Sunday, June 21, 2009

Busy Saturday

It was Friday night and I knew the weather was going to be a challenge Saturday.

As my alarm sounded Saturday morning, I slowly arose and went to a window to find that my concerns were coming true. The skies were gray and overcast, and rain was threatening. The day begins...

My friend Rick and I had a full schedule of places to go and things to do. Every time that I do not drive it feels like I have to move. I have my camera, laptop, tripod, power inverter, safety gear, jacket, etc.. etc... Good thing Rick also has a large vehicle.

Even though I had attended the Mile High Hook and Ladder event in Littleton before, finding a large number of Fire Departments in attendance to contribute to the parade down Littleton Blvd to downtown Littleton's Main Street, this year proved quite a disappointment. In addition to the dreary overcast and misting skies, the parade was lucky to have lasted 10 minutes, and that may be generous. In years past many departments proudly displayed their equipment to the people lined up along the parade route. I would assume that due to the tight municipal budgets in our staggering economy, many departments failed to attend this year.

As Rick's primary photographic focus today was on the apparatus that departments were showing off to the public, his rewards were few to almost non-existent. I usually try and focus my efforts elsewhere, but I do occasionally take shots of this nature.

The parade gave way to a Fire Muster event on the grounds of the Arapahoe Community College. Even though the crowds were decent, the parking lots that have been full in past years remained mostly empty of the fire equipment that we were there to shoot. The departments that were in attendance, attempted to create an atmosphere that would be of interest for the children and they also provided some exhibits and demonstrations.

My camera had been somewhat active during this event, but there were no shots that I would plan on using.
So on to the next event on the schedule...

We made the trek up Highway 285 to the Inter-Canyon Fire & Rescue's Station 1 in Jefferson County. They were providing the community with an Open House to display some of their equipment, familiarize citizens with their local fire department and answer any questions. It always helps attract folks when you are serving coffee and donuts.

All of the members of the volunteer department were very friendly and were more than willing to give you any information that you wanted. Some of the members of this department have full time jobs with Denver metro area fire departments. Inter Canyon provides coverage to local residents of 60 square miles of Jefferson County, including a stretch of Highway 285.

Rick was able to get all of the shots that he wanted to get, and I was able to get some different shots that I will be posting over the next few days.

Thanks to all of the members of the Inter-Canyon Fire & Rescue for welcoming us and their courtesy.

I want to also thank Christian of the Jeffco 6A Troop of the Colorado State Patrol. He had stopped by to introduce himself and meet with some of the firefighters. He was kind enough to let me shoot his vehicle for our Colorado State Patrol group on Flickr.

Although I would have preferred sunny weather with some blue sky, the lighting from overcast skies sometimes is preferable for photography. I was able to get a few shots that made this stop worthwhile.

Okay, so far we had ventured from my home in Wheat Ridge to Littleton in Arapahoe County, the foothills of Jefferson County, and now we were en-route to Boulder. I told you that we had a lot on the plate...

The skies were persistently overcast to this point and were now becoming more ominous with the afternoon heating and scattered thunderstorms building to the west.

As we approached our final planned stop of the day, the skies were buzzing with aircraft. Although most of the main events at the Boulder Municipal Airport were held in the morning, including a hot air balloon launch, skydiver demonstration, and a flyover by a MiG-17, we were still able to catch the aircraft exhibition area. This was all part of the 4th Annual Airport Day and Open House.

Although Rick had planned on being able to catch the Boulder Fire Department and the Boulder Emergency Squad displays that were scheduled to appear, he was somewhat disappointed when they were not there.

Oh well, there were plenty of other things to our liking to catch some shots of. I know that I was not disappointed.

Once we entered the airport, my eyes were immediately drawn to some of my favorite aircraft. Helicopters!!

The Army Blackhawk Helicopter stood proudly on the tarmac on the west end of the airport.

Even though it was getting to the end of the open house, there was still quite a few people milling around exploring the aircraft, but the majority were in and around the dark military helicopter.

Unfortunately, I am not a pilot, but I have flown in helicopters many times, and I do so at every opportunity. I love it.

A Grumman TBM 3 Avenger was also a crowd pleaser. This large 1942 airplane is 1 of only 16 still flying today. It was designed to carry either torpedoes or bombs and carried a crew of three. For air to air combat, the plane had three (.50 cal) machine guns, one in the turret and one on either wing.

And if you are interested in owning your own single engine turboprop airplane, the Swiss made Pilatus PC-12 NG goes for a cool 4 million dollars.

I seriously thought about putting in an order, but I decided to wait until I win the lottery...

But if you are interested in more of a classic passenger aircraft, you could have perused a 1943 Beechcraft SNB-5/ UC 45 J. This airplane is privately owned, however you could purchase a ride for $75.
There were also a few other airplanes that we did not have time to look at.
All in all, it was a good day. The weather could have cooperated a little more, but you have to go with what Mother Nature deals you.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Pawnee National Grasslands

Experiencing the Grasslands for the first time, although vast and beautiful in its own way, lacked the life and color that I knew could be present in this place......

That was in October of last year. I promised myself that I would return in the spring.

Well, here we are. Once dominated by large populations of deer, antelope, elk and buffalo, and scarcely populated with Indians and fur trappers, these lands have been through quite a transformation over the years. With the railroads push west, homesteaders trying to make a home to ranch and farm, as well as the droughts that have periodically hit, the area has forever been changed, impacted my man.

With my last visit almost being an accident, I was not completely prepared for the trip. Being both short on daylight and on fuel my time was cut short. I knew that the next time I visited this place that I would be prepared with more information as well as a full gas tank.

It was Friday May 29th when I contacted the National Forest Service/ Pawnee National Grassland office in Greeley. The nice woman who answered the phone, Melissa, was full of information and was kind enough to offer to leave me information on the Grasslands for me to pick-up on Saturday even though their office was closed. Thank you Melissa!

After getting an early start and picking up my information in Greeley, the expedition was on.

The drive east on Highway 14 out of Ault was at first was nothing remarkable, but then primrose with their white blooms began to highlight the green grasses and fields along the way. I knew that I had arrived. Colorado Hwy 14 provides access to most all areas of the National Grasslands. Just keep in mind that the Grasslands are intermixed with areas of private property. Make sure to get a map of the area.

Even though I had driven by the Crow Valley Campground on my last trip, I knew that I wanted to stop this time from reading some the information that I had received from the Greeley office. The campground was supposed to be a great area for bird watchers. As I pulled into the parking area, I heard bird song from trees lining the road and my eyes were drawn to a hawk flying overhead.

Although I am not a bird watcher, and I am lucky to be able to identify just a few well know species, my interest was spurred by a group of several people near the trees with binoculars. I always carry a pair of binoculars in my truck, so I grabbed them and my camera and went to see what was attracting their interest. Upon reaching the group, with a Colorado State Park Ranger in attendance, they pointed out several Robins and a Rose-breasted Grosbeak jumping from limb to limb and tree to tree feasting on small nodules on the underside of the leaves. My binoculars provided a nice view, unfortunately however my camera was not outfitted for the task of grabbing close-ups. The Grasslands are home to home to 301 bird species.

I was able to break out the camera and photograph a nice yellow wildflower, and Prickly Pear Cactus. The morning light provided a wonderful glow to both of my shots.

The campground was also home to an outdoor farm implement museum named after Lee and Dorothy Rhoads. This also provided several photo opportunities of some the equipment that was once used on their farm. Although I was not completely happy with all of my shots, there were a few that I decided to keep and use.

With some of my Flickr friends using HDR on a regular basis, I decided that it would be a great opportunity to break out the tripod and take advantage of the scenery and try some more of them myself.

The grasslands, buttes and deep blue skies with building afternoon scattered thunderstorms proved to be an excellent time to use that technique, as well as just single shot photography. They both provided excellent landscape shots.

On my last visit, I had noticed all of the wind turbines up on a butte in the distance, (as seen above) and I made a note that I was going to get a closer look the next time I was there. At the time I did not realize the size and the scope of the Cedar Creek Wind Farm. With having more time and obviously more beautiful photography conditions, I was able to get an up close look at the many wind turbines that are part of this expansive wind farm. What an incredible sight!! With the fertile land actively being farmed and also serving as pasture land, it made for quite a picturesque view. It is definitely worth the visit; however stay on the county roads, all of the wind farm lies on private property.

Going farther east you will discover the Pawnee Buttes area of the Grasslands. Here you will find access roads and some trails that are open for hiking and horseback. The scenery here takes on a slightly more desert look with the sedimentary butte rock formations, cactus, lizards, and snakes in plentiful supply. Ahhh, another opportunity for some HDR shots!

The trip to the Pawnee National Grasslands has been rewarding. Spring provides lots of color and beautiful skies, and although at first glance animal life appears to be sparse, the Grasslands are full of life. Take a look. I know that I will return.