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Most of the wild horses that I saw at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota during my recently completed road trip were on relatively level ground, but I did observe one band of horses climbing a steep slope. They were pretty far away, but I managed to capture these shots as they slowly made their way up  a canyon wall.

In the first photo, the horses were just starting their climb and were bunched together. As they climbed higher, they spread out a bit. In the second shot, the lead horse was nearing the top, perhaps the edge of a plateau.

From what I have read, the bands are usually led by a head mare when they are traveling and she leads the band to watering holes and grazing spots. The band’s stallion brings up the rear when the band travels—his job is to fight off predators and other males who try to join the herd and to nip at stragglers to make sure they keep up with the others.

wild horses

wild horses

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I was thrilled to spot this very pretty filly in the midst of a band of wild horses at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota on 10 August 2022. If you look closely, you’ll see that she has incredible blue eyes.

I think that this baby horse may be named Dreamer, born on 2 June, judging from the photos of the 2022 foals at the park on the North Dakota Badlands Horse website. The North Dakota Badlands Registry, according to its website, is a non-profit organization that “was established to register, promote, appreciate and preserve the wild horses of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota that are unique to the area.”

Several times during my visits to the national park, I encountered members of this organization while I was observing the , who shared with me a lot of information about the wild horses. One of the really cool things that the group does is keep track of the composition of the different bands of horses within the park—it is estimated that there are about 183 wild horses scattered throughout the national park.

It definitely was a challenge getting a clear shot of the baby horse’s face—most often her head was down or she was hidden behind her mother. However, I waited patiently and eventually was able to capture these shots of the sweet little horse.

wild horse filly

wild horse filly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

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Do you shoot selfies? Generally I am not a fan of selfies, at least not in the way that some people use (and overuse) them on social media—I am not that much in love with my own face. Still, I am not totally against them. I remember times in the past, when I was shooting with a film camera, when I would ask someone to take a picture of me in front of some well-known site or monument.

When I do want to insert myself into the frame, I try to do so in a creative way. When I was recently in the badlands of North Dakota, for example, I decided I wanted to try to create a selfie that conveyed a “bad boy” vibe. I really am a nice guy, so I wasn’t sure that I could pull off the look and was pleasantly surprised with the result. Some of my friends say the shot makes me look like I had just stepped off of a Harley.

I love to take photos just after sunrise and just before sunset when the sun is so low that it creates elongated shadows of me that are perhaps my favorite type of selfie, a selfie without a face. They always remind me of the famous sculptures of Alberto Giacometti, like Walking Man. I took the second photo with my iPhone in the early morning of 28 July as I stared out at the vast expanse of North Dakota badlands at Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

The final photo is an unusual kind of selfie, a selfie without a face or a body. My orange KIA Soul is a representation of me, a kind of symbolic representation of who I am. I sometimes describe my car as practical, economical, and a little quirky, descriptors that apply equally well to me.

bad boy in badlands

elongated shadow

KIA Soul

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When I tell people that I camped for several nights at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Medora, North Dakota during my recently completed road trip, they have widely varying mental pictures about what that looked like. Some imagine that I was towing a recreational vehicle (RV) filled with all of the comforts of home and that I used hookups for electricity and water.

The truth, though, was that my form of camping was more akin to backpacking than to RV life. I carried with me a very small tent that I have owned for more than 30 years and more or less slept on the ground. I initially used the tent when I did some bike camping when I was stationed in South Korea in the late 1980’s during my service in the US Army. Before I left for my trip, I practiced setting the tent up in front of my house to reacquaint myself with it and to make sure I still had all of the component pieces.

Cottonwood Campground lies within the confines of the South Unit of this national park—there are two parts of the park that are separated by 75 miles (120 km)—and has relatively primitive campsites. RV’s are permitted, but most of the sites are pretty small and there are no hookups. Seasonally there are flush toilets available, a welcome surprise for me, and vault toilets during the off-season. There are no showers, but potable water is available. Because I have the lifetime Senior National Parks Pass, I had to pay only $7.00 per night for my site and I stayed two nights each time that I was there.

Half of the sites are by reservation while all remaining sites are first come, first served. I showed up without reservations on both my westward and eastward legs of the trip and was able to find a site both times without problem in the tenting area of the campground. In fact, I stayed in the exact same spot each time. I liked this spot because it was at the end of a row of spots, so I had a neighbor on only one side.

The first photo shows my view looking out from inside of my tent, with some buttes visible in the distance. The second image gives you a better view of the tent itself. It is taller at the front and has a vestibule area where I could store some gear. Importantly, there is netting to help keep the bugs out. I was not bothered by mosquitos, but there were a lot of grasshoppers and some flies from time to time.

The third shot shows the rest of my site that included a picnic table and a grill. In the photo you can see that I had a small cooler and I also had a water jug that held six gallons (23 liters)—many parts of the United States had been experiencing heat waves and I wanted to make sure that I had plenty of water in case I was stranded. You can also see my orange KIA Soul. I think that this was the only KIA Soul that I spotted when driving through North Dakota and Montana—most of the local folks seemed to be driving pickup trucks or large SUV’s.

I did not have a proper sleeping mat, but used a thick yoga mat, which did provide some cushioning from the hard ground. I had a blanket, sheet and pillow with me too and a sleeping bag. I did not think that I would need the sleeping bag, but the first night that I camped out, temperatures dropped to 44 degrees (7 degrees C), and I was able to snuggle up inside the sleeping bag.

In terms of cooking, I used a little camp stove with a propane/butane canister. The fourth photo shows my little setup as I boiled water to make instant oatmeal and instant coffee for breakfast one morning. I also had several boxes of granola bars on which I snacked throughout the day.

The final two photos shows views from the campsite. On the morning when it was cold, fog and mist were hanging over the Little Missouri River, which flowed very close to our location, and the surrounding area. The final shots shows the glow of the moon, which was almost full, just before it rose over the buttes in the distance. The lights in the right hand side of the image came from a row of cars that were heading in the direction of the park’s exit.

I hope you enjoyed my little tour of my modest camping setup. When I began my trip, I had no specific plans for camping, but brought along the gear so that I could do so if the right situation presented itself. I was really happy to find this gem of a National Park and would gladly return there in the future.

Camping in North Dakota

Camping in North Dakota

Camping in North Dakota

Camping in North Dakota

Camping in North Dakota

Camping in North Dakota

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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What is the best way to convey a sense of the massive expanse of the badlands in North Dakota? That was the dilemma that faced me last week as I stood at the Skyline Vista observation point in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Would a single photo suffice? What about a panorama shot? Perhaps a video might work?

An informational sign at Skyline Vista noted that, “They may look like mountains, but landforms in the badlands are buttes. Mountains form when land is thrust upwards. This process has not taken place in the badlands. Buttes form as erosion removes surrounding material. Rainwater, creeks, and the river are constantly eroding the badlands, leaving behind fantastically shaped buttes.”

My initial instincts pushed me to try a couple of traditional approaches. In the first image, I composed a shot with the flowers in the foreground to add some visual interest, rather then focusing attention simply on the buttes. In the second image, I tried to use the curving highway as a compositional element.

I then switched to considering methods that took advantage of the capabilities of the iPhone 11 with which I was shooting at that moment. I used the iPhone’s pano mode to create the third image and really liked the wide view that it provided of the badlands. In my final attempt, I filmed a short video in which I panned across the horizon, holding my phone vertically that I posted to YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/shorts/mTxPxVPlQVE) and have embedded below. The video provides an even wider view than the panoramic shot.

Is there a “best” way to show this rugged landscape? I would be hard pressed to say that any of the methods that I used was the “best”—each shows a slightly difference sense of what it was like for me to be at that observation point. Many of the other people that I observed simply took a single shot and returned to their cars and drove away. I personally think it is much more enjoyable to “work” a subject and look for creative ways to capture its beauty.

Skyline Vista

Skyline Vista

Skyline Vista

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Until quite recently, I had never tried to create videos with my iPhone and still have not tried to do so with my DSLR camera. I guess that I am a little old-fashioned and think of a phone as primarily a device for making phone calls and a camera as a device for taking still photos. I am gradually changing to using my phone for texting and during my recently completed road trip, I played around with taking short videos with my iPhone. Maybe it is possible to teach an old dog new tricks.

The change was prompted in part by the fact that I had to radically change my shooting habits when visiting Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. I camped out at the park for two nights when I was headed westward towards Seattle and another two nights on my return trip eastward to Virginia. At that park, I got used to seeing large creatures like American Bison (Bison bison) at close-range and photographing them from inside my car. Suddenly it dawned on me that videos would be an effective way of capturing some of that action. In addition to bison, I also had several encounters with wild horses that I was able to document in videos.

As you probably noticed, the first image is not a video—I inserted it so that an image would show up as a thumbnail in the “Reader” feed for those who view my postings in that way. The still photo shows a large bull moving down the recently repaved roads of the park. At that time they had not yet painted lines on the road, so I had to pay a lot of attention while driving, given that many of the roads were full of curves and and in some cases there were steep drop-offs. I do not think that the bison cared about the lack of lines—as far as I was concerned, they owned the roads and always had right-of-way.

The first video shows one of the huge male bisons that I encountered on the roads at the national park. I was safely inside of my car when I took this video, though I must confess that this bull bison looked to be almost as big as my KIA Soul and may have outweighed it.

The second and third videos show bands of wild horses that I encountered at separate locations in the park. I was particularly impressed by the beauty of these horses and it was cool to capture them in action.

I was not sure how to present videos here in WordPress, but I think it works to post them to YouTube first and then to embed a link to that posting here. In this way, the videos do not count against my data allowance on my WordPress plan.

I definitely need to improve on my skills as a videographer, but I am happy with these initial results. The sound quality is still a problem, because it was often windy and the video also includes some extraneous conversation. I may have to learn to do voiceovers for the videos or to add some music to them.

So what do you think? These little clips are definitely a change from my normal content, but I thought it would be a fun way to share some of my experiences more directly with all of you. As you probably noticed, the first image is not a video—I inserted it so that an image would show up as a thumbnail in the “Reader” feed for those who view my postings in that way.

American Bison

Here is the YouTube link for the first video.

Here is the YouTube link for the second video.

Here is the YouTube link for the final video.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I don’t take selfies very often, but decided to make an exception on Saturday when I was seated on Dege Peak (elevation 6982 ft (2128 m)) with Mount Rainier prominently behind me. I must confess, though, that I started my hike at 6100 feet (1859 m), so it is not all that impressive, though my iPhone indicates that I climbed the equivalent of 54 floors that day.

On previous visits to Mount Rainier, I have always entered at the Nisqually entrance that allows you to go as far as the Paradise Visitor Center, which is located at an elevation of 5400 ft (1645 m). It is the most easily accessible entrance and is therefore crowded most of the time.

During Saturday’s trip, I entered the park via the Sunrise entrance, which is located 60 miles (97 km) from the Nisqually entrance. The Sunrise entrance is open only from the beginning of July, when the snow is finally cleared, to early September. The Sunrise visitor center, located at an elevation of 6400 feet (1950 m), is the highest point you can access by car in the park.

I never did make it to the visitor center parking lot, which was crowded. Instead I stopped at a parking area at 6100 feet (1859 m) and hiked along the Sourdough Ridge Trail that took me up even higher than the visitor center. The views were spectacular and I was alone most of the time.

The second image shows one of those amazing views of Mount Rainier from that trail. I felt like I was looking straight across at the snow-covered mountain, although in actuality the peak of Mt Rainier was much higher at an elevation of 14,411 ft (4392 m).

I captured the final image of Sunrise Lake by looking back in the direction that I had hiked. The beautiful little lake was located just below Sunrise Point, where my car was parked.

Mt Rainier

Mt Rainier

 

Sunrise Lake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Here are some shots of butterflies that I spotted yesterday while hiking in Mt Rainier National Park. All three were photographed at over 6000 feet altitude (1829 m), flying among the wildflowers and other vegetation.

I think they are an Anise Swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon), an Edith’s Checkerspot (Euphydryas editha), and an Arctic Fritillary (Boloria chariclea), none of which I had seen previously. As I have mentioned before, I am not very familiar with Western species, so I therefore welcome corrections if I have identified these butterflies.

Today is my last full day in Washington State—I will begin my long drive back to the East Coast tomorrow and my blog posting schedule will almost certainly will be sporadic during this coming week. With a little luck, I’ll be able to capture some images along the way that I can share with you when I am finally home in a week or so.

Anise Swallowtail

Edith's Checkerspot

Arctic Fritillary

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It was so much fun to watch the Black-tailed Prairie Dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) that I encountered in multiple locations during my recent visit to Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Medora, North Dakota. I could see them from my car when I was driving along the roads looking for buffalo and wild horses, but I also encountered them on both sides of some of  the trails when I was hiking.

The prairie dogs seemed playful and energetic and were surprisingly vocal. They seemed to be calling out to each other all of the time in very distinctive squeaky voices. It seems like some of the calls were warnings that I was approaching, because quite often the prairie dogs would scurry into their holes as I drew near, sometimes peeking out with just the top of their heads and their eyes visible.

Here are some selected shots of prairie dogs in which I tried to capture a sense of their playful personalities.

Prairie Dogs

Prairie Dog

Prairie Dog

 

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I have observed large Darner dragonflies flying overhead on multiple occasions during my trip across the United States. Although I know that my best chance of getting a detailed shot of one of these beauties is to wait for them to perch, their stamina seems almost unlimited. Consequently I have often resorted to attempting to photograph them in flight.

On Wednesday I managed to capture a cool in-flight shot of what I think is a Blue-eyed Darner dragonfly (Aeshna multicolor) during a visit to Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge in Olympia, Washington. This is a Western dragonfly that is a new one for me.

I also watched several of these dragonflies patrolling lower over a small marshy pond and amazingly one of them perched on some vegetation. Finally I was able to get the kind of detailed shot that I had been seeking.

As is often the case with my wildlife photography, my persistence finally paid off.

Blue-eyed Darner

 

Blue-eyed Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When I was visiting Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota last week, I did most of my wildlife photography while inside of my car. Surprisingly that included bird photography. In order to spot birds, I had to drive slowly, often at about 10 mph (16 kph), and listen very attentively. Fortunately, there were not many other people around in the early morning, so I was able to move about at my own pace.

The Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo)in the first photo, did not make a sound, but was big enough for me to spot visually. I have photographed Wild Turkeys numerous times, always in a forested environments. I was therefore astonished to see on in a desert-like area of the park.

The bird in the second photos is a Lazuli Bunting (Passerina amoena), I believe. I spotted them several times, but most of the time they were out of range or were blocked by branches. I was fortunate to capture this one as it was singing.

The bird in the final photo was initially a bit of mystery for identification purposes. However, the speckled wings, dark body, and bright red eyes led me to conclude that it is probably a Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus).

The birds in the last two photos are western birds that are not found in my home state of Virginia, so I am only semi-confident about my identifications. Please let me know if I have made a mistake in my efforts to figure out the species to which they belong.

Wild Turkey

Lazuli Bunting

Spotted Towhee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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While I was hiking a trail parallel to the Little Missouri River last week in Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, I managed to photograph three different species of dragonflies, two of which I thought were familiar to me.

The first photo shows a male Wandering Glider (Pantala flavescens). Normally I consider myself lucky to be able to photograph a single individual, but during this hike I was able to photograph several Wandering Gliders. UPDATE: An eagle-eyed fellow dragonfly enthusiast in Virginia pointed out to me that this is probably a male Variegated Meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum). Thanks, Michael Ready, for the assist in identification.

The second photo shows a male Twelve-spotted Skimmer (Libellula pulchella). The males of this species are quite easy to identify, because the have white and dark patches on each of their wings. I was surprised to be able to get this shot, because I had to shoot almost straight down from a high bank of the river. Fortunately the dragonfly cooperated by perching in plain view rather than in heavy vegetation.

The third photo shows what I believe to be a Variable Darner (Aeshna interrupta), a new species for me. I saw the dragonfly patrolling overhead and began to track it visually. I watched it land low in some vegetation on the opposite bank of the river.

Believe it or not, I could not actually see the dragonfly when I took the final shot below, but I was pretty confident that I knew where to aim my camera. Amazingly, it worked and I was able to capture a usable image of the dragonfly.

When I began this trip across the country, I did not plan to have chances to hunt for dragonflies. It has been an unexpected joy to have had opportunities to see dragonflies at different places and a true delight to be able to capture images of some of them.

Wandering Glider

Twelve-spotted Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday I visited Mount Rainier National Park in Washington State. The namesake mountain is one of the most prominent features of the park and it is a real challenge trying to figure out a creative way to capture the beauty of the snow-covered mountain.

Different vantage points and different altitudes give you different views of the mountain. I also played around a bit with aspect ratios too.

I was particularly delighted to see that some of the wildflowers were still in bloom and the first photo is one of my favorites. I worked hard to frame the composition with the flowers in the foreground. The fact that all three of these photos were taken with my iPhone 11 meant that almost the entire image in focus. It would have been a bit of a challenge to get that kind of depth of field with my DSLR.

I took the second shot from much lower on the mountain. I love the way that the image is almost abstract, reduced to shapes of the mountain and the trees.

The final image is a panoramic-type shot, which somehow seems suitable for the sweeping mountain views. It is a cropped version of a “normal” photo in which I tried to emphasize the mountains—too much of the original image was taken up by sky.

I may have some more images of Mount Rainier to share with you when I go through my images from my DSLR, but I have to say that I am more than happy with these images from my iPhone.

Mt Rainier

Mt Rainier

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota is one of the few national parks where visitors can observe free-roaming horses. According to the National Park Service, “their presence represents Theodore Roosevelt’s experiences here during the open-range ranching era. Ranchers turned horses out on the open range to live and breed. When needed, they would round up horses and their offspring for use as ranch horses. For generations, ranchers used land that would later become the park for open-range grazing.”

Once the park was fenced in, one of the issues was what to do with the horses. Initially the authorities tried to capture and remove all of the horses, but some small bands of horses eluded capture and continued to live free-range in the park. “In 1970, a change of park policy recognized the horse as part of the historical setting. New policies were written and enacted to manage the horses as a historic demonstration herd.”

I had multiple sightings of wild horses during my visit to the national park. Most of the time it was only one or two horses, but on my final day I ran into a larger group. As I was observing them, another visitor told me that this was Xander’s band, named for the lead stallion.

The other visitor turned out to be a member of a group that tracks the bands of wild horses in the park. She patiently explained to me that the horses travel in groups of 5 to 15 horses, known as bands, with a well-established social hierarchy. The bands are pretty stable—young colts and fillies are kicked out of their groups at the age of 2-3 and form new bands. Some of the individual horses that I observed, she said, were likely to be bachelors.

The first photo shows the band all grouped up together in a shadow of a rock formation where I first saw them. They were packed together so tightly that it was hard to get an accurate head count. I believe that the gray horse in the front is Xander, the leader. Eventually the individuals of the group spread out a bit (it looks like there are ten members in the band) and began to graze, as you can see in the second and third photos.

The National Park Service tries to manage the number of wild horses in this park tor prevent overpopulation. “Historically, the park conducted roundups every three to four years using helicopters to herd horses to a handling facility and then sold them at public auction. More recently, the park has tried new methods for herd management including contraceptives, low-stress capture techniques, genetics research, and partnerships with nonprofit horse advocacy groups. Horses are currently captured using tranquilizer darts and sold in online auctions.”

Xander's band

Xander's band

Xander's band

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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As many of you know, I have spent the last week driving across the United States to spend some time with family outside of Seattle, Washington. I departed from Virginia at midday last Monday and by the time that I finally arrived on Saturday afternoon, I had traveled a distance of 3085 miles (4964 km).

I spent a lot of time driving, but made an extended stop at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota, where I camped out for two nights. During my visit, I had multiple encounters with American Bison (Bison bison), including one memorable moment when my car was almost surrounded as a small herd of bison moved past me on the road.

It was a bit strange for me to take wildlife photos from inside my car, but that definitely was the safest thing to do with these bison. Some of the bulls looked to be as large as my KIA Soul. I noted that there were a good number of calves too, and definitely did not want to mess with a potentially mad mamma bison if I got between her and her baby.

I am still sorting through my images, but I thought I would lead with these little portraits that show some of the personality of the individual bison.

In addition to the bison at the national park, I was able to photograph wild horses, prairie dogs, birds, and even a few dragonflies. You should see some of them in the near future.

American Bison

American Bison

American Bison

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Normally I try to do a posting to my blog every day, but for the next three weeks my posting schedule will be much more erratic. I am in the final stages of packing my car for a trip to visit my son and his family outside of Seattle, Washington. There are multiple decision points along the way and I have not yet decided on my final route, but no matter how I go, it is likely to be about 3,000 miles (4828 km) each way.

I have some camping gear with me, including a water jug that holds six gallon (23 liter), so I may well be spending some time disconnected from the virtual world. I’ll try to take some photos along the way and will share them when I am able.

I am leaving you with a shot of a pretty little butterfly, which I think is a Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos) perched on some Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa). I love the different shades of orange in the image.

In case some of you do not know it, my KIA Soul, in which I am driving out West, is orange in color. It is a coppery orange and not a pumpkin orange and it definitely stands out in a parking lot. My license plate holder has SOUL on it and my license plate itself is “BLESS MY.”

I am attaching a couple of photos of my car from January 2016, after a big snow storm. So many of us throughout the Northern Hemisphere are suffering from oppressive heat and I thought that the sight of snow might cool us off a little. I’ll close with a joke that I say on-line today that is a perfect fit for my quirky sense of humor—”Just be thankful that it is not snowing. Imagine shoveling snow in this heat!”

KIA Soul

KIA Soul

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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This past Thursday I was privileged to attend an exhibition/demonstration “From Conflict to Creativity” that featured amazing works of art by military veterans. The event was held in Washington D.C. in the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress. I managed to capture a few images of the buildings’s Great Hall with my iPhone as I passed through it on the way to the event room.

There was so much color and pattern and detail everywhere in the Great Hall that I felt almost overwhelmed. One of my favorite elements was the skylights in the ceiling that I have shown in the second image—I love stained glass windows. The final photo shows a painting called Melpomene by Edward Emerson Simmons.

“When its doors opened to the public in 1897, the Library of Congress represented an unparalleled national achievement, the “largest, costliest, and safest” library in the world. Its elaborately decorated interior, embellished by works of art from nearly fifty American painters and sculptors, linked the United States to classical traditions of learning and simultaneously flexed American cultural and technological muscle.” If you want additional information on the art and architecture of this Great Hall, check out this link on the Library of Congress website, the source of the quotation that I used to begin this paragraph.

Library of Congress

Library of Congress

Library of Congress

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The sun rose really early last weekend when I visited Northfield Mount Hermon School (NMH) in Gill, Massachusetts for my 50th Reunion—officially dawn was at 0439 hours and sunrise was at 0514 hours. The rising sun woke me up in the dormitory room in which I was sleeping and I went for a walk on the beautiful campus of this private boarding college preparatory school where I spent the final there years of high school.

The sunlight was soft and beautiful as I looked to the east, where thick fog was visible over the waters of the Connecticut River. I took the first photo below with my Canon SL2 DSLR and a 10-18mm wide-angle zoom lens and the other two photos using the panoramic features of my iPhone 11. The effects of the two cameras were a bit different, but I like the way that I was able to capture a sense of the beauty and tranquility of the early morning moments—it was a wonderful way to start the day.

Northfield Mt Hermon

Northfield Mt Hermon

 

Northfield Mt Hermon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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One of the cool things about traveling is having the chance to see species that are not present in my home area. This past weekend I drove north about 600 miles (965 km) to Gill, Massachusetts, the home of Northfield Mt Hermon School, where I celebrated my 50th graduation from high school. There was plenty of wild life at the reunion, with loud music, firepits, and adult beverages, but I also managed to squeeze in a few quieter moments with wildlife.

While I was walking along the edge of Shadow Lake, a small marshy lake on campus, I spotted some unfamiliar dragonflies on the floating lily pads. As I examined the dragonflies through my 55-250mm telephoto lens, the longest lens that I had with me, I was struck by the bright white faces of the dragonflies and the prominent dots on the top of their abdomens. I was a little shocked to learn later that the dragonflies that I photographed are Dot-tailed Whiteface dragonflies (Leucorrhinia intacta)—rarely has the name of a species fit so well.

The range map for Dot-tailed Whitefaces shows that it is primarily a northern species that does not exist in Virginia. I get the impression that this is a fairly common species, so locals would probably not be very excited to spot one. For me, though, it was a rare and exotic species that I was seeing for the very first time and I was thrilled. It is amazing how our reactions in so many areas of our lives are influenced as much by our perspectives as by the “objective” facts of a situation.

Dot-tailed Whiteface

Dot-tailed Whiteface

Dot-tailed Whiteface

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Normally you cannot gain access to the inside of a Mormon Temple if you are not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. When one is built, open houses are held for a period of time and them the temple is dedicated and access is thereafter limited. The Mormon Temple in Washington D.C. has been under renovation the last four years and for the first time in almost 50 years, open house tours are  being offered there until 11 June. The Temple is scheduled to be rededicated on 14 August 2022.

Yesterday I had the chance to visit this amazing structure. It is the the third largest Mormon temple in the world (behind the temples in Salt Lake City and Los Angeles) with an interior space of 160,000 square feet (14864 square meters) and is the tallest at 288 feet (88 meters) at its highest point, the spire with a golden Angel Moroni with a trumpet, shown in the third photo below. There are six spires covered in 24 carat gold and the building is encased in white Alabama marble.

During our tour we visited six of the seven floors of the temple including the Baptistry (for ancestors), the Brides Room, Instruction Rooms, the Celestial Room, and the Sealing Rooms. The interiors are elegantly furnished and decorated, combining beauty with function. We were not permitted to take photos within the Temple, but there are number of videos on line showing the Washington D.C. Temple, including this one put out by the Mormon Church Newsroom that chronicles the renovation and shows the new interior.

There were lots of friendly volunteers throughout the Temple to help direct visitors and to answer any questions that we had. A lot of information about the Temple, including galleries of photos and historical information, can be found at the dctemple.org website. Although some of my personal beliefs are at odds with the teachings of the Mormon Church, I think that it is valuable to learn more about about others and to seek to understand more deeply what they believe—too often we rely on half-truths and falsehoods when looking at “others.”

 

Mormon Temple

Mormon Temple

Mormon Temple

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I set aside my camera for the most part this past weekend and enjoyed the company of others at Shrine Mont, a retreat center in the Shenandoah Mountains of Virginia, a welcome respite from the restrictions of the past two years. From time to time I would pull out my cell phone and capture a moment, but the most significant memories of the retreat are embedded in my heart and in my head.

There are lots of small cabins and other buildings scattered throughout the large property that encompasses over 1100 acres of forest, but the building that attracts your eye first is the massive Virginia House, shown in the second photo below. The Virginia House was formerly known as the Orkney Springs Hotel. It was built in 1873 and restored in 1987. At approximately 96,000 square feet, it is believed to be the largest wooden structure in Virginia.

On Sunday we participated in worship at the open-air Cathedral Shrine of the Transfiguration that serves as the Cathedral of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, shown in the third photo below. The Shrine was built from 1924 to 1925 in the space of a natural amphitheater and includes a bell tower, a sacristy, a shrine crossing, choir and clergy stalls, a pulpit, a font and a lectern. Each of its stones was pulled by horse or rolled by local people from the mountain that embraces it, according to Wikipedia, and the baptismal font was originally a dugout stone used by Indians to grind corn.

As I was sitting in the outdoor pews during the church service, I happened to glance to the side and caught sight of a dozen or so Pink Lady’s Slipper orchids in bloom at the edge of the forest. Earlier that morning I had traipsed through the mud in search of some of these flowers that one of my fellow retreat members had spotted the previous day, and here there was an even greater abundance in plain sight. I was delighted to share my find with others when the service ended and it turned out that many of them had never seen a Lady’s Slipper in the wild or had not seen one since they were children.

Shrine Mont

Shrine Mont

Shrine Mont

Pink Lady's Slipper

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, but it definitely will not happen here in Northern Virginia where I live. High temperatures today are forecast to reach 67 degrees (19 degrees C), which is quite a bit warmer than normal for this time of the year, and we are much more likely to see rain than snow this day.

In order to put folks into more of a traditional Christmas spirit (at least those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere), I thought I would post a few snowy images from my visit in late November to Mount Rainier National Park in the state of Washington.

Merry Christmas to all of you who are celebrating today and best wishes to all for a happy and healthy new year.

Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier National Park

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Last Friday I visited the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, an amazing spot located eight miles (13 km) east of Olympia, Washington. The wildlife refuge is home to the Nisqually River Delta, which has the unique status as Washington’s largest relatively undisturbed estuary. The confluence of the freshwater Nisqually River and the saltwater south Puget Sound has created a variety of unique environments, each rich in nutrients and natural resources for the local wildlife. The delta provides habitats for more than 300 different species of fish and wildlife, according to Wikipedia.

One of the coolest features of the refuge is the mile-long (1.6 km) Nisqually Estuary Boardwalk that extends into the mudflats and marshes. I was able to observe all kinds of waterfowl from the boardwalk, although the water level was so low that most of them were too far away to photograph. I focused most of my photographic efforts on trying to get wide angle shots with my iPhone, including the panorama shot that I included as a final photo.

The brochure for the wildlife refuge included a quotation by Victor B. Scheffer, scholar and author, that really struck me. “Any meeting of a river and a sea is a place of change…It will be proof of our ability to survive…if we learn to respect wild places like the Nisqually Delta, to trust them for their naturalness, and to love them for their power to move us.”

Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I experienced so much natural beauty in the mountains, the water, and the forest during my recent visit to the state of Washington, that it is hard to imagine that anything manmade could compete with it. However, the Deception Pass Bridge in Oak Harbor is so striking that its scenic beauty is undeniable—my first glimpse of it literally caused me to stop in my tracks and marvel at it with eyes wide open.

The first photo shows the Deception Pass span, but there is actually a smaller span over Canoe Pass that you cross first when coming from the north, as you can see in the second image. In between the two spans is a small island known as Pass Island.

The bridge was completed in 1935, according to Wikipedia. The Canoe Pass arch spans 511 ft (156 m) and the Deception Pass arch spans 976 ft (297 m). Overall the roadway is approximately 180 feet (55 m) above the water, depending on the tide.

Deception Pass Bridge

Deception Pass Bridge

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I have not had very many opportunities to take wildlife photos during my time here in the state of Washington, so I was particularly delighted when I spotted some birds during a trip to Anacortes on Wednesday.

There were quite a few cormorants hanging around a dock area, including the one in the first photo below. I think it is a Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus), although I am aware that are some additional cormorant species on the West Coast of the US, so I am a little uncertain about my identification.

As I was exploring a lake a little later in the day, I spotted a tiny Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula) in the vegetation. I had a 55-250mm lens on my camera, the longest lens that I brought with me on this trip, so I did not think I would be to get a decent shot of the elusive bird—normally when I am photographing birds I use a 150-600mm lens. I was pretty happy with my kinglet shot, the second image below.

The bird in the final photo is a male Bufflehead duck (Bucephala albeola) that I spotted at the same lake. He was a good distance away, but I managed to capture a hint of his colorful iridescent plumage—you may need to click on the image to get a better look at his coloration.

 

cormorant

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

bufflehead

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As part of a day trip earlier this week, I drove through part of the Quinault Rain Forest on the Olympic Peninsula of the state of Washington. It was amazing to see so many large fir trees surrounded by green ferns, moss, and other vegetation—everything was so green.

I was thrilled when I spotted a large waterfall amidst all of this lush greenery. I could not see the actual source of the water, but it was flowing quite strongly.

It was a real contrast to the mountain waterfalls that I had seen the previous day on Mt. Rainier. The mountain waterfall scene seemed full of sharp edges and contrast, while the rain forest waterfall scene was soft and a bit dream-like.

rain forest waterfall

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I probably should have looked at the weather forecast yesterday before I set off on a drive to the Olympic Peninsula. I wanted to see some of the beaches on the Pacific Ocean Coast and drive through the Olympic National Forest.

It was raining when I started driving and it rained the entire day. I probably should have checked road distances too, because my little day trip turned out to be a surprising 448 miles (721 km) in length.

That being said, it was a beautiful drive on roads through spectacular forests of fir trees, through quaint small towns, and occasionally alongside the ocean or one of several large lakes.

I did manage to walk along for a short time along one of the beaches that was accessible from a parking area. I bundled up in my rain parka and braved the elements, sometimes trying to hold onto an umbrella, and took these shots with my iPhone.

The ocean was wild and wonderful in its rugged beauty and I did my best to capture a sense of the location. The first and second shots show my view as I looked down the beach in one direction and then in the other.

The rocks in the water really captured my attention and I spent most of my time trying to capture their interactions with the crashing waves.

beach in Washington

beach in Washington

beach in Washington

beach in Washington

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday I made a trip to Mount Rainier National Park in the state of Washington and was delighted and amazed by the incredible scenery that I observed. Many of the mountains were covered in snow and the clouds were moving among the peaks, sometimes letting them come into view, but frequently concealing them.

I was able to drive as far as an area called Paradise that is 5400 feet (1646 meters) above sea level. Although the roads and parking areas were clear, the surrounding area was covered in snow. I was able to hike a little, but my running shoes did not provide much traction, so I gave up after a short while. Additionally, mist was settling on that area in the late afternoon, as you can see in the final photo.

On the drive up the mountain, there were lots of places to pull off the road to get a closer look at the scenery. I was particularly impressed by several beautiful waterfalls, including the one in the second photo.

I alternated between shooting with my iPhone 11 and my Canon SL2 and took a pretty good number of shots. I am still going through my images, but thought it would be good to provide a preview of the types of images that I was attempting to capture. I am pretty sure that I will feature more photos of this beautiful location in some future posts.

Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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One of  the best known buildings in Vienna is Stephansdom (St. Stephen’s Cathedral), the mother church of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Vienna. You can see the multicolored tiled roof, one of its distinctive features, in the photos below that I took a few nights ago. The cathedral is located in a busy area in the center of the city with surrounding buildings quite close. As a result, you have to get pretty close and shoot upwards to get an unobstructed view and the angles get all skewed.

In a few hours a taxi will bring me to the airport to catch my flight back to the USA. It has been a brief trip to Vienna with most of my daylight hours occupied with work, but I have been fortunate to have the chance to catch some of the beautiful Christmas decorations in the city at nights. I might do another posting or two of Vienna when I return home, but this will almost certainly be my last one that I write in Vienna itself.

Merry Christmas to you all, wherever the holidays happen to find you.

Stephansdom Vienna

Stephansdom Vienna

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Last night I had the chance to go strolling through the central pedestrian shopping area in Vienna. A light snow was gently falling, making things feel even more festive as the city prepares for Christmas. One of the really cool things about this area is that each of the streets has a different style lighting. The photos below show three of my favorites.

Vienna Christmas

Vienna Christmas lights

Vienna Christmas lights

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Once again I find myself in Vienna, Austria just before Christmas for a work trip. Many of you know that I retired earlier this year, but I was requested to come back to assist with a workshop this week that I have helped to run for the past seven years. It is hard to say no to an overseas trip and Vienna is particularly beautiful at this time of the year. There are lots of Christmas markets throughout the city, wirh the largest one in front of the Rathaus (City Hall).

In the market there are rows and rows of vendors selling all kinds of products, including a wide variety of food and beverages. My personal favorite is the käsekrainer, a large sausage filled with chunks of cheese that melt when the sausage is grilled. I usually have mine in a hard crusted roll (like a mini baguette) with lots of spicy mustard. The most popular item for consumption, though, appears to be glühwein, hot spicy wine, served in festive mugs. You put down a deposit on the mugs and either return them or take them away with you.

Most of my daylight hours, which seem really limited at this time of the year, are filled with work, but I managed to make it to the Rathaus Christmas Market and grabbed a few photos one evening earlier this week. Hopefully they give you a sense of the festive atmosphere at the market, though you don’t get the smells of the food cooking in the open air and the sounds of the Christmas music, with a variety of individuals and groups performing live.

Merry Christmas in advance and Happy Holidays to those of you who do not celebrate Christmas.

Vienna Christmas Market 2019

Vienna Christmas Market 2019

Vienna Christmas Market 2019

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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