Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Winter patterns

This has been a strange winter so far in the Bear Lake Valley.  By now we should have a lot of snow on the ground, wildlife should be coming out of the hills, and the ski areas should be going strong.  There have been several storms and the weather has been cold, but there is little snow accumulation.  So what is out there for photographers?

When you add wind to a little snow you get drifts, and a simple weed with it's shadow in late afternoon light can be beautiful.

When the snow isn't very deep a little grass can stick out and add some simple straight lines to the beautiful snow curves.

The Bear Lake Valley often gets fog when the temperature drops and this can produce hoar frost or "rime".  Unlike the snow curves in the first two photos, to get rime there must be no wind at all.  The frost forms on nearly everything, often outlining leaves and branches.  Temperatures had been below zero for several mornings when this photo was taken.

The background in this photo is fog and naturally a little gray in the subdued light.  I was fortunate to find a place where all background detail was obscured.  This beautiful phenomenon will usually disappear soon after the fog dissipates and the sun strikes the frost.

Watch your exposure when photographing snow, frost, and fog.  The camera will try to expose an average gray, so you might need to add exposure to make your photos white enough.  But don't overdo it or you will lose the natural look. If all else fails, exposure can be tweaked in PhotoShop, but it is nice to get it right to begin with.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Crystal, Colorado Ghost Town

Crystal, Colorado is famous for its picturesque "mill", but it is difficult to get there.  I was on my second trip of the year with photographer friends from California.  We knew that the road into Crystal is not for the casual driver.  It requires an ATV or a high clearance vehicle, preferably four wheel drive, and not too big.  The driver should be experienced on very rough roads, and unafraid of driving on narrow, rocky benches with big drop-offs.
In this photo, Bruce Gregory's Nissan Xterra approaches a short bench through a rock slide zone as Stephen Johnson walks the road.  The canyon is so steep that much of the road is in shadow in the middle of the afternoon.

The reward for driving the spectacular road is the Crystal Mill.  This mis-named building was not a mill, but actually housed a huge compressor which was powered by water from the Crystal River that dropped down the vertical penstock.  The compressor ran drills in nearby mines.  The building was built in 1893 and retired in 1917.

We met Chris Cox, owner of the famous "mill", who told us that it is shored up with cables on the inside.  Local volunteers have done concrete work to support the penstock, and have donated their time and labor to replace the roof.  Without their help, the building would have collapsed long ago.

We heard that most people photograph the "mill" and go home, not knowing there is a ghost town just down the road.

There are a dozen or so buildings in a picturesque mountain setting with plenty of aspen trees.

The Cox family has owned the town for five generations.  They have fixed up five of the buildings as rentals that are popular with photographers.  Some of them even have hand-cranked telephones to connect with each other, but not with the outside world.  We thank Chris Cox for his hospitality and information about this beautiful ghost town.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Little Bighorn Battlefield, Montana

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument was one of my favorite stops on our recent trip to northern Wyoming and southern Montana.  I had a lot of preconceived ideas about the area where Custer had his famous "last stand" and most proved to be wrong.

The first thing you see when you arrive is Custer National Cemetery, which was for military veterans and their families until 1978.
I liked the way the sprinklers changed the mood of the cemetery.  Bodies of the soldiers who fell during the battle were not buried here, but in a mass grave on last stand hill.  Custer's body was sent to West Point.
The Battlefield is adjacent to the cemetery and is scattered over a much larger area than I expected.  Monuments to fallen soldiers have been placed where they fell, not where they are buried.  Most of the battleground has been left in a natural state so that many monuments rest in tall prairie grass.
These monuments are for Indian scouts who died while working for the American Army.  There are also a few monuments for civilians, and brown monuments for Indians from the opposing forces.  I expected the battlefield to be on one relatively small hill, but notice the vast expanse of high ground in this photo, and the Little Bighorn River in the background.
Lt. Col. Custer fell on Last Stand Hill.  His monument is in the middle of a tight cluster of fallen soldiers.
A modern Indian Memorial is entirely different than all the other monuments and gravestones in the area.  This photo is a fragment of a sculpture of Indians on horseback.  There are several sections commemorating the tribes and family names involved in the battle, and I enjoyed meeting a family who pointed out the name of their ancestors on the wall.  If you enjoy American History, don't miss Little Bighorn Battlefield.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Legend Rock Petroglyphs, Wyoming

The Legend Rock State Archaeological Site is 30 miles northwest of Thermopolis, Wyoming.  Sometimes an on-site caretaker will let you in, but normally you need to get a key to unlock the gate.  We got ours at the State bath house at the Thermopolis hot springs.

Petroglyphs are pictures pecked or scratched in rock.  The Legend Rock site has an easy trail leading to several panels of pictures.  One of my favorites was this Thunderbird in one of the first panels.

Petroglyphs at Legend Rock range from about 200 to 11,000 years old.  These animals are among the oldest at the site, so they are not as distinct as newer ones.

Notice the two styles.  The animals on the left are outlined and the ones on the right have their bodies filled in, which is known as "en toto".

Animal figures, like the ones above, are known as zoomorphs.  Human-like figures, such as those to the right are anthropomorphs.  These fantastic figures have horned headdresses and unrealistic bodies.

What is the meaning of something like this?  Anthropomorphs are intertwined into one complicated figure with hands in strange places.

A panel under this figure was removed by vandals.  This is a common problem at rock art sites so we were glad for the extra security at Legend Rock.

This amazing figure has extra feet, arms in the wrong place, and is missing much of his face.  I think his strange personality jumps at you from the rock.  Notice the writing in the upper right.  When it gets this old, it can be referred to as "historic graffiti" and may even be considered to have historical value.
You can see more rock art at our web site: http://www.hisandhersphoto.com/Heritage/hhheritage.htm

Monday, September 19, 2011

Bighorn Medicine Wheel, Wyoming

The Bighorn Medicine Wheel is a geoglyph in northern Wyoming.  That is, it is a pattern laid out in stones on the ground.  This Medicine Wheel has been used for Native American rituals since its construction anywhere from 500 to 1500 years ago.  Access to the Medicine Wheel is limited to a few summer months because of its remote location and 9642' elevation.

The trail to the Medicine Wheel is about three miles round trip, and nearly every step is uphill or downhill.  At this high elevation it can be a difficult walk for some people, but the high mountain scenery is spectacular.  People who have difficulty walking can drive to the site if they can figure out how to get past the log gate.  I walked, but had to leave Linda back at the parking lot.

The Medicine Wheel is 80' in diameter and has 28 spokes.  The four outer cairns align with the rising and setting sun during the summer solstice.  Perhaps the spokes represent the 28 days of the lunar month.  The Medicine Wheel appears to be part of an enormous network of regional prehistoric sites dating back 7000 years!  Note that this photo was altered in Photoshop to remove a rest room and two cars from behind the back fence.

Prayer offerings are still being left on the rope fence all the way around the Medicine Wheel.  After I hiked back to the parking lot I managed to open the gate and drive Linda to the site so that she was able to see it.  And, I got to see it twice.

Montana State University picked up two of these photos and used them in their magazine, "Confluence".  You can see the article and photos on page 11 here: http://issuu.com/montanastateuniversity/docs/confluence2011

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Gebo, Wyoming ghost town

Gebo, Wyoming is an isolated ghost town near Worland.  It was a coal mining town from 1906 until 1938.

There are seven ruined stone buildings curving along the top of a ridge.  They might have been nice at one time since they still have remnants of concrete sidewalks, gates, brick windowsills, and other comforts.

The town had 1200 residents in 1929 and buildings were scattered over the desolate countryside.  BLM leveled most of the town in 1971.  So, why did these buildings survive?

Maybe these stone ruins were on private land so BLM had to leave them standing.

Vandalism and the passage of years have not been kind to Gebo.  The town is used for target practice now.

Monday, August 22, 2011

EBR-1 Atomic Museum

The first power plant in the world to produce useable electricity from atomic energy is located near Arco, Idaho.

Before I continue with photos of the plant...

This object was photographed next to the parking lot.  Can you figure out what it is?  The answer is at the end of this post.

Experimental Breeder Reactor - 1 first produced electricity on December 20, 1951 and was decommissioned in 1964.

The control room looks like a 50's science fiction movie with dials, toggle switches, and paper graphs.  No computers here.

Scientists were ready for all emergencies.

EBR-1 has a dark interior with different kinds of lighting.  Many of these photos were taken at ISO 3200, and white balance had to be changed for some rooms.

Where else can you stand on the core of a nuclear reactor?  Fuel rods used to be lowered into this hole which is now covered by plexiglass.

EBR-1 was fueled with U-235 and created plutonium.  It was a "breeder" reactor which produced more fuel than it consumed!

The first bulbs ever lit by atomic energy were right here!  This circuit is the original, but the bulbs have been replaced.

It was a HTRE-3 prototype atomic jet engine mounted on a test stand.  This monster engine actually worked in a test, but was never placed in the X-6 bomber designed for it.  No one ever figured out how to avoid frying the airplane crew while keeping the weight of the engine down, and the program was scrapped by President Kennedy.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Thunder Mountain, Nevada

Thunder Mountain... the name sounds like some high Sierra location in the wilderness, but it is much more difficult to descibe.

Thunder Mountain Indian Monument is a State of Nevada historic site.  Bizarre, artistic, eclectic, artsy, and even kind of scary, Thunder Mountain is a collection of faces, towers, junk, statues, old cars, and buildings made from concrete, bottles, windshields, typewriters, and whatever other building materials the artist could find.

The creator of the monument was Frank Van Zant who later in life called himself Chief Rolling Mountain Thunder.  He described his creation as a monument to the American Indian.  During his life he was a World War II veteran, assistant pastor, sheriff's deputy, and private investigator, but inspired by a bottle house he had seen in the desert, he moved his family to rural Imlay, Nevada and created his unusual home.

A bottle wall seen from the inside. 


                                                                                                                                                                  Nightmarish faces, deteriorated by years of exposure, are found everywhere you look, peering out from corners or towers, and a Madonna seems to watch you from behind a wire fence.  Native American symbolism is everywhere, but other symbols are harder to understand, like an amazing human / butterfly.  The site is deteriorating, but the artist's son is trying to preserve and restore it.  There is a caretaker on the site, and he gladly let us inside the fence to take photos.  There is no charge, but donations are accepted and welcome.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Rent a locomotive!

One of the highlights of this year's annual camping trip was renting a locomotive for an hour at the Western Pacific Railroad Museum in Portola, California.

The 917-D was built around 1951 or 1952 and has a 16 cylinder engine.  Visitors can rent this engine or a smaller switch engine and run it around a relatively short section of track.
Ross Walker ran the locomotive under the watchful eye of Charlie, a museum docent. Photo by Bruce Gregory.

Stephen Johnson was the second engineer.

 Bruce Gregory got the next turn.

This was the view from the cab as the train traveled around the border of the museum property.
The victorious engineers as photographed by Charlie the museum docent.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Forest City, California - Almost a ghost town

Day 3 of our 30th annual camping trip brought us to one of our favorite photography subjects, a ghost town.  This trip typically takes us to places that most people don't go.  We don't look for in-your-face gorgeous well-known places, but rather we go to historic out-of-the-way places that we find personally interesting.  Today it was a semi-ghost town in the northern Sierra foothills called Forest City.  Some of the buildings here are used as summer homes, but the place is largely deserted.
The first thing you see as you enter Forest City from the dirt road is a cemetery.  Many graves here date from the 1880's.
The old dance hall is now an informal museum, open by donation if you can find someone to unlock the door.  The sagging building looks extremely unstable but is still used for community events.
The interior has an eclectic mix of historic items and dusty modern stuff.  It looks like an attempt has been made to shore up the shaky building with a cable stretched across this window.
An uphill climb reveals a wonderful old school building hidden in the trees.  The few people we saw here were friendly and helpful when we showed an interest in their historic town.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

30th Annual Camping Trip

I have been camping for 30 years in a row with the same guys; sometimes twice a year.  This has been called the "desert trip" even though we have camped in California, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, and Oregon.  Check out the story of the "Desert Rats" here:

This year we are camping in the northern Sierra in California.  This was the first day of exploration and we included Donner Summit, Yuba Gap, Emigrant Gap, and more.

We heard rumors of indian grinding rocks in a remote location near Yuba Gap.  It was difficult to get to, but we did find the grinding rocks.  However, the main attraction for me was the surrounding area.  There were a number of natural patterns like this huge snag behind a lichen spotted rock.

Another snag had been there awhile and formed a death pattern on the granite.

An un-named marshy pond added color and patterns to the scene.

Reflections of a dead tree made a great subject in the marsh.

I will try to add more photos as the trip continues.