Snake Dance

rattlesnake, prairie

Western Rattlesnake : Prints Available

While working on the Prairie Thunder book, I came upon this coiled rattlesnake, who thankfully gave me plenty of warning. I made a few images with a long lens before we came to an understanding - I would need to back off. The snake slithered safely into the prairie grass, a magnificent creature just needing a little space. 

Stan warned us all to watch for snakes. Half an hour later, I found myself with a pissed off, coiled rattlesnake (like the one pictured here) between my legs. He gave no warning and I wasn’t watching for snakes as I was told, just walking around, looking around. The sound of the snake triggered a visceral fear and the response was some sort of hillbilly jig and a leap that may have broken a long jump record. I’m pretty sure the snake nailed my boot and I know I’m very lucky considering the nearest hospital was probably an hour away. I was working at TNC’s Phantom Canyon Preserve a couple of weeks ago with the Platte Basin Timelapse team. We were installing some new timelapse cameras in the canyon and a couple of GoPros underwater. Cool stuff. Thanks to volunteer Stan Woodring for the warning – next time I’ll pay attention. I promise.

Night Falls

boar's tusk, red desert

NightFall On Boar's Tusk : Prints Available

Clouds chased by winds aloft are lit by a bright half moon as night falls the week before summer solstice. The silhouetted Boar's Tusk is a geologic marvel and sacred place in the northern Red Desert. This volcanic monolith rises 400 vertical feet above the sagebrush desert adjacent to the Killpecker Sand Dunes WSA. Sweetwater County, Wyoming.

 

As golden light fades, time is suspended in purple and blue, stuck between light and darkness. It’s even more remarkable when the wind dies and nighthawks swoop overhead, calling mmmmeeep, mmmmeeep in a buzzing voice. Sage songbirds – Brewer’s and vesper sparrow, tinkling horned larks and blathering sage thrashers sing well into darkness and will be at it again at four in the morning. They’re no longer protecting territory from the sage tops, but sitting on nests in sagebrush, making a sweet racket under cover. Three or four coyotes howl a few hundred yards distant, maybe further, who knows how far sound carries out here? Rabbits and Wyoming ground squirrels scurry on open ground in the sagebrush forest. Suspended time. I’m walking and listening, smelling sweet, evocative sage – not the stuff we put in Thanksgiving dressing, feeling the warm breeze through my hair, and watching shades of purple turn blue, then blue-black. Summer solstice is around the corner and the rising half moon backlights clouds streaking across the sky as the Boar’s Tusk, a sentinel vertical chunk of volcanic stone turns to silhouette. In spite of the voracious no-see-ems ripping at my calves, it’s time to photograph before another late dinner and celebrate the purity of night in one of the rare places that gets truly dark and quiet – eventually quiet. There are no planes overhead, no traffic this night, just me and the Boar’s Tusk.

Yawn!

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Burrowing Owl Chicks in Early Morning Light. Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR, CO

Just stumbling upon this image made me smile today, so I thought I’d share it here. During the frenzied activity of a prairie summer, one can expect to see burrowing owl chicks popping from prairie dog burrows in mid to late June. I made this image of burrowing owl chicks from a portable blind just after sunrise on a June, 2005 morning. The yawning chick expressed my thoughts perfectly.

Backpacking Lost Creek – Colorado’s Granite Wonderland

Lost Creek, Tarryall

Lost Creek Granite : Prints Available

Climbing a granite crack to reach a view of the Lost Creek drainage, I exclaimed Wow! when I saw this perfect granite ball sitting on the granite bench. Lost Creek, home to the Tarryall, Kenosha, and Platte River Ranges, is a Colorado anomaly, the granite spires, domes, and twisted rock are the 'Yosemite of Colorado' and unique in the Rockies. This area is accessed via the Goose Creek trail.

Itching to get out over the Memorial Day weekend, we set out for the Lost Creek Wilderness, a wonderland of granite sprires, domes, and three mountain ranges reaching as high as 12,000 feet. It’s a popular early season spot when the higher mounatins are still buried under heavy snow, often getting more snow at the end of May. Our out and back trip from the Goose Creek trailhead was bluebird, and our camp in ponderosa forest rewarded us with the wonder of silence.

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Marla takes in the view high above Lost Creek. Lost Creek Wilderness, CO

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Lone Pine In Stone. Lost Creek Wilderness, CO

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Granite Study, Lost Creek Wilderness, CO

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Camp In Ponderosa Forest. Lost Creek Wilderness, CO

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Majestic Ponderosa Pine. Lost Creek Wilderness, CO

NatGeo Newswatch with LightHawk

Spotlight on the Roan Cliffs

My friends at LightHawk just published a nice “Behind The Lens Above The Ground” Waypoint article on their site and on National Geographic Newswatch. The theme is the aerial perspective is essential to telling a conservation photography story. I’ve flown a number of LightHawk missions for the Sage Spirit project and the Absaroka ILCP expedition, each for specific goals. The thing they have in common is the West is getting smaller with energy development exploding in the sagebrush ecosystem. LightHawk’s mission is to champion environmental protection through the unique perspective of flight. LightHawk is an ILCP partner and flies ILCP photographers for a wide range of conservation projects. I’m proud to work with Shannon Rochelle and their dynamic staff and fly with such a great team of volunter pilots who generously donate their airplanes, fuel, time, expertise, and enthusiasm to fly for conservation. Thanks LightHawk!

Flying Dinosaur

green river, echo park

Echo Park Aerial : Prints Available

 The Yampa River winds through Castle Park to its confluence with the Green River in Echo Park. The Yampa is Colorado's second largest body of water and runs wild, apart from a few small dams and diversions. The Green River starts high in Wyoming's Wind River Range and is the chief tributary of the Colorado - the most endangered river in America. Dinosaur is fascinating for it's geography, cultural and ecological significance, and diversity. It was also the scene of a major conservation battle over the proposed damming of Echo Park, with the Sierra Club and The Wilderness Society leading the fight to keep the rivers running free. Photographer Philip Hyde was commissioned by Sierra Club president David Brower for the book This Is Dinosaur in 1955 - he became the Sierra Club's primary conservation photographer. Thank you to LightHawk for providing the aerial support to fly this mission. 

I met LightHawk volunteer pilot Jim Grady at oh-dark-thirty in Grand Junction, CO last week to fly over Dinosaur National Monument in northwest Colorado. Jim and I flew together once before, over the Gunnison Basin last year, so I knew I was in for a great flying experience with a great plot. Jim has that kind, generous spirit that is typically LightHawk, and will stay out there as long as it takes to get the right images. I was excited to climb into his 1953 suped-up Cessna 180 with the huge window opening – the window just hovers, held open by airflow. My only worry was nausea-inducing turbulence, but there was none of that in the cool, stable morning air. Dinosaur has been on my radar for awhile for the significance of the wild rivers, cultural and conservation history, and its central role as the wild in northwest Colorado. I came to think of Dinosaur in a regional context when I photographed Vermillion Basin and Brown’s Park NWR a few years ago, areas that tie into the Dinosaur complex. Their protection bolsters the ecological sustainability in a region that is under heavy drilling development pressure that could turn Dinosaur NM into a protected island in a sea of industrialized drilling; an ironic twist when you consider the struggle between conservationists and politicians hellbent to dam Echo Park in the ’50’s. I’m mindful of the courage of David Brower, Philip Hyde, and Wallace Stegner as we soar over the confluence and peer into deep canyons slicing the wrinkled landscape of the Moenkopi and Weber Sandstone formations. Those early conservation greats found a way to make Dinosaur matter and kept dams out of all national parks and monuments. The modern threat fragments surrounding lands that sustain the ecosystem and steals millions of gallons of water for every fracked well. The threat may have changed, but the challenge to see the future is no different today than it was in the 1950’s. Continue reading “Flying Dinosaur”

Bluebird Day

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Eastern Bluuebird Males In Spring Snow, Jefferson County, Colorado

While walking Abby the labby yesterday, we came upon a big flock of eastern bluebirds who were unconcerned with us, maybe because of the miserable conditions. After our walk, I went back with my big lens and just kneeled in the snow, watching the birds fly and land all around me. They’re so colorful and animated – I could also see some with tail feathers hanging out of a horizontal hollow cottonwood branch. Birds flew in and out of the cavity, which I though held three of four of them, until 20 or 30 burst out at once. I suspect they were just huddling for warmth between sorties to gather a few seeds to make it through the storm.

April Showers

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Spring snow blankets ponderosa savannah in Jefferson County Open Space, Colorado

Holy cow! Yesterday’s snowstorm teased us most of the day, then dumped all afternoon and into the evening. Here on the west side of the metro area we received 10 inches or so. So, this morning I ventured out to a local open space near the Flatirons to make a few images, just fun stuff. Although this storm won’t be a drought ender, we’ll take what we can get.

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The local elk herd is usually around 40-50 animals, but it swelled to 100 or so with deep snow pushing them down from the foothills. Jefferson County Open Space, Colorado

New “Aspen Color” Photo Workshop!

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Exciting news! We’re ready to launch a new photo workshop in the heart of the Rockies – Aspen, Colorado. Let’s see, why is it named Aspen? It could be because of the amazing aspen forests in the White River National Forest all around the city – which makes for a remarkable fall color display. We’re teaming up with Aspen Meadows Resort, a wonderful full-service venue that’s perfectly situated for our field excursions around Aspen. The workshop dates are September 26-29 and the cost is $695 with a 10% discount if you book by May 15. Please contact me at (720) 351-0386 or email: dave@daveshowalter.com if you’re interested.

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