Friday, April 17, 2015

Right on time....

I'd been photographing wild horses in Teddy Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota until dark and planned to drive the 4 1/2 hours to Custer State Park during the night so I would be there for sunrise.

By the time I made it to Sturgis South Dakota I was more than a little tired and stopped at a rest area to rest. I set an alarm for 4am and fell asleep. I woke at 5:30am, not to my alarm, it never went off, I just woke up and the sky was already light in the east. The sun hadn't come up yet but it was well on it's way and I was late. 

Oh well, there was nothing to do but get going. So I got back on the highway headed for Rapid City and then Custer State Park. As I headed south out of Rapid City the sun started to crest the horizon and I realized I was in for a beautiful sunrise. Too bad I had overslept.

As I watched the eastern sky and the sunrise unfold I decided to stop and get what photos I could. I pulled to the side of the road and made several images. I could smell smoke in the air and thought there must be a fire somewhere.
A few minutes later I heard on a local radio station that a prescribed burn in Wind Cave National Park had gotten out of control the day before and had grown to 1000 acres.
Smoke from wildfires often lends itself to interesting skies and landscape photos, especially at sunrise and sunset. My sunrise photos were benefiting from it now.

I got to Custer State Park about half an hour later and found sharp-tailed grouse displaying on a lek near the road.
The male danced with his wings out to the side and sounded like a really fast typewriter as he displayed for the hens.
After a few minutes the hens walked away and he flew off. I didn't even drive a mile before I saw a large herd of elk on a hillside and moving south. They seemed to be in a hurry and many had their mouths open and were breathing hard.
These elk are just a small part of a much bigger herd that numbered over 100.
Here they walked across a gravel park road.
They may have been moving out of the way of the wildfire to the south. They were headed in the right direction.
As I got further into the park the smoke got heavier and I stopped to get this silhouette of the sun behind two ponderosa pine trees.
After the road crested a hill I stopped to capture this image of the prairie with smoke hanging in the air.
Before I got much further I found a pronghorn buck with three does. 
I love pronghorns.
Here's one of the does on the ridge line.
I really liked the way the sky looked behind them due to the smoke in the air.
Not even half a mile from the pronghorns were more sharp-tailed grouse with another male displaying for hens.

I couldn't believe my luck and started thinking how my alarm not going off changed everything.
I had to hold that thought as I found a group of wild burros grazing along the road.
The light was right and the hill in the distance looked good with the smoke still hanging in the air.
I had to set the alarm improperly and just accidentally wake up when I did, so I would be there for all of this. I thought I was late and had screwed up my chance to get good pictures that morning, and really I was right on time.
Though the burros are wild, visitors often feed them, so many times they will want to put their head in your window. I didn't feed the burro, but did take his picture before driving off. 


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