Clear night skies

June 14, 2015

Milky Way rising.

Milky Way rising. (Click on images to enlarge)

When a storm passes through and the sky clears, it really clears. We had the usual afternoon thunderstorms, pretty heavy on Saturday. Usually it’s quite dry, but not this year. Since the canyon is a large black abyss at night without any moon, when the Milky Way rises it’s the sensation of being out in space. The trees and rock formations on the Bright Angel Point make for some interesting shapes. I experimented more with close-ups of plants, which I’ll post later.

Really dark sky.

Really dark sky.

The GC Star Party, with a tremendous view.

The GC Star Party, with a tremendous view.

Earlier in the evening the Grand Canyon Star Party got off to a start for the first of eight nights of stargazing. There was a lecture in the Grand Lodge auditorium and several telescopes were set up on the main veranda. The star party happens in June around the full moon, a much larger one runs at the South Rim the same dates. The North Rim party is organized by the Saguaro Astronomy Club from Phoenix and the South Rim by the Tucson Astronomical Society. Dean Ketelson, mentioned in yesterday’s post, was a founder of the South Rim party.

Looking out through the Supai Tunnel

Looking out through the Supai Tunnel

In the morning I hiked a short way down the North Kaibab trail, which leads all the way to Phantom Ranch at the Colorado River. Many hikers start or end on this trail if they are going “rim to rim” or prefer this route to the more crowded South Rim trails. I was planning neither. I hiked about 1.7 miles to the Supai Tunnel, which is a water stop. Along the way I took notes about the best views and what would make good shots at night. Lots of people were doing day hikes and since mules caravans use the trail, one had to dodge mule poop. It was great to see the canyon from another perspective, even though I didn’t go very far.

 

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Highest Point

June 13, 2015

The summer triangle and a greenish glow from Point Imperial. (click on photos to enlarge)

The summer triangle and a greenish glow from Point Imperial. (Click on photos to enlarge)

On these trips I usually scout out good viewpoints during the day to check which part of the sky I can see (north, south, east or west) and to see what’s there– level or rough ground, railings or no railings, is there a trail to the view, etc. Point Imperial, 8 miles east of the cabin was promising. At 8,803 feet, the highest point in the park, it was a truly panoramic view of the canyon and the surrounding high desert. Good views to the southeast potentially would produce nice photos of the Milky Way rising over the canyon. I returned at night to see a string of lights stretching from the north to the south along the horizon. The point is so high you can see the lights of Arizona towns many miles away. In the photo above you can see the glow from Page on the left, from the Gap and Tuba City to the left of the pine tree and assorted small settlements on the right. Very disappointing if you are trying to capture the natural landscape and the sky without any artificial lights.

But there are lots of thing going on in this photo. Glow from artificial lights are reflected off low clouds. You can see the Summer Triangle, three stars: Deneb, Vega and Altair just above and to the right of the small pine. Deneb and Altair form the base of a triangle with bright Vega at top. There is some greenish glow to the right of the pine tree, I keep thinking it’s a rare sighting of an aurora. My friend Dean Ketelson reminded me earlier there is something called sky glow, which I think is ionized gasses producing a greenish glow that digital cameras can pick up. I kept the color in the photo since it looks so eerie. Part of the summer Milky Way escapes the clouds and arches to the right.

Inside my cabin.

Inside my cabin.

Finally got some photos of the cabin after I tidied up. This is a super-wide fisheye view from the front door of the ‘main’ room, which is a work room and kitchen. The big logs that make up the building are great. Through the door in the center is the bedroom and a bathroom is to the left as you go in the door. Lots of nice light and generally quiet.

The Big Dipper, Arcturus and Spica.

The Big Dipper, Arcturus and Spica.

Here’s another shot from Friday night showing the Big Dipper’s familiar shape and it’s handle pointing to the giant red star Arcturus (“arc to Arcturus” is how people remember) and bright Spica on the left. A thin haze left from a passing storm causes these bright stars to really stand out from the countless number that usually show up in pictures.

Big storm in the distance.

Big storm in the distance.

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Condor sighting

June 12, 2015

Plants lit by the moon.

Plants lit by the moon. (click to enlarge image)

I heard a condor yesterday, or rather felt it. I was at the Cape Royal overlook, about a 20 mile drive from the cabin scouting out locations that would make good night photos. It was just me and two other young men on an outcrop of rock, I heard a whooshing sound like wind through trees. Suddenly the sound was directly overhead then ahead of me, like the Doppler effect of a car or plane. I looked up and saw the huge wingspan of a black bird receding in the distance – a California condor. It had glided on an updraft and flown over the viewpoint astonishing me and all the visitors. I, of course, was too startled to take any photos. But the North Rim information guide says the condors are making a comeback after almost disappearing in the 1980s.

The moon is a great source for illuminating big landscapes at night. In photographs the light can enable you to see details of the earth while still seeing the stars. The main problem is you have to go by the moon’s schedule. Last night/this morning it meant waking up at 1:30 am and heading out to Bright Angel Point for the 2:25 am moonrise. It rose looking very orange from haze on the horizon, casting a warm glow over the formations. The air was very still so I experimented with shooting a close-up of a plant (picture above). The exposures are 15 seconds long, so the slightest breeze can blur the subject, it was remarkably calm so the plants came out very sharp.

Moonlight on the rocks.

Moonlight on the rocks.

South Rim Village lights glaring on the horizon.

South Rim Village lights glaring on the horizon.

This looks like a pretty good view to me but maybe a better one 100 yds down the trail.

This looks like a pretty good view to me but maybe a better one 100 yds down the trail.

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North Rim, the Grand Canyon

June 11, 2015

Me in the Volunteer outfit in front of the artist cabin. The canyon is off to the right side. (Click on images to enlarge)

Me in the Volunteer outfit in front of the artist cabin. The canyon is off to the right side. (Click on images to enlarge)

After driving through occasional downpours on my way from Flagstaff, I arrived to a sunny North Rim on Wednesday afternoon. I’m here for three weeks as the artist-in-residence, a great honor since they only picked five for the summer season. Ranger Robin Tellis filled me in on the details and issued me volunteer uniform tops (long and short sleeves), a fleece jacket, a rain jacket and a cap. Plus an Artist-In-Residence name plate. I’m semi-official looking, though I hope no one asks questions about the Vishnu Schist or various layers in the canyon.

A cloud floating UP out of the canyon.

A cloud floating UP out of the canyon.

They house the artist in a rustic cabin among the various cabins that the staff live in. It’s great, a nice work room/kitchen plus a separate bedroom. It’s also hard to beat the location, the cabin is about 100 feet or so from the canyon rim. I met my neighbors, rangers who work in different jobs around the north rim, all really friendly. I took a short walk along the Transept Trail, which goes along the edge of the rim. The view was pretty spectacular, no matter which direction you looked. Occasionally wispy clouds would float up out of the canyon like fog. I walked past some campsites next to the trail that had amazing views. It wasn’t quiet, the dull roaring noise was the wind blowing through the tall pine trees, but it was almost a relaxing sound. I hear it at night from inside the cabin. For the sunset I drove to the Visitor Center/Grand Canyon Lodge complex and walked out to Bright Angel Point, which looks out south, with views to the west and east. Orangish light illuminated the tops of the distant formations in the east while billowing clouds provided an equally amazing view to the west.

Sunset from Bright Angel Point.

Sunset from Bright Angel Point.

Sunset and Juniper branches.

Sunset and Juniper branches.

The sky cleared and it was a nice but breezy night for stargazing. I walked out to Bright Angel Point, just out from the Grand Canyon Lodge which is a really impressive historical hotel made from wood. Walking along the rim trail I looked through the pine trees and saw bright “clouds”, which turned out to be the Milky Way. Coming out on a clearing the whole expanse of the galaxy was seen. It was quite an impressive sight, every feature could be clearly seen. At over 8,000 feet and after the storm cleared through the air was nearly pristine. Around 1:15 am in the morning the clouds began returning and I headed back to the cabin.

The Milky Way arching across the southern sky.

The Milky Way arching across the southern sky.

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Grazing rights on Mars?

May 25, 2015

We have really met all kinds of people here in Cody and Powell and today we met the son of a man who applied for cattle grazing rights on Mars. That is the planet Mars, as it is referred to in 1946 documents. He was rejected and instead was offered land on Pluto. Russ Rauchfuss remembers growing up on the homestead established by his father and mother along the main highway between Cody and Powell. The May 19 blog had a picture of a red, white and blue tank next to a barracks building. Russ painted that in 1968 or ’69. But the real story for the blog is Herman, Russ’ father. Herman served as a pilot in the Pacific during WWII, returned to Wyoming and found himself one of the first recipients of a homestead in the Heart Mountain District and bought a barracks for $1.00. His wife was a model and stayed in Wyoming to help Herman work the land. Russ continues to live part-time in the house composed of a former barracks.

Mars grazing rights? (Click on image to enlarge, easier to read the clippings)

Mars grazing rights? (Click on image to enlarge, easier to read the clippings)

Clippings and a letter from 1946, articles from 1976 after the Viking landings on Mars.

Clippings and a letter from 1946, articles from 1976 after the Viking landings on Mars.

In February 1946 Herman and friend Henry Schmidt applied to the local office of the U.S. grazing service for grazing rights on Mars. Unfortunately they were rejected, but District Grazier James S. Andrews offered Herman and Henry rights on Pluto, described as approximately 3 ½ billion miles from Wyoming. Apparently they also expressed a desire to obtain the street car franchise on the Moon. The commissioner of the General Land office in Washington, D.C. wrote to tell Herman that “Neither of these proposed land uses is under the jurisdiction of this office”. So, not exactly a rejection from the precursor to the Bureau of Land Management. In fact, the commissioner left open the possibility that if “…lands on Mars, the Moon or other planets…” are designated public lands of the United States, the pair might have an actual claim! Read all about it in the many newspaper clippings saved by Russ.

Russ Rauchfuss in a former barracks building, used as a “honey house” for the family beekeeping business.

Russ Rauchfuss in a former barracks building, used as a “honey house” for the family beekeeping business.

As Sharon and I were driving on a small back road later in the day, we saw a small group of deer bounding through the brush off to our right. They came close to the road and stopped and stared at us as we drove. I stopped the car and the deer stood there, ears alert, just staring at us. It was quite eerie to see them close and not afraid. So we took a few pictures and drove on. I wonder what the deer were thinking?

Curious deer.

Curious deer.

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HM signs

May 24, 2015

Heart Mountain signs.

Heart Mountain signs. (Click image to enlarge)

Pouring rain limited our outdoors work yesterday to pretty much nothing. Got lots of editing done and organizing of the photos by subject matter. It was interesting to go over all the images to see how many homesteaders we photographed and how many barracks. Still need to work on getting the right light on a few scenes of barracks and Heart Mountain, maybe we’ll get better weather on Memorial Day.

In the meantime, I had shot a series of signs that incorporated “Heart Mountain” or a graphic image of the mountain a few days ago. The peak is very distinctive and it sounds like Heart Mountain has been used to refer to this region for quite a while. The May 20 blog has the Powell Tribune logo. Three of the signs in today’s photo are from Powell, the blue community sign that lines the main streets, the Skyline Café and Crosswalk Center, a Christian library. In Ralston, a tiny town between Powell and Cody are the Heart Mountain Hearing Center (which shares space in a former barrack building with St. Nick Knaks). Just down the road is the Heart Mountain Pub, which had two great signs, one that calls it “Jimmy’s Heart Mountain Pub” (above a taxidermy sign) and the other a nicely psychedelic version with our mountain peak at the center.

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Art of the Camps

May 22, 2015

Hatsuko Mary Higuchi talks about “Manzanar Guard Tower” and “Unfinished Business: Hardship and Suffering”.

Hatsuko Mary Higuchi talks about “Manzanar Guard Tower” and “Unfinished Business: Hardship and Suffering”. (Click on images to enlarge)

Sharon and I are really hitting the cultural circuit here. We attended an exhibit of art by Hatsuko Mary Higuchi Thursday evening at the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center. She was in the Poston, Arizona camp as a child and has recently done paintings and multimedia artwork on the incarceration experience. Many incorporate text or concepts like camp blueprints as the base of what she paints over. Higuchi gave a nice talk about her personal life that was followed by questions.

Afterwards, I asked her which Poston camp she was in; that particular camp was so large it was divided into three sections. My parents were in Camp 3, so was Higuchi’s family. She asked me if I knew a photographer named Sachi Cunningham, I said, yes, that I know her from the Asian American Journalists Association annual conventions. Sachi is Higuchi’s niece and we were both surprised by the coincidence.

Lois Spiering with son Kelly and daughter-in-law Sylvia, the daughters planting the garden.

Lois Spiering with son Kelly and daughter-in-law Sylvia, the daughters planting the garden.

Earlier in the day we met with Lois Spiering and her family. Her and her late husband Jim homesteaded and son Kelly still runs a farm on the family land. It’s increased now to over 600 acres. A daughter who just returned from college in Virginia couldn’t wait to get back to working on the farm. Kelly’s wife Sylvia said another daughter went away to school and said she missed the wind of the Big Horn Basin. “Who could ever miss the wind?” asked Sylvia. We took the portrait of Lois, Kelly and Sylvia with several of the daughters planting the garden, ponderosa pine trees planted as a windbreak by Jim almost 70 years ago towering in the background.

Early morning sun on the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center.

Early morning sun on the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center.

Even earlier in the day I got up to see the sky relatively clear and a chance to have some blue sky in the photos and not gray rainclouds. As I drove towards Powell, I saw an amazing sight, a layer of fog above farmland just below Heart Mountain. I pulled over to get some shots of the scene, then drove on to the Interpretive Center to try an idea I saw earlier in the week. The sun rose brightly illuminating the barrack shaped buildings and the mountain top.

The camp hospital boiler room smokestack on the right.

The camp hospital boiler room smokestack.

Just before the art exhibition, I wandered around the camp hospital boiler house smokestack, which still stands on a hill above the interpretive center, Heart Mountain visible on the horizon. The dramatic structure, preserved through work of local people, the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation and grants, provided endless opportunities in the late afternoon sun.

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Around Powell

May 20, 2015

The Bright family homestead sign. (Click on images to enlarge.)

The Bright family homestead sign. (Click on images to enlarge.)

We spent a few hours in Powell today and had lunch with Rowene Weems, the director of the Homesteader Museum. Turns out she is an avid photographer so we talked cameras for a bit. Back at the museum Sharon spent time copying many of the historic photos they have in their digital archive, so I walked around the town taking photos of all the Heart Mountain related signs.

Awning at the Powell Tribune.

Awning at the Powell Tribune.

The mountain is such a presence in the area it becomes an icon that people identify with. The distinctive silhouette of the peak shows up in many logos and signs. On the masthead and the front of the building of the Powell Tribune is a rendering of the mountain. I’ll post more in the next few days.

American Legion flag box.

American Legion flag box.

We had seen this mailbox earlier in the day outside the American Legion Hughes-Pittinger Post #26 and I returned to photograph it. Turns out it is not a mailbox, but a collection box for flags. Inside the door at the top of the box it states, “Not a mailbox”.

The sun, which we hadn’t seen in days, began to peak out from the clouds, so we took advantage and headed out to photograph the Bright homestead, where we were yesterday. They have a really whimsical sign hanging from a tree as you enter the property, calling their land, Bright Acres, Homesteaded 1949. (See top photo). In the whole scheme of things 1949 doesn’t sound very old, but the date is significant since it means they were one of the original Heart Mountain District homesteaders.

The Heart Mountain Interpretive Center.

The Heart Mountain Interpretive Center.

I’ve mentioned the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center but haven’t shown a photo of the whole building. It’s quite striking, resembling three barracks in a row in the dimensions of the original structures. This view to the southeast towards highway 14A give you an idea of the size of the museum and the setting among the farms on either side of the road. It’s a remarkable center and well worth seeing.

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Park County Historical Society

May 19, 2015

The line to buy an autographed book from Phyllis Preator. (Click on images to enlarge).

The line to buy an autographed book from Phyllis Preator. (Click on images to enlarge).

On Tuesday we find ourselves back at the Sunset House Restaurant just a few blocks from our rental house in Cody for a luncheon of the Park County Historical Society at the invitation of Ladonna Zall, a board member of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation and curator and docent at the interpretive center. We saw some familiar faces from last nights’ Pahaska Corral Westerners meeting. We were introduced as today’s guests and Sharon gave a plug for our homesteaders/barracks project. Phyllis Preator, author of “Behind the Shadows- McCulloch Peaks, Early History and Stories”, about the nearby mountain range, was the featured speaker. She was wore a striking fringed leather vest and recounted her early days in the area and riding horses in the McCulloch Peaks.

Three generations of Brights in the original homestead house.

Three generations of Brights in the original homestead house.

Later in the day we headed to the Bright homestead as rain began to fall in Cody. Harley and Alison Bright had homesteaded in 1949 but live in Powell now. Their son Gary and his family now live in his parents original home made from a barrack on the homestead land. Gary brought his parents to the house today and we got to meet most of the family. They knew a lot about the history of the Bright homestead and about the barracks that became the house. Gary’s wife Sharon showed us where the Japanese American incarcerees cut vents next to the window frames in the walls of the barracks for ventilation since the windows would not open. The vent was long covered on the outside, but the Brights had kept the screen in place and the small wood door that could close off the vent.

Inside door of a vent (open) on the right and closed on the left.

Inside door of a vent (open) on the right and closed on the left.

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Pahaska Corral of Westerners

May 19, 2015

The Pahaska Corral of Westerners during the Monday meeting.

The Pahaska Corral of Westerners during the Monday meeting. (click on images to enlarge)

We got home late Monday night, so I’m posting Tuesday morning. We attended the monthly meeting of the Pahaska Corral of Westerners at the Sunset House Restaurant in Cody last night. The featured speaker was Brian Liesinger, executive director of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, the group that runs the Interpretive Center. We had met Brian last week at the center and then in Shell where we photographed the barracks that the center plans to move to Powell.

According to the Billing Gazette, “The Pahaska Corral of Westerners is the local chapter of Westerner International, an organization dedicated to stimulating interest and research in the history of the American West.” We weren’t sure what the meeting would be like, but it turned out to be a nice dinner (no host) at the Sunset House. I bought Sharon and me a raffle ticket for $1.00 each to win a book on Wyoming mining, but we didn’t win. You are obliged to wear western duds, if you don’t you are fined one quarter. My denim Uniqlo shirt and Eastern Mountain Sports trousers didn’t qualify, so I placed a quarter in the jar, which you also contributed to if you cussed.

Before the dinner, Sheriff Jeremy Johnston (not an actual sheriff but the president of the corral) led us in a salute of a buffalo skull, which I think was referred to as Buffalo Bill. New attendees introduced ourselves, so Sharon was able to put a plug in for our project.

Brian gave a very nice talk on ‘misery” but weaved interesting connections with romanticized views of the west and hardships undergone by camp incarcerees, homesteaders and others. The audience of about 35 were receptive and asked many questions about the camp and its relation to the Cody-Powell region.

“Tiny” Collar by her home, a former barrack.

“Tiny” Collar by her home, a former barrack.

Earlier in the day we met “Tiny” Collar at her original homestead where the 88 year-old still lives in the former barrack transformed into a house. She described two of the storage buildings on the property as being reconstructed by her late husband out of reclaimed lumber from other barracks.

A couple of shots from Monday.

A patriotic tank next to a barrack with extensive renovations on the main highway.

A patriotic tank next to a barrack with extensive renovations on the main highway.

Tar paper peeling off a barrack at the Jolovich farm.

Tar paper peeling off a barrack at the Jolovich farm.

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Stars and discoveries

May 17, 2015

The Big Dipper points to Polaris near the roof of Laverne Solberg’s garage.

The Big Dipper points to Polaris near the roof of Laverne Solberg’s garage. (Click on image to enlarge)

We had a great day of discoveries in our search for barracks. Despite the cloudy weather, I observed the Big Dipper and Polaris this morning! Pulling up to Laverne Solberg’s house I looked up at the front of his garage and saw stars. Long ago while renovating the barracks that would become the garage, he had placed stars in the pattern of the Big Dipper, with the two stars in the ladle pointed correctly at Polaris. At first I thought the other stars were the Little Dipper, but they don’t form that asterism. I’ll have to find out what they represent.

Sharon wanted to video tape Laverne to include his thoughts in a documentary she is making about the homesteaders and the barracks. I made an attempt with my Sony a7S camera which produces a pretty high quality video. After that we used an invaluable list of barracks in the area made by Mac Blewer which had addresses, GPS coordinates and photos of what to expect.

An apartment building on Sixth Street in Powell.

An apartment building on Sixth Street in Powell.

One unusual use we saw was an apartment in Powell. Three units were made from a whole 120 foot barrack, situated on a quiet residential street in the town.

A black faced sheep curious about the camera lens.

A black faced sheep curious about the camera lens.

Our next destination was a farm north of the main highway between Powell and Cody. A few days ago we had seen a short barrack building in mostly original condition on the property that had two sheep in it. Today we met Lee and Jamie Bressler, the young couple who now own the property. Their daughter is raising lambs for her 4-H project. The lambs are adorable, they will walk up to you and sniff around like dogs do. One started to chew on my vest. The Bresslers were interested in the history of the barrack and Jaimie had learned about the Heart Mountain camp and the homesteading in history courses at nearby Northwest College. Part of their barrack was decaying so they had to tear it down a few years ago. But the lambs now occupy the remaining half. It was fascinating to photograph the details of the wood, the windows, even some tar paper still nailed to the exterior. Poking around in the dirt, Lee found some square nails used in the original construction and gave them to us. We were happy this turned out to be a productive day.

Jamie and Lee Bressler.

Jamie and Lee Bressler.

Square nails used in the original construction of a barrack.

Square nails used in the original construction of a barrack.

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Wyoming weather

May 16, 2015

Barracks and tree in meadow, Heart Mountain on the horizon.

Barracks and tree in meadow, Heart Mountain on the horizon. (Click on photos to enlarge)

Here’s another attempt to get the barracks with the tree in the best light. After waking before 6:00 am to catch the sunrise on the meadow, the front of the building was too dark. I returned about 10:00 and for a few minutes the light was nice on the barrack and dramatic on Heart Mountain. But maybe there are too many clouds in the shot. The light was either good on the barrack or good on the mountain, but rarely both. I’ll have to try again.

Cumulonimbus clouds forming east of Cody.

Cumulonimbus clouds forming east of Cody.

Wyoming weather is often quite dramatic and never boring. While waiting for the perfect light, I looked to the east and saw these spectacular clouds, which I wish were over Heart Mountain. In black and white the drama was enhanced, there are endless shapes and tones in the clouds.

Barbed wire shadow.

Barbed wire shadow.

So what do photographers do when they are bored? They take photos of anything in front of them. The barbed wire from the fence in front of me made a nice shadow on the wood post. I used at 50mm lens with a wide aperture that produced a very shallow depth of field. So your attention goes right to the shadow, but elements of background are still visible.

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Fresh Bread

May 16, 2015

Forrest Allen walks out of one of his storage sheds, a former barrack.

Forrest Allen walks out of one of his storage sheds, a former barrack. (Click on photos to enlarge)

The people sharing their stories with us become more interesting every day, at least to me. Before I arrived, Sharon met and interviewed some of the folks and has excitedly told me how wonderful these homesteaders are. On the main road to Powell lives 94 year-old Forrest Allen, who lives on the original homestead plot his family settled. He lived in a former barracks, but it burned down one day before the county got a fire truck. Neighbors tried to put out the fire with water from the irrigation ditches, to no avail. Forrest has three more half barracks on his land, all used for storage or workshops. They have corrugated steel siding over the exterior, but all have the original rough wood interiors and open ceilings. Cane in hand, he walked us around the various structures, a light rain turning into a brief downpour. Forrest took refuge in a three-sided structure that was once a barrack until the rain stopped. After an hour of hearing Forrest’s stories and photographing him, we had to leave for another appointment. I told Sharon we could make the whole book out of what I shot this morning.

Evaleen George and another loaf of freshly baked bread.

Evaleen George and another loaf of freshly baked bread.

And that was before we tasted Evaleen George’s bread. The spry 91 year-old still lives in the barrack her family got as homesteaders in 1947. She went into detail about the original dimensions of the building, where the interior walls were built as they turned it into their home and the additions they made. Many mementoes line her walls including an ink drawing by a daughter of Heart Mountain, dishes and stained glass of her beloved birds and large photographs of extremely large George family reunions involving hundreds of people. As I was photographing her by a set of pictures on a wall, a buzzer went off occasionaly. After a while, she got up and went into the kitchen and began taking loaves of baked bread from the oven. Seven loaves in all emerged. She cut two slices off one loaf, buttered them and offered us the pieces. Amazing. Evaleen said she can’t eat the bread from stores, so she makes bread about every six weeks and freezes the loaves.

Evaleen’s birds hanging in a kitchen window, framed by beautiful lace.

Evaleen’s birds hanging in a kitchen window, framed by beautiful lace.

In the afternoon we were interviewed by Ilene Olson at the Powell Tribune newspaper for an article about the project. Even the weather was interesting. On the way home we drove through a heavy thunderstorm, then heavy hail. A stretch of Highway 14A had so much hail/slush on the road that cars slowed down. It looked like an inch or two of snow.

Hail piles up on Route 14A on the way back to Cody.

Hail piles up on Route 14A on the way back to Cody.

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Sunrise on the meadow

May 14, 2015

Sunrise.

Sunrise. (Click on photos to enlarge)

The weather forecast for the next week here in Cody calls for on and off showers, thunderstorms with occasional sun, not optimum conditions for photographing the barracks. I woke at 6:00 am this morning and saw the sky was clear, even saw a pink glow to the east. So I dressed and drove out to the barracks north of Cody. The rising sun lit one end of the barracks and Heart Mountain in the distance, unifying the two elements. A barbed wire fence surrounding the meadow framed the picture. I experimented with various lenses and angles and hope you don’t mind if you see more of this same barrack as I try to get the best light on it.

Our destination today was Shell, about 70 miles east of Cody. We met Heart Mountain Interpretive Center executive director Brian Liesinger and facilities manager Kim Barhuag a few miles out of the town at the Iowa University Geology Field Station. A barrack that was used as a dormitory was being donated to the Center. The plan is to move it by truck to the Interpretive Center site in Powell, at the exact location where a barrack stood when the camp was in operation. It’s a tremendous task for the museum and they hope to complete the move in time for the annual pilgrimage in mid-August.

Brian Liesinger photographs the barrack.

Brian Liesinger photographs the barrack.

We drove up and saw a full, 120 foot long barrack situated between large piles of dirt and near the completed construction of new dormitories. It’s striking to see the full length of one up close and then you realize several families were crammed into this modest space. The structure had been covered with wood shingles and various layers of tar paper were added to the roof, but the basic frame, walls and windows were in place. Only part of the interior had the sparse look with exposed studs and open lattice of wood supports under the roof. But you felt the history of the building all around. Brian looked at the hardwood floor and said this was probably an administration building since the living quarters barracks had cheaper floors with gaps between the wood.

Dolan Scheron on his farm.

Dolan Scheron on his farm.

Brian and Kim interviewed the neighbor, Dolan Scheron, who lived there when the barracks arrived on the adjacent property. He wasn’t a homesteader, so unfortunately he won’t be in the book, though Sharon and I really hope to find a way since he has a great smile and look at those Caterpillar suspenders!

The cut between sections of the barrack.

The cut on the floor between sections of the barrack.

One thing we wondered was how did they move a 120 foot long building? Well, turns out they didn’t, the barracks were literally cut in half or thirds, depending on how long the moving truck was (60 feet or 40 feet). (Most homesteaders used a hand saw, apparently you ask and they answer, “It took about two days.”) And between two of the ‘rooms’ in this barrack you could see the floor was cut in two. We hope to return to Wyoming to see the barrack being moved back to its home.

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The Blackburn Sisters

May 13, 2015

Ruth and Jane in front of a house made from a barrack that their family lived in.

Ruth and Jane in front of a house made from a barrack that their family lived in.

We immersed ourselves in homesteading today, stopping first at the Homestead Museum in Powell, then getting a tour of barracks turned into homes from the Blackburn sisters, Ruth and Jane. The two lively woman are daughters of the well-known Blackburn family who were one of the first to homestead in the Heart Mountain area. You’ll not find a more knowledgeable and outspoken pair to guide you around Cody.

Meeting at the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center we head west to the mountain and on to L13H, Lane 13H, where we have been driving the past few days. The sisters pointed out several outbuildings and houses that were barracks. They generally knew the current occupants and definitely knew who the original homesteaders were.

Then Jane exclaimed, “Here we are at the Blackburn homestead!” Sharon pulls the car into a driveway in front of an off-white wood house with a small wood log fence and a large motor home parked off to the side. This was a half barrack with very few modifications. A small mud room was added on to one side, horizontal siding was attached to the exterior, modern shingles and a satellite tv antenna were on the roof. A utility pole rises up from a front corner of the house, a huge mail box inexplicably placed about 10 feet off the ground.

The family actually lived about 20 yards to the side of this house in different barrack at the time they settled there. They clearly remembered living on the rough land after moving from Kansas. Jane boldly poked around the property, the current owners not home at the time. The original windows could be seen on the back side of the house. They were pleased to have their photo taken in front of the house, easily embracing each other in a sign of sisterly love.

The ditch rider’s home, a former barrack, with a view.

The ditch rider’s home, a former barrack, with a view.

Jane directed Sharon to drive down a narrow dirt road paralleling a water canal, passing the “Private Road” sign. We encountered a woman from the Heart Mountain Irrigation District, Jane quickly talked us pass and we drove up to the ditch rider’s house. We learn a ditch rider manages the water as it flows through the canals to farms. One lives in a former barrack with a pretty spectacular view of Heart Mountain.

Back at the interpretive center, another quest. My friend Jon Funabiki said his parents and older brother are pictured in a display and with help I find a large color photograph of Mason and Grace Funabiki with their first son Guy, born May 10, 1943 in the camp.

Mason and Grace Funabiki with newborn son Guy in display at the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center.

Mason and Grace Funabiki with newborn son Guy in display at the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center.

Earlier in the day Sharon introduced met to Rowene Weems, the director of the Homesteader Museum. The passionate woman showed us displays of the Shoshone Project, a huge irrigation plan started in 1907 with the Heart Mountain district being implemented in 1946, this was what led to the barracks being sold to homesteaders. Many photos from the 1940’s show barracks being moved and placed on farmers’ land.

Until this trip, Heart Mountain meant one thing to me- the internment camp and the Japanese American story. I realize now Heart Mountain means many things to different people in this region, all linked to the distinctive mountain always on the horizon.

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T-birds, an outhouse, green chile and chocolate.

May 13, 2015

Verne Solberg poses in his house.

Verne Solberg poses in his house.

We approached information overload today after seeing a T-Bird collection, a post office, an outhouse, heard about chocolate made from honey, ate New Mexican green chile and wondered if homesteading really meant homesteading.

The day started out at Verne Solberg’s house on Road 20, a few miles from the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center. The 96-year-old was one of the original homesteaders in area. He’s quite sharp and has a good memory for how his house was built out of barrack sections. It’s composed of a half barrack, which he then added on rooms, a fireplace and various features over the years. Most of the work he did himself. Another half barrack was turned into a guest house. And another section about 40 feet long on Verne’s property turns out to be the Heart Mountain camp post office, still with the half-door and sliding wood half door at the customer counter. Interior walls and a wood ceiling painted white are still intact. The original door and windows grace the structure. He’s not sure how he acquired the post office. An outhouse made of salvaged pieces of wood planks from a barrack sat near a storage shed. Toilet seats over holes cut in a bench provided some comfort. Without plumbing, the homesteaders all had to construct outhouses.

Verne’s outhouse, made from salvaged barracks wood and a door.

Verne’s outhouse, made from salvaged barracks wood and a door.

Carla shows us the post office building.

Carla shows us the post office building.

Carla Solberg, (used to be married to Verne’s son and now divorced, but still is Verne’s caregiver), opened up a huge metal shed to show us his Thunderbird car collection. Most are early 60’s models and he also has a vintage Ford, a boat and late model Lincoln.

Up the road we stop to photograph Suzanne Rankin’s house, two barrack sections fused in a t-shape and greatly modified.

Then Carla treats us to lunch at Noon Break, a semi-permanent food truck on the road to Powell, run by Suzanne and husband Steve. Turns out Steve makes some of the best green chile (probably the only green chile) in the Big Horn Basin.

The Noon Break restaurant, situated next to Re Cycle, a motorcycle shop.

The Noon Break restaurant, situated next to Re Cycle, a motorcycle shop.

At Northwest College in Powell we meet with four really fascinating history department professors who have various knowledge of Wyoming and Heart Mountain history and a very intense interest in the Japanese American experience. We find out that if homesteaders paid the Bureau of Reclamation, who administered the Heart Mountain region homesteading program, for the land, then technically the people weren’t homesteaders. At least according to the Homesteading Act of 1862. Sharon said no one in the interviews has mentioned paying for the land, and most of the people were pretty poor so they probably couldn’t afford to. Anyway, everyone thinks of themselves as homesteaders.

More importantly, we got recommendations for two places to get Wyoming chocolate- Lovell and Meeteetse. One has chocolate made from honey and the other various flavored truffles. I forgot which town had which, but we are going to both to see some barracks and will make side trips to the shops.

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Search for Heart Mountain barracks

May 12, 2015

The Heart Mountain Honor Roll, facing its namesake mountain. Constructed in 1944, the list names over 750 men and women who served in the U.S. armed forces even as their families continued to be incarcerated behind barbed wire.

The Heart Mountain Honor Roll, facing its namesake mountain. Constructed in 1944, the list names over 750 men and women who served in the U.S. armed forces even as their families continued to be incarcerated behind barbed wire. The monument was renovated by the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation. The back of the honor roll seen here resembles the wall of a barrack.  (Click on photos to enlarge)

I’m in Cody, Wyoming for the next two and a half weeks working on a book project with writer Sharon Yamato. We’re researching and interviewing former homesteaders who live in homes that were barracks at the Heart Mountain Relocation Center, where Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War II. Sharon got a grant through the Preservation of Japanese American Confinement Sites program administered by the National Park Service to fund our travels, production of a book and a film. So far we’ve seen many examples of former barracks on farms and ranches near Cody. We hope to get out and photograph them. I’ll be updating the blog either daily or almost daily.

After the camps began to close in 1945, the Bureau of Reclamation implemented the Homesteading Act of 1862, settling farmers on tracts in the vast areas of the west. Homesteaders had to be veterans and familiar with farming. Roughly built wooden barracks 120 feet long that housed several Japanese American families in Heart Mountain were sold to the homesteaders for $1.00. Many of the barracks were turned into homes. Our goal is to try and find these homesteaders and the former barracks they live in.

First stop Monday morning was the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center, an excellent museum and gallery that tells the story of the WWII confinement site. It’s located just off Rt. 14A, on the site of the original camp, 13 miles from Cody and 11 miles from the town of Powell. The depth and amount of information is really astounding, covering pre-war attitudes to current day pilgrimages to this and other camps. The Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation built and operates this incredible place.

The exterior of the interpretive center has three long buildings created to look like the tar papered barracks. Reflected in the window of one of the buildings is Heart Mountain.

The exterior of the interpretive center has three long buildings created to look like the tar papered barracks. Reflected in the window of one of the buildings is Heart Mountain.

A display of photography in the camp with a large photo of the Heart Mountain Camera Club.

A display of photography in the camp with a large photo of the Heart Mountain Camera Club.

Sharon has been here a week, so she drove me around to show me possible barracks that ended up as homes or outbuildings. We saw a section of one that seems to be used to house sheep. We got directions to a fully intact barrack north of Cody that Sharon had seen a few days ago. Turning down a road we saw a full barrack in what appeared to be a meadow, a giant cottonwood tree beside it, mountains in the distance. The scene seemed to place the barrack in the context of the surrounding environment, under a majestic tree. While far removed from the original camp site, it seemed not out of place in the meadow. The windows were boarded up but even from the road you could see flecks of tarpaper on the roof, the texture of weathered wood shining in the late afternoon sun.

The barrack and cottonwood tree.

The barrack and cottonwood tree.

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Goodbye Longyearbyen

March 22, 2015

Special champagne at the eclipse night dinner

Special champagne at the eclipse night dinner (Click on photos to enlarge)

Our two plane-loads of travelers flew back to Oslo from Longyearbyen today, leaving the polar community behind. As we walked out to the plane in late morning, the sun struggled to shine through a thin cloud layer, reminding everyone how fortunate we were that eclipse day was so clear. It was nice to get to know a few of my fellow eclipse watchers and hope to keep in touch with some of them.

Yesterday was more relaxing, I didn’t have any ‘extra’ activities planned. After spending too much time updating various pictures and responding to messages, I took a walk through the town to shop. Taking a walk can be somewhat of an ordeal. Since it was still about 5 deg. F you have to put on most of the layers to keep from freezing. The good thing is there is not much traffic and not many people actually walking around. I stopped first at the post office, hearing there were special eclipse stamps. They also had a very nice first day issue envelope with a 20.3.2015 postmark (in the European style, 20 March 2015). I bought some of those and a sheet of the eclipse stamps, plus a small polar bear sign zipper pull, which was cleverly on a rack next to the check out in order to relieve unsuspecting tourists of their kroner.

Next went to the 78 degree Tax Free shop to get some very nice t-shirts. They were out of the large size, but the medium fit fine. I got a few post cards and returned to the post office since they had nicer cards. The nearby Kulturhuset has a café, I ordered tea and wrote postcards. In the afternoon I wanted to get a bit more exercise, so I went back out mainly to mail the postcards and ended up taking some photos of the town and the continuing amazing light on the mountains. For dinner a group of us were on the tour schedule for a “wilderness dinner”, which consisted of going to the Camp Barentz for ox soup, sitting at one of the large huts around a wood fire. Which wasn’t bad, I stayed for some aurora viewing and saw Tony Hoffman for only the second time during the trip. It began to cloud up after 10m, so I took a bus back to the hotel in order to pack for our departure.

In all it was an exhilarating and special trip, not really relaxing but filled with great activities. The eclipse was memorable and 12 hours later we had spectacular aurora. I still have loads of photos to edit through and process and am looking forward to that. I’ll keep everyone updated on the latest postings. Thanks for reading the blog! I’ll post a few random shots, including yet another of amazing light on the landscape. Perhaps I’ll do a series on the Svalbard light.   

(Click on photos to enlarge)

Eclipse stamps and first day issue envelopes

Eclipse stamps and first day issue envelopes

Dog sledding through the Advent valley

Dog sledding through the Advent valley

NY friends Tony Hoffman, Eileen Renda and me just before the eclipse started

NY friends Tony Hoffman, Eileen Renda and me just before the eclipse started

Jim Owen driving while I sit as passenger on our dog sled adventure

Jim Owen driving while I sit as passenger on our dog sled adventure

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More wonders of nature

March 21, 2015

March 20 aurora over Longyearbyen

March 20 aurora over Longyearbyen

(Click on the photos to enlarge. Highly recommended.)

It’s hard to say anything could be better than a total eclipse, but last night came close. Finally saw some aurora borealis late last night on the 3rd night of trying to see them (it?). To say it was spectacular is vastly understating the experience. I’m sure it was the most exciting thing I’ve seen since the eclipse 12 hours earlier. The viewing is about 6 miles outside of Longyearbyen in the Advent Valley at Camp Barentz, named after Willem Barents, the ‘official’ discoverer of Spitsbergen, which is the island we are on. We are close to the dog sled compound and the eclipse viewing site. There are some quaint huts used for dinning and entertaining, and I think our dinner is there tonight.

Leaving the Friday night dinner at the Kulturhuset, the local culture house, to get on the buses back to the hotel so we could catch another bus to Camp Barentz, we looked up and saw a green shimmering streak through the sky. It was an aurora streamer. It was pretty bright to be seen under the glare of the building lights and I was hoping there would be more later. The sky was super clear and it was nice to see stars out. Jupiter was moderately high in the south. Even at 10:30pm there was a slight glow on the horizon from the sun, which never dips very low at this time of the year.

            They build a fire inside the huts at Camp Barentz and serve coffee and tea. It’s generally very crowded and humid, so I stay outside looking at the sky and trying to stay warm. After 11pm there was a faint glow of green in the south, and vertical shafts of light grew from the horizon. You expect some sort of sound to happen, but the lights are just solar plasma ejected from the sun and interacting with the earth’s magnetic field. And there was lots of interaction last night. Suddenly the green lights grew up until they were high in the sky and formed the shape of a curtain, waving. Light would appear in the south-east or south-west, but mostly towards the south. Several curtains would appear and disappear eliciting oohhs and aahs from the crowd. It was astonishing to see how transparent they looked and almost solid at the same time. Bright stars and Jupiter could be seen through them. The aurora crept higher in the sky until there was a burst of light directly above us. A woman shouted, “Mum, look above you!” We all craned our necks to see, the width of the aurora past our peripheral vision. I tiled the camera back to try and keep up with the lights. For a second I debated changing to the fisheye lens which would have taken in the whole sky, and taken a lot of time to do in the cold. But I stuck with the super wide angle lens, and kept shooting the dancing lights. This seemed like the grand finale for the evening. About 12:30am our polar bear guard said the bus waiting would be the last back to the hotels. By then the sky had quieted down and the group was buzzing with excitement over what we saw.

A 'curtain' shape

A ‘curtain’ shape

One of the more impressive shapes

One of the more impressive shapes

Directly overhead, 12:14:56 am, these five happen in the span of one minute

Directly overhead, 12:14:56 am

12:15:08 am

12:15:08 am

12:15:20 am

12:15:20 am

 

 

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TOTALITY!

March 20, 2015

Totality

Totality (Click on photos to enlarge)

Today we had a spring equinox total eclipse in the polar region. Just an amazing sight, hard to describe it. For an hour the moon slowly moved over the sun during the partial phase. You could tell when totality was near, the light level dropped and we saw shadow bands on the flat snow. The bands are caused by atmospheric disturbances and are similar to the waves of light at the bottom of a pool. There is “second contact” when the moon is almost covering the sun and you see a bright flare at the side of the sun. Then it was total. It was a surreal sight, like seeing a black sun surrounded by darkness. I was surprised how dark it got, like a dim twilight. I couldn’t see the camera settings at first and it stayed in this darkness for over 2 minutes. People cheered, but most seemed in awe of the sight. The man next to me said he could see how ancient people could be completely frightened by the sight. Weather was perfect, bright, sunny, no clouds. But very cold. -17 C in the morning, which is 1.4 deg F. I think it didn’t get much warmer even around noon. Hope I can see another one. (Click on photos to enlarge).

Seconds before totality.

Seconds before totality.

The scene in Longyearbyen.

The scene in Longyearbyen.

"Third contact", when the moon begins to uncover the sun.

“Third contact”, when the moon begins to uncover the sun.

2 degrees F, waiting for the start.

2 degrees F, waiting for the start.

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