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Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa

Entries Tagged as 'South Dakota'

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Wild Horses and People‏

June 2nd, 2010 · 1 Comment

Unlike domesticated horses, many of which have suffered abuse at the hands of humans, wild horses will not intentionally hurt us. The horses and the humans were each inquisitive about the other, but neither were afraid. That was something really special in wildlife photography.

I was always comfortable around the mustangs that I went to South Dakota to photograph, even to the extent of laying down in their midst to photograph them so I could get the sky in the background. Perhaps, however, I did get too close to the stallions at one time when they were racing and fighting. I once saw two racing stallions literally crash through a group of grazing mares.

Karen Sussman, the president of the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros, was with us on Wednesday afternoon when the mustangs were exceptionally frisky. I had staked out a position quite close to them, and she suggested that for my safety I back off. I did, but only after getting my dramatic series in which one of the fighting stallions fell over backwards.

Karen herself moved in close to some mustangs that weren’t fighting:

Karen and Friends

Karen and Friends

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So did Weldon Lee, who led our photo safari:

This Mustang Was Weldon's Favorite

This Mustang Was Weldon's Favorite

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[Read more →]

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Posted in: Photography, South Dakota

Wild Horses: Fighting

May 29th, 2010 · 14 Comments

Nonviolence is central to my life. I haven’t even hit anyone since I was a kid, much less got into a fight, except when someone attacked me. And I don’t hit back.

So you might think that my interest in taking photographs of mustangs fighting is strange. I agree.

Still, little is more dramatic than a fight. And I knew from the time that I signed up for the photo safari in South Dakota that I just returned from that I wanted to photograph the iconic symbol of the wild mustangs — a fight between two stallions. I succeeded beyond my wildest dreams.

I count my chance to take these dramatic photographs as a success, because these shots combine the only two things that photography does. As novelist Larry McMurtry wrote, “Photography has flourished for a century and a half with only two real subjects: Beauty and bad news.” The mustangs are beautiful, and any fight is bad news for at least one of the participants.

Until my third and final day to photograph the mustangs I saw only a couple of fights. And those didn’t give me the chance to make good pictures for one reason or another, mostly because the fights took place in the midst of the herd. Other horses were between the stallions and my camera. But on Wednesday afternoon, as the weather warmed up, fights broke out again and again, and some of them were away from the herd.

I think that each of the first three of the photographs below feature different horses:

Ready to Fight

Ready to Fight

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This battle-scarred veteran on the left goes at it once more:

At War -- for Dominance and a Mare

At War -- for Dominance and a Mare

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As dramatic as these shots are, they were but the opening act. The real action started just before 4 p.m. on Wednesday and was over exactly three seconds later. I had fortunately staked out a position in the middle of the herd, and to my knowledge none of the other seven members of the photo safari captured the action. By having set my camera to fire continuously, I was able to capture the action in this series of six shots:

The Fight Begins

The Fight Begins

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Posted in: Photography, South Dakota

Wild Horses: Quiet Activity

May 28th, 2010 · No Comments

My second group of photographs of the wild horses that I photographed this week in South Dakota shows them engaged in some typical quite activities.

A Foal Grooms Itself

A Foal Grooms Itself

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Mutual Grooming

Mutual Grooming

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Flehming

Flehming

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Posted in: Photography, South Dakota

Wild Horses: At Rest‏

May 28th, 2010 · 7 Comments

The 525-mile drive back home from South Dakota kept me on the road yesterday for 15 hours. While I could have stopped some place in Wyoming en route, after being away for two weeks, I’ve got a lot to do here. One of the first things that I wanted to do was to review the photographs that I took of the Spanish mustangs during the previous three days.

Here is the first group of those photographs.

The Pasture

The Pasture

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Two Mustangs on the Horizon
Two Mustangs on the Horizon
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Two Friends
Two Friends
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A Proud Stalion

A Proud Stalion

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A Medicine Hat Horse

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A Nose

A Nose

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Grazing Under the Moon

Grazing Under the Moon

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A Foal at Sunset

A Foal at Sunset

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Posted in: Photography, South Dakota

Wild Horses‏

May 27th, 2010 · No Comments

Photographing wild Spanish mustangs in South Dakota was easy this week. Getting there was hard.

Driving more than 500 miles from my home in Boulder, Colorado, I arrived at the Cheyenne River Sioux Indian Reservation on Sunday. Attracted by the opportunity to participate in a photo safari to some of the purest wild horses in America, I stayed in a motel in the town of Eagle Butte at the center of the reservation.

These mustangs are descendants of the horses that the conquistadors brought to this continent 500 years ago. Feral for so many years, they are truly wild, never domesticated. They are also closely related to the prehistoric horses that had gone extinct on this continent thousands of years ago.

The mustangs live on the 680-acre ranch of the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros, 14 miles west of Eagle Butte.  We spent almost all of our time there photographing a band of mustangs rescued from the Gila River area of central Arizona.

“The combined historical and genetic evidence points to the fact that the Gila horses are the descendants of the true Spanish mustang,” concludes the society’s record of the horses that we photographed. Karen Sussman, the society’s president, told me that the band, which numbered 31 when they rescued them a decade ago, has now grown to 88 horses plus seven foals born in the past two months.

Weldon Lee led the safari. He is a professional specializing in the photography of wild animals. I had heard him speak twice to the Colorado Nature Camera Club, of which I am a member. Those talks convinced me that he knew how to photograph wild animals and to teach us some of his expertise.

Weldon’s photo safari was expensive, but gave me everything that I hoped to achieve. I wanted to learn from a master and did. And I also wanted to get some fine photos of wild horses and did. The key was learning patience in photographing wildlife.

We met in Eagle Butte on Sunday and left on Thursday morning after spending about 25 or 30 hours photographing the mustangs. In that time I took 1,000 images.

We were a small group of dedicated photographers. Three of us came from Boulder, including my friend Marge, who I know from church and from the Colorado Nature Camera Club, and her friend Connie. Two women friends from Minnesota, one of whom has been a lifelong friend of a woman from Eagle, Colorado, comprised the rest of the students. Weldon and his partner and co-leader Lori Huff brought the group size to eight of us.

The hardest part about getting to photograph the mustangs was the last mile of mud. Heavy storms just before our arrival and on Monday made the track treacherous.

A Big Storm Arrives on the Plains as We Left the Mustangs Monday

A Big Storm Arrives on the Plains as We Left the Mustangs Monday

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But even before this storm hit, the track through the ranch to the mustangs was barely passable. We went in a convoy of three vehicles, including Weldon’s Jeep, my Toyota Highlander SUV, and a van that one of the women from Minnesota owns. The van got stuck in the mud.

Weldon drove back to the ranch and found a ranch hand who brought a truck to try to tow the van. But the wheels just kept spinning and digging in deeper.

Stuck in the Mud with the Mustangs

Stuck in the Mud with the Mustangs

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Then we all helped by pushing. That worked, but got us rather muddy.

Evon and Connie Got the Worst of the Mud

Evon and Connie Got the Worst of the Mud

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The mud caught me too, but not so much. That was the last day our party took the van to the ranch. After that, the eight of us piled into the two four-wheel drive vehicles for the final four trips we made there. My SUV slide around a lot in the mud and is now covered with mud splatters up to the roof, but never got stuck.

A Better Sunset on the Plains Near the Mustangs

A Better Sunset on the Plains Near the Mustangs

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And fortunately the weather improved on Tuesday and Wednesday, and most of the land dried out. The six hours that we spent watching the mustangs on Tuesday afternoon was in fact one of the most perfect days out in nature that I have ever enjoyed. I spent much of my time sitting or lying on the grass watching and photographing those magnificent creatures.

I was able to get all the photographs that I wanted of the mustangs doing their thing, whether it was eating grass, standing around, sniffing the air, running, mating, suckling, or fighting. The herd had been largely peaceful until our evening photo safari on Wednesday when the stallions got a lot more frisky and fighting broke out again and again. I had earlier despaired of getting the iconic shot of two stallions facing off on their two hind legs, but my first photo safari reached an appropriate crescendo.

Now, I have a little more hard work to do in reviewing the photos that I took and select the ones to show you. Soon.

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Posted in: Photography, South Dakota

Foster Bay Birds‏

May 24th, 2010 · No Comments

As I drove through South Dakota from the Badlands to the Cheyenne River Sioux Indian Reservation on Sunday I noticed a sign along the road, “Foster Bay Public Access, 6 Miles.” My map didn’t show any Foster Bay, but my first thought was “birds.”

So that’s where I stopped. Foster Bay is where a dam forms a lake on the Cheyenne River. The river is the southern boundary of the Indian reservation where I am staying this week.

And like most bodies of water on the prairie, Foster Bay attracts birds.

As I approached the bay I got a glimpse of a colorful bird that I had never seen before. But I didn’t get my camera ready in time for a shot.

When I reached the bay white pelicans were flying over head. I got this shot of one just as it landed:

Landing on the Lake

Landing on the Lake

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Then, as I left, I kept a sharp look out near the area where I spotted the colorful bird earlier. This time I was quick enough. The bird turned out to be a ring-necked pheasant. It happens to be the state bird of South Dakota.

A Ring-necked Pheasant

A Ring-necked Pheasant

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The prairies mean birds. And Foster Bay means some beautiful birds.

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Posted in: Photography, South Dakota

Badlands‏

May 23rd, 2010 · No Comments

Badlands National Park was until Friday one of the few national parks in the west that I had never seen. The chance to explore it and Wind Cave — these are our two national parks in South Dakota — was what first led me here.

Every park is different, and Badlands is much more different than most. It is a region of savage erosion, almost a moonscape in its barren desolateness. It is beautiful in its own strange way, a landscape of spires, buttes, and canyons.

Here are six of the photographs that I took in this wild place. More than most photographs, they speak for themselves.

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Posted in: Photography, South Dakota

Bear Country U.S.A.‏

May 22nd, 2010 · No Comments

As I left the Black Hills on Friday afternoon, I made one more stop just eight miles before I got to Rapid City, South Dakota. Bear Country U.S.A. is a drive-through wildlife park with a lot of black and grizzly bears and quite a variety of other wildlife.

The animals roam free in 250 acres of natural Black Hills habitat. It is the people who are caged in.

The park requires all visitors to stay in their car with their windows closed. I obeyed the first part of their requirements.

I could drive quite close to the wild animals. And with my 300mm telephoto lens connected to my 1.4x teleconverter on my camera’s APS-C sensor I was able to pull them in about as close as with a 700mm lens.

Like these shots:

A Bighorn Sheep

A Bighorn Sheep

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An Arctic Wolf

An Arctic Wolf

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An Elk

An Elk

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A Skunk

A Skunk

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And, of course, a bear:

A Black Bear

A Black Bear

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Posted in: Photography, South Dakota

Custer State Park‏

May 22nd, 2010 · No Comments

Custer State Park feels like the center of the Black Hills. The park is actually at the southeastern side of the Black Hills.

But this large state park is more than 70,000 acres of forest and meadow with probably more wildlife than than all the other nearby hills. To me the prize is one of the world’s largest herds of free-roaming bison (American buffalo). More than 1,500 of these dark, huge animals find shelter in the forest and fodder in the meadows.

The meadows are like a large, long glade of rolling grassland. Even better, the Wildlife Loop Road runs through it for 18 miles. I took that route again and again for each of the past four days. On most of those days I went out at sunrise and sunset and visited other sites during the rest of the day that I wrote about earlier.

To me, visiting Custer State Park was the most rewarding part of my trip to the Black Hills. I feel this because it brought me closer to nature.

Seeing buffalo was what I most wanted to do. And I did.

The shot that I like the most is less than technically perfect. Early one morning in a dense fog I saw hundreds of buffalo on both sides of the road and on the road itself. But on the skyline what really grabbed my attention were this pair:

A Pair of Buffalo

A Pair of Buffalo

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Here is another skyline shot of another buffalo on another, better day:

On the Skyline

On the Skyline

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A Pause While Drinking Mud

A Pause While Drinking Mud

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[Read more →]

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Posted in: Photography, South Dakota

Jewel Cave‏

May 21st, 2010 · No Comments

Just 25 miles separate Wind Cave from Jewel Cave. But the two caves aren’t at all alike and are almost certainly not connected.

I visited Jewel Cave National Monument on Friday morning. I took the 1/2 mile 1 1/4 hour scenic tour in which we climbed up and down more than 700 steps.

We saw only the smallest fraction of this immense cave. Jewel Cave now ranks as the second longest cave in the world (after Mammoth Cave in Kentucky) with 150 miles of mapped passageways.

But even that is probably only about 2 percent of the total volume of the cave. That’s based on how much the air volume that the cave “exhales” when the outside air pressure drops and “inhales” when the outside air pressure rises, according to Wikipedia.

Wind Cave, of course, breathes too. But Jewel Cave is cooler (49 degrees) and not quite as humid (95 percent humidity). Wind Cave has lots of boxwork formations, while calcite crystals that covers much of Jewel Cave’s walls.

When two South Dakota prospectors discovered Jewel Cave in 1900, they mistook the calcite crystals for jewels, hence the cave’s name. But while the cave’s formations have no monetary value, they have great otherworldly beauty.

I’m still marveling at the rich colors I saw down in a place of absolute darkness. Here are some of the photographs I took to show you:

A Yellow Flow

A Yellow Flow

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Like Many Fingers

Like Many Fingers

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A Stalactite Like a Hard Carrot

A Stalactite Like a Hard Carrot

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The Bacon Formation

The Bacon Formation

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A Red Crystal on the Cave's Ceiling

A Red Crystal on the Cave's Ceiling

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Exploration of the cave continues. But I won’t be one of the spelunkers. I’m still too big.

“Only the grittiest skinniest cavers in the world…can…get past a 1,800-foot-long section of the cave known as the Miseries, because of how grueling and impossibly cramped it is,” one visitor explained. “After the Miseries, what they discovered was even more fun — the Mini-Miseries. Don’t want to have a fear of being buried alive when you come near it. Surpassing and triumphing over the Mini-Miseries in their explorations brought them face to face then with what a true challenge is — the Calorie Counter, where for 200 feet, you have to bellycrawl and wriggle through an opening only 7 inches high.”

Some people might consider that a fun vacation. The half-mile I walked was enough for me.

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Posted in: Photography, South Dakota