Friday, May 10, 2013

2013 Spring Trip - Day 10 - One Last Morning with the Sandhill Cranes

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Well it's the last day of the trip.  A week ago Friday I woke up at home and went to bed in Kearney, Nebraska, today I do the opposite.  I had a feeling this was going to be a beautiful morning and it was.

As I had planned last night I arrived at the Minden bridge well before sunrise.  To my surprise I was all alone.  With this many cranes around I figured there would be a number of people here already, at least in previous years there were.  But I was early and no doubt more would show up.  As light crept across the river I could start seeing the cranes.  The cranes stretched far off to the east.  Just like last weekend there were alot of cranes, alot of cranes.

I soon realized the north side of the bridge, where I was at, was not the side I should be on.  The closest cranes to the bridge were on the south side and there wasn't anything very interesting in line with where the sun was going to rise so I packed up and drove to the other side.  Not long after setting up again I finally I had company.  It was just one man and We struck up a conversation.  He had gotten up very early and drove out from Lincoln, I believe, to see the cranes.  He'd heard about the cranes and decided to come see them for himself.  I told him he picked a good time since there were so many cranes on the river.  I mentioned the excitement when they all take off at once and being surrounded by these noisy creatures.  I was hoping so much that we'd see a blast-off not only for myself but for this fellow as well.  

Sure enough down stream a few took off, then more and more and before you knew it 95% of the cranes were in the air circling and squawking above us.  I said this is it, something everyone with the love of this sort of thing should witness at least once.  He looked like he was enjoying it and I was so happy for him I was beaming from ear to ear.  I've spent time as Bosque del Apache in southern New Mexico, a wintering ground for Sandhill cranes and Snow geese.  The big thing in the morning there is watch the Snow geese blast off from the ponds and head out to the corn fields.  It's a spectacle that is unforgettable but lasts for a minute or so and it's over.  These cranes blast-off as well but many come back and land and do it again.  That is what I witnessed my night in the blind last weekend.

Most of the cranes were gone when the sun finally rose.  It was a beautiful sunrise, as so often sunrises are.  Only one other fellow show up this morning which was really weird but that's fine with me, I like being in nature with few people around.  The sun was getting higher so it was time to head 12 miles east to the bridge I was at last night and get some front lite shots.

I arrived and again was alone.  Where is everyone?  This is the most fantastic time for seeing the cranes and no one's around, oh well.  I was happy to see there were still alot of cranes on the river, many more than there were where I came from.  The sun was behind me and there was alot of dancing activity going on.  It was going to be a good morning for dancing.  I shot a number of videos and included my three favorite here.

After an hour or so I decided it was time to hit the road.  I didn't want to get home to late and I had about 600 miles to travel.  But not before checking out some real estate right by this bridge.  What a perfect place to enjoy the cranes from.  I peered thru the window and saw nothing but a shell of a house.  A fixer upper for sure.  Not only can you spruce up the exterior you can also totally design the interior floor layout without having to knock down any walls.

I've enjoyed sharing my trip with you, hope you enjoyed it.

Thanks for following along.


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

2013 Spring Trip - Day 9 - Homeward Bound with a Sandhill Crane Stop

Saturday, March 30, 2013

After a nice 600 mile drive I find myself once again in the central fly zone for migrating birds around Kearney, Nebraska.  I arrived in time to spend a little time out in the surrounding corn fields.  As it was when I left last weekend the sky was overcast and threatening rain.


Usually when you find cranes in the corn fields the first thing you see after stopping your car is their rear end as they start walking away.  Once they decide to stop they can be quite a disctance from you so a long lens is necessary to get any kind of shot.  What's fun to watch is the antics the cranes show with each other and various materials in the fields.  They will 'dance' with each other which is part of their breeding ritual, by the way Sandhill cranes mate for life.  They often pick up a piece of corn cob or corn stalk and toss it as they jump into the air.  The two images above are pretty tight crops showing some of that fun.

I'd thought about getting one of the group blinds at the Rowe Sanctuary but decided to try a new river crossing instead.  The river upstream was wide open and a perfect spot for the cranes to roost.  I saw a crude overgrown blind off the bank so figured it was worth a try.  If the clouds would break the setting sun would be a beautiful backdrop.


I found a spot along the bank of the river and sat down trying to conceal myself, which was a useless endevor.  What I really needed was a portable one person blind, that would have been perfect.  The sun never materialized but the rain did.  As I sat by the river the rain started lightly falling and the cranes began arriving.  As they flew overhead I thought they were staging just beyond the river.  Once I'd had enough of the rain I returned to my car only to find they were landing on the river, and lots of them.

The cranes were landing to far away and the light was really low so I didn't waste any electrons shooting.  I did notice they were flying right overhead which gave me a perspective I hadn't shot before.  I was like a gunner try to shoot these guys as they flew overhead.

By now the rain is steadily falling.  I stood under the Foresters rear hatch and watched the cranes land for a bit then hopped into the car and headed to Kearney.

It wasn't the greatest photographic opportunity but I came away with a great idea.  If we get a sunrise tomorrow, which we're supposed to, this would be a great place for some front lit shots of the cranes.  I was planning on a different bridge for sunrise, one with the sun rising behind the cranes.  Once the sun get's high enough in the morning I'll head down to this bridge and finish off the morning shoot here.  If this plan works it will be a template for future trips.


Monday, May 6, 2013

2013 Spring Trip - Day 8 - Cathedral Valley, Head of Sinbad

Friday, March 29, 2013

Today is the day I start heading east.  I need to get home on Sunday and it is a two day trip.  I want to get to Kearney before sunset so I can have another evening and morning with the cranes.  With the numbers I saw last weekend there will no doubt be many left to see.

But first I have a new morning in Cathedral Valley to enjoy.  I got going well before sunset and made the short drive back into Capitol Reef National Park.  It was just a half mile or so before I saw the Sun and Moon Temples.  The moon was still hanging in the western sky and provided a nice backdrop for my first image of the temples.

Both monoliths are east facing and catch the morning light perfectly and on this morning everything fell together.  As the sun rose the light painted the temples with a warm glow and made them stick out like the sentinels they are.

The road takes you right in from of both monoliths which gives you a good opportunity to see them up close.  Looking closer at the lines you see from a distance you begin to understand the layers upon layers of sand a sediment built up over millions of years.  In fact the monoliths are composed of Entrada Sandstone that was deposited in the Jurassic period some 160 million years ago. 

While the monoliths look like strong fortresses from a distance up close you see how soft and erosive they can be.  In the presence of water these walls  easily crumble into fine sand and are carried far away.  You don't tend to see talus slopes in the area because of this.


A short drive takes you past the smaller Moon Temple and the horizon opens up to the broad landscape to the east.  A short hike and I found myself on a small bluff where I just sat down and drank in the sight in front on me.  (I also made this picture)

Leaving the home of Sun and Moon Temples I was faced with the decision of how I was going to get back on the highway, there was two ways to go.  I could continue on and complete the loop or I could go back the way I came.  Continuing on the loop has little prospect of seeing anything like I had seen up to this point so the decision was pretty easy.  I decided to head back from where I came besides there was the Bentonite Hills I wanted to see again since I'd quickly driven over them the previous day.

The Bentonite Hills remind me of the Badlands but much more colorful.  A moonscape comes to mind not only driving thru the hills but on the surrounding areas.  The lines and shapes and colors are simply mesmerizing and I could spend a good amount of time wandering thru and over these hills. Time was going fast and I had one last stop I wanted to make before heading east.

It's pretty amazing what you can see right along the interstate when driving thru Utah.  The clouds were perfect and a rest area was just ahead so I pulled off and made a few snaps like the one above.

Along I-70 there are a number of short excursions to various rock art sites.  I had wanted to go to Black Dragon Canyon but I missed the dirt road turnoff from I-70, and there are no easy turnarounds along this highway.  But a bit further was another pictograph, the Head of Sinbad.  This panel is attributed to the Barrier Canyon Culture and are estimated to be some 3,000 years old.  In January 1980 they were featured in National Geographic Magazines as National Treasures.

This wrapped up an exciting day and it was time to hit the road and head over to Grand Junction for the night.  This will put me in a good position to be at Kearney, NE for sunset along the Platte River.


Sunday, May 5, 2013

2013 Spring Trip - Day 7 - Cathedral Valley, Capitol Reef National Park

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Last night after driving out to Egypt trail head I knew I wouldn't be making the hike to the Golden Cathedral with Jessica and Travis.  Looking out from the trail head the view was awesome.  We were high above looking down to the Escalante River far below.  The Golden Cathedral hike is about 9 miles, round trip, the last of which is a steep uphill climb.  Since I'm not in very good shape and since the hike the day before wore me out I thought it prudent to not even attempt the hike so my plans changed.

Travis and Jessica decided to go ahead with the hike and I decided to head back to Capitol Reef National Park and head out to Cathedral Valley.  It was a blast spending two nights and a day hiking with my friends on their honeymoon.  We went our separate ways from our camp site.

Before leaving home I had thought about going to Cathedral Valley.  I had been wanting to go to this part of Capitol Reef for a few years and now was the time to do it.

Cathedral Valley is in the north section of Capitol Reef.  It is a remote location in the middle of a 59 mile dirt loop road that requires a high clearance vehicle.  These are the roads I like to take since you have a great opportunity to have few, or no, fellow visitors.

I arrived in Capitol Reef and stopped by the visitor center to find out more about the drive out to the valley.  I found out the road was in good shape and the campground was first come first serve but there probably wouldn't be many campers.  I planned on spending the night and all seemed well so I headed out.

I was kind of in a hurry since I wanted to be out in the valley in the late afternoon and evening.  Aside from one rather interesting place, Bentonite Hills, the drive out to the valley was rather dull.  I thought to myself that Cathedral Valley couldn't be as boring as the drive and I was right.

After about 25 miles you find yourself on a ridge with desert below on both sides.  I took the turnoff on the north side out to an overlook of Upper Cathedral Valley. WOW, what a sight from high above, such a beautiful valley below.  I didn't spend much time at the overlook since it was getting late and I wanted to get down to the valley floor.

The road down the mountain passed the campground.  It was a nice campground with Juniper trees around and lots of room between campsites.  Past the campground the road got very rough and I had to go pretty slow over the rocks.  The decent was quick and I found myself in front of some amazing sculpted monoliths.

I find it fascinating how these monoliths remain when everything around them has eroded away.  As I approached the monoliths they disappeared behind a hill and it wasn't long before I came to a parking lot and trail head.  It turns out the trail follows the monoliths from across a little valley for their whole length.  I hiked quite a way down the trail and was excited by the fact I was experiencing this all alone.  Of course I wished I was sharing this with Carolyn but that was not to be.  The afternoon turned out to be cloudy and it rained some.  The sunset I'd hoped for never developed but it was a fun time being one with nature.  

My plan for sunrise was to shoot the Sun and Moon Temples.  The temples are a few miles from where I was in Upper Cathedral Valley.  The campground was a few miles back but the drive was very slow.  I knew If I stayed in the campground I would have to get up super early to get over to the templesb fore the sun rose.  Fortunately you have to leave the park to get over to the temples.  Since it's BLM land you can camp anywhere so I found a nice spot just outside the park boundary and the entrance back in to Cathedral Valley.

Tomorrow I'll check out what is here and start my journey back to Minnesota.  In the meantime it's time to hit the sack.