storm

Night Storm, Wyoming High Plains

Night Storm, Wyoming High Plains

Night Storm, Wyoming High Plains

Harbinger of much-needed moisture for the shortgrass of the remote ranching country of eastern Wyoming’s High Plains, a 2 a.m. thunderstorm’s lightning strike softly illuminates the contours of the land. Such storms spelled problems for ranchers in the past, turning back roads into greasy, impassable swamps, but with the bittersweet boom of the new oil and gas bonanza has also come newly improved roads that provide a never-before-seen ease of access to the backcountry for residents.

Such thoughts never occurred to me until those same roads allowed me to get home on Saturday after the rains turned the Lusker Ranch road into, well…soup.

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Lost Springs Storm

Lost Springs Storm

Lost Springs Storm

Thursday night last week was one of those magical evenings when, as Ansel Adams was fond of saying, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” I had been to Lost Springs a number of times to photographically explore, but as storms rolled across east-central Wyoming near evening, I came back with the expectation of something…special. Chance, indeed: A train rolled through town, allowing life in the shot, and as a gift, the storm gave me a lightning bolt.

 

 

Dunes and Winter Storm, Alamosa County

Dunes and Storm, Alamosa County

Dunes and Storm, Alamosa County

I returned from the great American Southwest late yesterday, over 3,000 miles and 11 days in my pocket. My students and I held communion with some of the most spiritual and visually stunning places imaginable, such as Chaco Canyon, Mesa Verde, Canyonlands, and Arches. It’s an excellent way to be reminded of what magical places sit at our doorstep here in the West.

The image above was one of the first I made: a winter storm beginning to clear over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in southern Colorado, the Great Sand Dunes shivering beneath the cold and wind of the clouds.

Billboard, San Luis Valley

Billboard, San Luis Valley

Billboard, San Luis Valley

What is the role of water in the West? That is beyond the scope of a simple blog post and image, and more the subject of innumerable books, articles and documentaries that still have failed to capture completely a vastly complex topic. But I’ve thought about water for a long time, and the Keystone XL Pipeline problem in Nebraska, as it tried to cross over one of the West’s great water reserves, spurred me to begin looking in earnest for images that expressed this conflict.

This is my favorite. It captures so many pieces of the conflict in interesting ways, and it’s an image of which I am very, very proud. Seemingly simple, it masks a complicated and faceted composition that took me more than 72 hours to create.

Ranch and Storm, Park County

Ranch and Storm, Park County

Ranch and Storm, Park County

I have a habit of venturing out into the worst kinds of weather: blizzards, electrical storms, violent thunderstorms. Why? Bad weather makes good photographs. So as powerful thunderstorms charged with strong lightning moved east of our cabin in central Colorado, I jumped in the truck and sped toward them, hoping for strong evening light as a visual emphasis as the sun broke beneath the clouds.

I turned onto a muddy forest service road, threw the truck in 4H, turned my back to the sun, and composed my shot–and waited. And with the last gasp of daylight, the sunlight broke from the clouds and lit the ranch. Magic, I say. Magic.

Abandoned Homestead, Douglas County, Wyoming

Abandoned Homestead, Douglas County

Abandoned Homestead, Douglas County

I have been asked myriad times why I tend to emphasize a sense of loneliness and isolation in many of my photographs, and I’ve pondered an appropriate answer for years.

Unsuccessfully.

In a previous post, I wrote how so many photographers admit the scene or location or emotion is speaking through them, but that as the artist, such symbiosis happens unwittingly. Just such an occasion here, I found this decaying homestead atop a lonely treeless hill in windswept eastern Wyoming during a spring squall, and before I knew it, I was making an image.