yellowstone would effect the sky.. That would be pitch black raining ash. That was climate change if you don’t think it has changed before lolol.
Boy has this been a long stretch of Smoke Pall Sunrise events. I keep telling myself it’s a once in a lifetime situation. This tends to make me pay attention to the smoke conditions and sunrise times. I don’t always get to see the sun crack the horizon. This is the first light from the actual sun to reach my camera that morning. I knew about where it was going to rise (the notch on the ridge just left/below where it is now). I was there on time but not a photon made it through the smoke gauntlet to my capture boxes. NADA, nothing. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky above or anywhere on the satellite map. The low smoke on the ground completely occluding the window to our furnace for a good 20 minutes.
The ambient light on the landscape came from the sky above. It was illuminated through clearer air up high and more like a white ceiling than a blue sky in this pall. Chasing color in this lighting is perhaps a waste of time but I am digging the dozens of different colors of green and red displayed here. The fall is well upon the grasses. Brown season started early summer this year. Trees have not lost their leaves yet in this country which missed the earliest freeze by 1000 feet in elevation. (we are higher here so when the cold settles in the valleys freezing everything, not so much here ).
The cowboys have been awake for 50 minutes . Takes time to get geared up/. Grab some breakfast from the hen house… Then there is tack on the horses to apply. A few big Black Angus Bulls strayed from the local herd managed to successfully negotiate the fencing separating 2 herds. The separate owners would prefer not to mix cattle if possible lolol. The cow hands will go separate the bulls. Horses work best moving Bulls. Trust me on this… I’ve done it both with horses and with ATV’s. Not even close the two experiences are lol. One is comfortable, the other is stupid lol.
Even the best of fences, while keeping good neighbors, is but an inconvenience to a Big Angus Bull with love on his mind. Operations generally try to keep Bulls Pinned and landlocked with another pasture between them and the next herd. Even 5 wire barbed wire can be easily over come by nearly a ton of BIG willed fellow. Thick skinned they are. Not many made into couches due to that tendency to scar themselves up a tad in the spring.
Bull Fences must be well built. Any structure that you intend to work any significant number of “head” over the years has to be a long term engineering project. Well built and heavy. Iron is best of course. There are MANY sucker rod and drill stem pipe fences built/welded together up here in Oil field country. They are permanent additions to any cattle operation.
Less longevity built in, this particular Wood Plank Fence is quite old, still willing to hold back the cattle pressure from the other side. We are just an inch of precipitation yearly from being called a desert… as such wood lasts a LONG time. Many decades of life.
So I wake up the other morning and much to my surprise, was a local pyramidal hillock that was blowing it’s top. The steam was rising, the cauldron boiling. I anticipate pyroclastic flows, lahars, glowing red hot clouds and other volcanic manifestations similar to what buried Pompeii. Ash should start falling any moment. Maybe “Sneaky Pete” the windmill will save the day and blow the ash away…
Back to my normal programming: OK, this is NOT a volcano. It takes a properly positioned camera lol. Those are normal clouds up in the sky. Yellowstone is not blowing up. The Devil’s Tower/Missouri Butte Volcanic Neck field about 50 miles to my southeast has not reactivated. No, the Laramide Orogeny has not started back up just yet.
That Butte (called Turtle Butte), is made of layers of river sands stacked on top of one another. The volcanic shape is a result of a hard cap rock which resisted erosion better than every thing else between it and myself. All that rock has been removed by erosion. It is a erosive remnant of all the material that used to surround the hill. Hundreds of feet if not thousands of feet (depending on your location) of sediment has been removed around here. Remember Devils Tower? That used to be a mile or so deep. Now it sticks up 1267 feet above the Belle Fourche River. That river system essentially removed enough material to expose the harder tower. Same process here except just the top of the hill is harder rock.
The morning that showed me this view was 14 hours earlier than when I typed this narrative. It’s rare that I take a photo and schedule it to be published the same day. Sort of like being a bouncer choosing who gets to enter a nightclub. If your a “looker”, you go right to the front of the line. There are several thousand images for me to finish at the moment lolol. They are sitting in a folder on my workstations desktop called “Images to finish”. Job security 📸
The texture on this wonderful old snag from 100 years of exposure to the elements. It is harsh here in Wyotana with hot high altitude sunny summer days and terribly dark cold winters. Wood rot here take a LONG time as 14 inches a year average of precip tends to reduce rot. There are a LOT of “Snags” around from the 1930’s fire that “burned until the snow fell” up in this country. This one developed even more character as those orangish spots are bruises from the hail storm that threw up to 3 inch ice balls at it. The Mountain in the knot hole is known to me as “Turtle Butte”. It is precisely on the Montana/Wyoming border about 1/2 and half. 🤔
This is the second of a series with this Snag. I worked it a few years back as well. The lighting was entirely different then and it hadn’t hailed lol. The old masters would go back to the same place again and again to get different light. It was harder to travel then. I just work a very large area of backcountry photographically.
Summer sunsets happen early. This one at 5:31AM. The ridge I wanted to work for this had a good view of the crescent moon. Working the crescent moon from 5 AM until it was lost in the haze. Keeping busy with cameras is a good thing. I was loving the roiling distortion around the edge of the solar disk. It’s a result of the atmosphere distorting the shape and the details. The sun is ACTUALLY below the line of sight (below the horizon). The atmosphere is bending it’s image around the corner for a few minutes at the rise.
I have Sirius XM radio plus a reasonable audio system in the Raptor. This has been a good thing up here. I went out doing backcountry photography for years on an open ATV with my cameras in a open basket. No tunes…. I’ve work open ATV’s to -30. Having had cameras literally not work from the cold…. I put 3500 miles on that ATV one year doing backcountry photography only in this area.
This year, I’ve accumulated 1300 miles of only backcountry driving. In the Ford Raptor’s first 6 months. The Raptor is an all weather, all terrain, comfortable photographic studio for me to work from. There are not many places it would not go within reason up in this region if I asked it to. Think of it as a “Free Runner” which is a truck built for racing courses like the Baja 500. So far, it will do anything I ask of it that I’m not afraid to do. 📸 🤘 More hail dents than I like on it though….. ☹️
When I see high contrast scenes I hunker down and try to bring it in. High F-stop diffractions and silhouettes dominate the scene on a remote ridge line. The backcountry is full of an infinite number of little zen like scenes at any one time. I find that all I have to do is be there and mother nature will provide. Smoke in the atmosphere is a wonderful thing for photography.
I walk miles in the backcountry as it keeps me in shape. Well it might be the 20 pounds of gear I’m hauling on deer trails😜…. I have to do something to make up for the computer time I sit on my tail lolol. Working parallel ridges with riding or walking a shadow line is the way to set up compositions that I’m using here. Look for opportunities to walk and follow shadow lines.
Here in the backcountry I run into random opportunities to use the landscape for illusion and crushing perspective. If your buying gear soon…. Mirrorless Cameras: I’m not blind now because I look through the a Mirrorless cameras eyepiece which has a video screen behind the glass so no direct path of light to blind you. Newer mirrorless cameras do this video thing. Older Designed DSLR’s don’t show you your image until AFTER YOU CLICK. Mirrorless Cameras show you your settings changes live on screen and you get what you see when you click not after.
If your shopping for cameras, I would tell you to buy mirrorless. Particularly if you work outside with cameras. Studio it’s not critical either way. Don’t look into the sun with a DSLR camera.
The night was a partially cloudy evening with mid-layer patches of stratus clouds. The air was cool but NO wind makes mother nature say “find a pond” to me. When I get lucky, the sun drops below the layer of clouds. Then it can happen that nature provides me with a color pallet that says “take my photo” lolol.. Conveniently a rare windless Wyotana last light of the day moment was spent down by this local pond with a view. I particularly enjoy fully involved skies but sometimes the mosquitos push my limits. Out comes a small can of DEET (Off™) I keep handy in “Clever Girl” for such excursions. I don’t like it anywhere near optics/lenses though. Yuck…
Spring time is a good time for new angles for me to work photographically. The sun pushes North every sunset. Landscape features I use for compositions here in the backcountry are changed in their relationship to the light everday. An infinite variety of subjects over the 5 square miles of this small ranch.
The sun will start setting more to the south each night starting the Summer Solstice June 20th 3:44PM MST, the sun will continue to set to the left from this view point from June 20th till next December. Moving completely off frame with it progression to the south. This is a very wide capture at 130 degrees wide showing the whole sky that night.
Wyotana is a mystical place somewhere near the border of Wyoming and Montana. That demarkation line between the two American Redoubt states is 360 miles long. I consider the “Zone” of Wyotana is about 10 miles wide. That makes a total 3600 square miles in this exotic land. That included area is 3 times larger than Rhode Island. Largely unknown, it includes parts of Yellowstone is mostly remote containing some of the most Mountainous country in the US. This is Cowboy Country from the east border of South Dakota west. All the way to the Yellow park boundary on the west.
Wild Wonderful Wyoming and Big Sky Montana have a few cultural differences. These largely result from Montana having more larger population centers. Their population derived from more migrants exiting huge cities on the coast. Wyoming is more rural with mostly rural local populations. There are HUGE areas of Montana is very similar culturally to HUGE areas of Wyoming. The oil industry and blue collar hydrocarbon guys come and go but a rancher is a rancher on both sides of the border. Our ranch IS in both states by the way lolol. Living in a remote rural ranching community on either side of the border is an entirely different existence from living near population. I’ve operated in both environments and way prefer the “long drive to town”.
Oh, the photo… taken 10 days before it posts as a side show to the main sunrise to the left of frame. I love complex skies with spring Alpenglow… 5:15 AM for this capture. My summer nights are getting shorter until the summer solstice….. Tough schedule to work both sunset and sunrise….
Driving two track roads during Nautical twilight up high in the backcountry is easier when there is no snow or mud on the ridges. It still takes me 10 to 15 minutes to drive up to this location I call sunrise ridge. By the time I arrived this morning, it was still Nautical Twilight with maybe 30 minutes to go till sunrise. The sky starts to light up quickly from here on. , the air is crisp, the smell of sage and pine are rife.
There is little wind this morning which is uncommon. I start to feel the sunrise coming on. It’s something you can feel akin to a quickening. 👀
This was taken in early May. Dry year so far but mud is my current nemesis because I loath to leave tracks. I have a new vehicle now with excellent capabilities so I should be a productive spring up on the ridge tops. Looking up this hill for proper perspective, no lower yellow band yet. The yellow hasn’t made it this far yet.. The red from rays of the sun that made it through the gauntlet of hundreds of miles of atmospheres and moisture. The cloud bottoms were wave troughs dropping into the light and turning red as a result. As bright as the highlights are, the over all scene was dark. This you can see by the darkness of the foreground where I was sitting. It’s below the camera’s threshold of Dynamic Range. My eye’s could see landscape here. Not the camera though… 👀👀📸
Spring time thunderstorms moving through the area are much appreciated in giving us a little more moisture for the apparently soon to be dry summer so typical of Wyotana. Our annual precipitation amounts are BARELY above desert at 14 inches per year. Not this day though 😀
This happened May 13th late in the afternoon as a series of smaller storms moved through the area. This thunder storm went on into South Dakota and grew as it went but wasn’t particularly violent. It was however strong enough to dump enough hail to cover the ground off in the distance under the “rainbow”. I didn’t think there is supposed to be a bucket o hail at the end of the rainbow but something with a bit more glitter. “Clever Girl” got slushed on but fortunately the hail was a bit further east. This capture looking almost straight east along the Montana / Wyoming border. I’ve been known to move my position to avoid hail a time or two. It’s usually not a huge area that get’s hailed on but reading the storm isn’t necessarily straight forward as I’m not “Bill Paxton” in the 1996 movie Tornado.
The Rainbow is right at 5 miles away from my viewpoint. The first tree on the right is at least 1/2 mile out. Telephotos CRUSH perspective jumping over lots of ground before you get to the “foreground” of the frame lol.
I walk miles in the backcountry as it keeps me in shape. Well it might be the 20 pounds of gear I’m hauling on deer trails😜…. I have to do something to make up for the computer time I sit on my tail lolol. Working parallel ridges with riding or walking a shadow line is the way to set up compositions that I’m using here. Look for opportunities to walk and follow shadow lines. Here in the backcountry I run into random opportunities to use the landscape for illusion and crushing perspective. Here I actually walked to the ridge top to work this visual tunnel.
There is SO much going on here. Looking through a tunnel but what to what light at the end lol ?…. The far horizon which indeed is a climbing ridge towards the sun. Perhaps grassy ridge I’m on that dominates the layers game or the far horizon. Wow, this is busy with the close and far thing too. Gotta love yellow late afternoon Alpenglow…
I am fortunate to use technology that lets me evaluate the wonder of such scenes. I see live real time images as this in my view finder. Mirrorless cameras are WONDERFUL that way. You couldn’t even look at your focus with a DSLR camera without risking your eyesight. Bright scenes and DSLR are not usually good friends.. If you don’t know the difference between the two camera types, it’s time to do some homework. Particularly if your considering a purchase. I now consider DLSR cameras as the “Beta Max” of the current production camera world.📸
I was following this group for a while. They were not terribly concerned. The herd was moving from grazing pasture to a water tank about a mile distant from where they were feeding. I find they tend not to wander too far from their water. This “gang” is about 1/3rd males, 1/3 pregnant females and 1/3 yearlings. All of the males are just now in velvet with fairly new antler buds coming in. The largest set of antlers in this group is about 4 inches long. Those horns will grow rapidly over the next month or two.
There were a few more stragglers spread out behind the group off frame with 20 total in this group. Only 15 in the frame as my telephoto will only pull back so far. I’m thinking this was 300 yards out as I recall the scene from my position of being left behind by a fenceline I couldn’t cross. The sun had JUST popped over the ridge. The shadows were very long and what stood out more than the deer to me was their shadows. If this were only on snow lolol. (better shadows but I’d sure like the extra water going into a dry year already 😔.)
The Deer herd up in the late fall just after rut through mid spring which is just now happening. Then they break up into smaller groups soon. Finally small groups does with fawns. Boys Clubs of buck only buddies form quickly. Only to regroup again later in the fall again. It’s all a cycle over and over again. I’ve watched this numerous times over the years… Rinse and Repeat.
The highlights around everything is the result of a fine coating of Hoar Frost and Rime Snow. Everything facing or exposed to the wind was covered that morning. Fog covered the valley floor below this high ridge overlook.
It’s always a challenge to capture one of the moments when a tree hangs a lightbulb down from it’s heights to light it’s way in the dark. Humans have flashlights. Trees… well…🤔😜 Those Ent’s are getting high tech….
Perhaps this capture is more symbolic of the tree plugging into our furnace for all things that keep it alive. Energy flows freely in this image. Heat transfer makes everything possible. For without that furnace we would be in a cold place on a frozen rock. All life relies on this warmth. Have hope though… if the sun suddenly disappeared in a senior Sci-Fi moment, there would still be microbes surviving deep in the earth. Warmth from below, geothermal and chemical energy providing the basics for life even then. I’m not so sure sentient life would do very well under that scenario. I might be wrong…
Bright as heck scene. IT’s hard to get much more detail out of the shadows with out technology with a higher dynamic range than I have. Right now I’m working with have the ability to resolve 15 fstops of dynamic Range . Most cameras have 12 f-stops or less. The human eye has 21. D.R. is the ability to see the brightest lights AND the darkest darks at the same time in the camera. It’s easy to adjust most cameras to do either, but not both.
When I drive out into the backcountry up to the high ridgelines, I never know what I’m going to find. The Rime snow coated all the grasses and fences that morning. I really didn’t notice it until the sun came up enough to highlight all the ice. The roughly 1/8th inch coating made for a late winter sunrise scene worthy of my time getting up the ridge lol.
The sun wasn’t very warming that morning. There was a good breeze from the left that cut through my cold weather armor. Wyotana here with both states in the image. I’m standing in Wyoming looking to the north east with the sun rising on the spring equinox (straight east). Here in Early April, we still have a month of winter weather possible. Last year was cold till the end of May. We had lilacs blooming on the 4th of July for you gardeners to compare with your seasons.
I miss chasing bees with cameras and finding Preying Mantis sitting for me swaying back and forth like a breeze. It has been a LONG winter. The seasons will change but the seclusion in this remote part of the earth is comforting in these troubled times. I hope this finds you all safe and secure in your homes. We have a 1 person per square mile population density in this country. Ranches are 5 to 10 miles away from most places but it’s still 70 miles from the nearest stop light here.
A remote backcountry gravel road leading up to the sky in the distance sets the stage for this Sky show that morning. Actually I had worked this sunrise over that hill with a box o’ cameras for the previous 2 hours. It was an AWESOME twilight leading up to this “don’t forget to look back” shot. I was heading back home when this vista appeared in my mirror. 📷
Late Winter up here in the borderlands of Wyotana harbors a problematic lands use discussion. My access to the backcountry pretty much limited. I only allow myself on county roads for general photography this time of year. I don’t want to RUT up the trails. UGGG to people that do it. The spotty snow is interesting but the fact that it is melting makes MUD. Mud will keep me out of the backcountry. There are areas of very slick when wet Bentonite. Bentonite is known as GUMBO and will stick a loader with tire chains never to be recovered in this country. You don’t want to wander onto ground you don’t know about as you might not drive out. I’ve found areas that I was very lucky to get out before so I avoid it now. IT’s VERY soft at the moment …..😔
The red crushed “clinker” roads we have here are best photographed wet as it darkens/reddens them. They do add some character to the image. The clouds this particular AM were all subject to under lighting while the sun was effectively filtered to my camera by the thick cloud band obscuring those fleeing photons. I’d say I’m a mile from the crest of the hill.
It was an Icy Alpenglow Morning right at sunrise up yonder on the ridge tops. The main sunrise show over my right shoulder is usually yellow (ish) but this back show is Lavender/Pink/Orange. This back show is called the “Belt of Venus” which is often on going while your watching the sunrise. You miss this show if you don’t look behind once in a while … Several image from this particular morning timeline made it through the “sieve” I use to determine which photo to work on. Alpenglow is the result ice in the air lighting up with the bright first pink starting about 40 minutes before sunrise… and then gradients to other nearly pure primary colors to this rare Lavender at times up high.
The red/pink will often work down on the tree top tips as the surviving red rays project off the ice on them. The hoar frost covering any exposed surface made for a winter wonderlands for a photographer with time before sunrise. Hoar Frost usually forms on objects disrupting air flow. The air full of moisture under freezing conditions. DIrect condensation of that vapor from supersaturated air is greater then 100%. T
he formation of hoar frost is similar to the formation of regular dew with the difference that the temperature of the object on which the hoar frost forms is well below 32 degree F., whereas this is not the case with dew. Hoar frost crystals often form initially on the tips of plants and or other objects. I’ve seen vehicles, fences, tires, plants and even other icicles with Hoar Frost on them. The largest I’ve seen had frost feathers/needles almost 2.5 inches long.
Going up this hill leads to this 1930’s IH Deering Seed Drill (seeder). That Antique has been sitting here for a LONG time and has seem more weather, sunsets, sunrises than any of us left alive today. An old soldier survivor of wind, rain, hail, and worst of all, cattle rubbing against it. It has BIG views in all directions. (Change up seasonally eh? )
Pretty Frosty in this capture lolol. This is the result of 4 days of freezing fog. Days of below freezing in March 2020. Up here on this high ridge (called rattlesnake ridge), you can see a 180 mile horizon to horizon. Going up on top of this ridge is a favorite summer lightning observation high point. Of course to photo lightning, you want to be in a metal vehicle high on a ridge right?? 🙃
This is also the “Closest” high point to my driveway. I can see the east y horizon from here. I CAN’T see the east horizon from my house. It’s about a mile from my front door to this spot. The two track to here isn’t easily snowed over by drifts so I use this hill some in the winter to see what’s going on.
Winter has a dramatic effect on where I can and am willing to travel. I haven’t had to walk back yet. The new Ford Raptor is pretty capable but snow is snow. This winter is not over yet. There are a lot of snows between now and when it will get warmer. lolol. We will have our share of 1 foot dumps this winter I’m sure.
What are the chances of finding a heart in the barbed wire miles from anywhere?
Perspectives such as this, require a very close/far focus. That is not an easy task in fairly dark environments such as this. Catching a virtually veiled twilight took considerations for the conditions. . The horizon dropping, exposing the sun with time. It’s civil Twilight still.. (Astronomic, Nautical and Civil are the three twilights) I consider this a tough photographic environment certainly.
I do like working perspectives in low light. It’s working several problems at once in the cameras Manual mode. Such activities are an exercise in balance of the three major camera settings you have ANY control of. (white balance excluded). Twilight is by far the best time of the day for photography. Not many are up seeing what is going on most mornings.
I’ve seen few aurora but I’ve seen so many twilight sky shows . Just about every possible situation short of some ultra rare phenomena. I will testify that twilight is the most varied color, capable of the full rainbow of possibilities. Only the bright greens of aurora have I not seen from twilight. Oxygen excited by the sun at 60 -120 miles high is that green at 557 nanometer wavelength. There is little of that hue in any twilight that I have ever seen😜
Twilight gives me a huge variety of scenes, the play of low angle light, leads one to take the work if you can get it lolol. This was not a cooperative sky as that sun slit closed up thusly closing down the sky show that morning. Sometimes I drive for backcountry miles only to get a few minutes of good light. Such are the dues you pay if you play the game of photon collecting.