White All Around

blushing bride

These last couple of days we have been in Valdez Alaska and were surrounded by the color white from the swans, waterfalls, mountains and even a White Wedding. It was cool we are driving around looking for eagles which there were none and we pull in a park and get invited to a wedding. That came about because we were watching the ravens trying to figure out how to grab some food off of the pinic table we kindly said no but went off to hunt for more eagles or bears. We found out that they are not around yet.

What was around were powerful waterfalls. Keystone Canyon on your way into Valdez are where these can be found. I spent some time here playing with my Neutral Density (ND) filters on my camera until one got stuck when I tried to remove it. I then had to resort to trying to freeze the water rather than make it look smooth. The filter issue is ok it gives me a reason to stop in a camera shop in Anchorage. I was also intrigued by the water that was dripping out of the rock face on the other side of the road by Bridal Falls. I am easily amused. You can see by this picture if you look really close you will see the drip.

it’s left of the green middle of the picture.

I set up my tripod to accomplish this and did not even realize mosquitoes were loving me.

beautiful veil

You know how someone can step in front of your shot and you get irritated sometimes. I’m glad I didn’t. I had the opportunity to talk camera with a budding photographer and her aunt. She was on vacation from Montana and her aunt lives in Fairbanks. She talked about getting better lens and I mentioned the camera store in Fairbanks called Alaska Camera. It is always enjoyable being able to share with fellow photographers. Here is the picture from Bridal Falls.

I see the tail
White on white

We then headed back to town and stopped at the Horsetail Falls; the water was sure falling. We showed off the car in front of the falls which was fun. I think I made a car commercial. If that isn’t enough white, we added some swans. I had seen a swan sitting on what I thought was a nest on our way into town. I am so excited that I was right. So the next stop was to see if she had moved or not. She had not. It is amazing to watch the grace and care she took with her nest. Her is some information about the Trumpeter Swan

getting ready to sit
the male

I really hope they raise another wonderful family.

I enjoyed being able to spend 20 minutes just watching her take care of the nest and settle in to keep her eggs warm that I did just stop and watch. No bears and not many eagles but Valdez did not disappoint. In fact, I got a bonus with the setting full moon tonight from our campground. I would have not gone outside to even look but it is 2 am and we still have the same gull driving us insane. It did however get me outside to capture this.

Full Moon Setting

A PSA Announcement

No, not a public service announcement it’s a Photography Society of America Announcement. Sadly the PSA festival in Rapid City is over but there is always next year in Colorado Springs, CO. I do need to recap this week. We couldn’t have asked for better weather (ok a few clouds would have been nice.) It did rain on Saturday but this was all good.


Not knowing what to expect I arrived a day earlier walker in tow. (glad I had this and glad for a wheelchair in Denver.) Monday morning was a day to pick up registration and head over to a good ole fashioned chuckwagon at Fort Hayes near Rapid City. If the name sounds familiar that is where Kevin Costner. … Lieutenant Dunbar received his orders. It is also home to a small set of shops. We were able to come early and walk around the ground and take pictures. I just felt like trying my hand at B/W because of all the old equipment it lends itself to being shot that way.

Elvis Baby

I thought the show might be a tad hokey this is why Roy and did not do it this summer, he did not want to have me sit through it twice. It WAS NOT hokey, nothing is hokey when Elvis is involved. Yes, I was swooned by Elvis. I became fifty shades of red. Having my walker and using it as my chair I was seated on a corner. Elvis got off stage and came to me, I was able to compose myself to at least play with his red scarf. That alone was worth the price of admission.

having fun

It was a good dinner we had smashed potatoes, beans served upside down (gave us just the burps), chicken or beef, and desert. After all the food was gone it was time to get down to the show. As you can tell the crowd was excited. Other then Elvis we had MC Hammer, Willie Nelson, and others. I was impressed by some great fiddle playing from Tommy in Georgia. Here’s a photo of part of the band.

the band

So the week started out with a good meal and some embarrassment but that is the point of going on an adventure.

I was insecure about travelling and not knowing anyone so I asked a friend if she knew anyone who was going she said she could think of one but they might be very busy. Well, on Monday I was rolling through the hotel had not met many people yet so I decide to explore. Ok I was getting curious who else was attending. I walk by an open room door and see that there was a kitchen inside. So what do I do. I ask how do you rate I don’t have a kitchen, and other banter. We get around to introducing each other I say I’m Darcy. The response back was your Darcy. My thought was I didn’t do it, wasn’t me. Turns out that was JR the person who was supposed to find me. I think it was great that it all came together over an open door, and a friend who could not come. I also met Lisa (JR’s wife) and John and Kimber (more on them later).

This was my first time attending and I met so many friendly and amazing people. Wonderful how a common interest can bring people together from all over. I did the train, a sunrise in the Badlands, and Mount Rushmore. Each of these adventures is owed a story, here is a taste of the photos I took.

The Dog and Pony Show

I mean the Prairie Dog and Semi Wild Burro show all located on wildlife loop. Hanging around Custer and giving my long lens and arms a workout (I forgot how heavy the 150 – 600mm is), Roy and I decided to go hunt up some Prairie Dogs and maybe find some burros to add to the mix. We have gotten lucky with both seeing animals and being able to take the time to shoot them. I came prepared for the long haul, my chair, my ice vest, and camera now all that was needed was some cooperating animals. Before we set up shop to watch the Prairie Dogs a pack of burros and humans blocked our way.

That’s my Baby
Can I Keep Him

These burros are descendants of the original pack mules used in the park. Here is a link to another blog that also talks about the burros They were first used as work animals then were used to ferry passengers up to the top of Black Elk Peak (formerly Harney Peak). When trips were discontinued the burros were left to roam the park. The fact that their ancestors were accustomed to human contact, they have remained semi wild. This allows tourist to feed them (apples and carrots). This year has been very fruitful for the herd, as a fire damaged some of them a few years ago and they lost some to diabetes. So the babies are a welcome sight. It was funny how mellow the baby was but also how close mama was to her foal. I did pet the foal she was so soft. The photo of this little girl just happened (right place right time). I got lucky that I did not get kicked. I was telling all of the kids do not walk behind the burro so what do I do. Yup, walk close behind the burro. I was busy taking pictures and almost screamed when one of the adults nudged my arm I’m glad he didn’t like my camera. The burros decided to move on so it was time to go to town. (Prairie Dog Town that is.)

Prairie Dog Quartet
Having Fun
Hey Guy

So upon arriving I pull out my chair, don my vest, and grab the camera, i did not have to wait long until they were popping like whack a moles. I was also excited that I kept bouncing around to this hole and that hole. I finally settled down with a family of five mom dad and three little ones. The interaction was precious watching the sentry stand tall while the rug rats ran a muck. Then out of the corner of my lens I catch two lovers in the heat of the moment, ok maybe just foreplay. It all started with a hug, a coy gesture, some nibbles, and then the rest is up to you. Another mound held a mom and two babies who stuck together like glue. It was almost like a game of Simon Says. a behavior I tried to catch but always just missed was the way they throw food in the air and then jump after it. I was great at catching the landing. I spent a little over an hour photographing these cute little critters and look forward to more adventures with them. Roy and I have run across three other areas to set up camp with them.

Standing Guard
My Hole
Love is in the Air

The Dark of Night

After clouds, a thunder storm, some campground lights, and wrong locations I was finally able with Roy’s assistance to get some Milky Way pictures. June 11th was the night that both of us realized how dark the night is.  We even got lucky and had just a tad of light from a building which allowed for some semi natural light painting.  I will take any help I can get when it comes to lighting up the dark scenery.  We are returning tonight to the same area just a different position. 

I was spooked by the quiet of the night.  It was funny we were near water so every little plop I heard the hairs on my neck would rise up.  I lived in Florida so water + plop equals Alligator just saying.  So there were no gators only maybe a turtle or two, we did see a sign for turtles not gators.  I will say there were a couple of times during the night I did feel like I was being watched and it was not Roy’s eyes.  It was just almost like whatever it was might have been just curious, if not I would have been eaten.  I am not sure if this was intentional or not but I found that both of us were talking in hushed tones, it almost felt like when you were a kid and did not want to get caught talking in church.  Very peaceful and strangely refreshing.  I also tried my hand at some night landscape  that I need to work on that is also another beast in it’s own way. As we were getting ready to leave Roy asked if I wanted to leave my tri-pod there until tomorrow, I said no. Well I get all packed and put me seat belt on and say I’m ready to go. He asked are you sure. I had left my tripod I am so glad he looks after me. (this is after he couldn’t stop laughing).

So I am finding the internet does not work very well during the day, maybe that’s when we are supposed to be out exploring.  I did do a little bit of exploring earlier in the day due to internet not cooperating.  Custer State Park is broke up into three scenic drive areas 1. Iron Mountain Road (twisty turning) leads to Mount Rushmore.  This road also has pigtail bridges and one lane tunnels.  2.  Wildlife loop here you will find bison, burros, Prairie Dogs, and an occasional deer.  3.  Needles Highway there is a tunnel that feels like you are being threaded through a needle.  That isn’t how it got it’s name.  We will be driving each of these and I know I will have some pictures.

So before our night adventure began we decided to drive into the town of Custer. Yes, I bought a t-shirt. I also stopped in the visitor center where I got more travel books. I was also warned tongue in cheek – not to hang here during Sturgis unless I enjoy mega crowds. They are looking forward to it after last summer. After browsing through them I see a trip to Wind and Jewel cave in the future. Plus I found info on what to do when we are in Rapid City. After the adventure of the ‘big’ city we decided to head up to Sylvan Lake lodge (we were thinking dinner). The lodge was just too crowded and lacked parking. I was able to practice some landscapes and people scapes. So we took a short drive down the needles highway.

I do want to share a snippet or preview of one way traffic.  Coming down the Needles highway we approach a one lane tunnel, there is a little bit of a bottle neck. We could have gotten on the end of this round of going through the tunnel but we waited. So after four cars went through coming towards us we decide to inch forward. Picture this we are inching our way in the tunnel and this little car enters the opposite end. A true game of chicken. (Roy did not back down). It was cute watching the little car creep out in reverse.

So for dinner we ended up at the Blue Bell Lodge, they have the sweetest lean Buffalo. (Which probably roamed the grounds at one point. ) They advertise that it is from South Dakota. From here we headed home did some web surfing and started our night adventure.

I am posting some photos of the buffalo from our first night in the park

People of the Night

I do not mean vampires, although I do hear the howl of coyotes when I am out at night. We decided to travel out on a night with no moon it is the best time to see my new love, The Milky Way. Roy does not need to get jealous because I need him to drive on these dates. If you are interested in finding out when the best time to go and see the milky way is check out the Photopills App Our first stop of the night was off the I10 on Box Canyon road I had a great view of the milky way but any panoramas I would attempt would not work. So plan B head up to Joshua Tree National Park, there is a parking area near the Cottonwood Campground. This is becoming my go to spot when I’m in the park. So what about those people of the Night I mention.

We pull down the road and see one other car and see he is stargazing so we think. After I get set up, and take some photographs I notice that my foreground is not quite in sharp focus. I am also working on nighttime panoramas. I have my nodel rail which keeps the horizon in line. I added a rotator that allows me to advance my camera by a certain number of degrees so it is easier to stitch the pictures together. Before I had this I had to turn on a light and make sure the camera was moved correctly. Special gadgets make life easy. I then notice my foreground wasn’t quite in focus. So I pull out the big light so Roy can illuminate a tree I can focus on. I think at this point I captured the curiosity of the Night person I hear foot steps and a voice what are you shooting? I explained the milky way and some light painting. Like every night time person I’ve met out here in the night he was very friendly and helpful. I asked him what he was doing, he said is is more into astrophotography. He mentioned his set up was to photograph nebulas. Here is his website Orion Bear Astronomy enjoy his awesome pictures. His timer went off and Roy said when you come back he wanted to know what every nebula was.

Pointing at the a Star Cluster

He did return with his pointer and some amazing explanations, Roy said he was only joking he just can not see the shapes in the sky. I on the other hand said please go ahead. The Picture on the right shows the Sagittarius Star Cluster I think. I was just amazed at his knowledge. Unfortunately I got a lot of information all at once and some stuff did not stick. The cluster that I always bring out the pink purple colors is called the Lagoon Nebula. I also learned a few of the constellations that surround the milky way, one of this is the scorpion it does pop out once he traced it for me. I am interested in getting a pointer not sure I am ready to upgraded my camera for an astro set-up. We did talk that I might be able to use my long lens on a tracker and get some of the Nebulas out there. I will make that a next summer project. (JK)

Jupiter rising

Just talking in between shots we looked over and were able to watch Jupiter rising. I was able to capture it just coming over the mountain.

Epic light fail

Later in the evening I was trying to capture Cassiopeia I was not very successful I will however try that constellation later this summer. We also tried some light painting to see if that could bring more attention the the stars, that was an epic fail. I also had as you can see a plane fly through the scene. This was towards the end of the night of the night and the cold was effecting my brains. (my story).

I enjoyed meeting Anthony and was glad that he wanted to share his knowledge with me. We did call it a night and I went over to check his setup and thank him for opening my eyes to the night sky. I am now excited for the Griffith Observatory to open so I can get up close to the stars.