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Posts Tagged ‘Theodore Roosevelt National Park’

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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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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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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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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