To be sure, one of our many objectives while streaming thru America was spotting and capturing photos of as much wildlife as serendipity would allow, for it’s rarely nature’s way for wildlife to wander into my camera frame and pose at will. So the game of being at the right place at the right time, and putting ourselves in position to witness the spectacle of earth’s mighty creatures became somewhat of an obsession.

Yet, seemingly, whenever Leah and I set out to search for a particular species, we invariably turned up empty. For instance, lying low at Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley for a chance encounter with bighorn sheep escorting their new babes down from Mt. Washburn at the beginning of summer season never happened, despite a solid hour of wait time, and occasional reassurances from park rangers that the prospect was highly likely since no wolves had been sighted in the meadow where the mares prefer to congregate to lick the salt from the rocks by a Yellowstone River runoff.

Instead, when we were least expecting them, we’d found them gathering by a trailhead parking lot in the Canadian Rockies,

bighorn flock.jpg

and worshipping the moon on the cliffs of Muddy Mountain while returning from a hike through Nevada’s Valley of Fire.

sheep and moon (4)

and surveying the brutal Badlands while cruising the Loop Road in our air-conditioned F-150.

Badlands bighorn sheep

Related cliff dwellers included mountain goats from Glacier National Park…

Glacier NP mountain goat

and the Columbia Icefields of Alberta.

Columbia Icefields mountain goat

In the early months of our journey, our frustrating search for elusive alligators along the bayou and delta landscape led us to create a call that crocodilia were apt to ignore: “Here, gator, gator, gator!” (see Where Have all the Gators Gone?)

However, we would not be denied while airboating through the Florida Everglades…

snout underwater

gater head

Everglades alligator

Lesser evasive reptiles encountered along the way ranged from a bloated rattler…

Joshua Tree rattler

and a horned toad camouflaged against a terrain of cholla cacti within Joshua Tree…

Joshua Tree horned lizard

to a greater earless lizard basking on a Big Bend boulder…

Big Bend lizard

a lounging iguana from the tropics of Quintana Roo…

Playa del Camen iguana

and an angry gopher tortoise from Hobe Sound.

Hobe Sound turtle

On the other hand, squirrels and chipmunks were ubiquitous throughout the entirety of our trip…

and never shy, if there was the faintest chance they could scavenge a meal discarded by humans.

Joshua Tree squirrel

Although, their close cousin, the prairie dog was less apt to wander from the safety of its network of burrows at Prairie Dog Town in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Teddy Roosevelt prairie dog

Equally as omnipresent, and just as opportunistic were the many ravens that crossed our paths: from Bryce Canyon;

Bryce Canyon raven.jpg

to Arizona’s Painted Desert;

Painted Desert raven

to the perch atop the Cathedral of St. Helena.

Helena Cathedral raven

Other fowl that caught our attention included a variety of cranes and herons from multiple coastal habitats…

Carmel crane

Sarasota crane1

Everglades sand cranes1

Redwoods crane

Everglades great blue heron

and pelicans fishing from the Gulf of Mexico…

Naples pelican.jpg

to the Pacific Ocean.

Carmenl pelicans

But what really captured our imagination were the wild horses that always stood out in a crowd;

Teddy Roosevelt wild horses (2)

the Yellowstone black bear that we’ve never grown tired of beholding;

Yellowstone black bear

and the beasts that have defined our heritage as a nation–whether it was the descendants of Death Valley’s Twenty Mule Team…

Death Valley mules

or the mighty bison on the open range.

Teddy Roosevelt buffalo road

Yellowstone buffalo.jpg

Yes, the animal world is prolific; it’s divided between domestic…

Smoky Mountain cows

St. Louis Clydesdale

and wild;

Eureka Springs tiger sanctuary

cariboo (2)


Grand Canyon elk

and sublime.

Channel Islands blue fox

But regardless of the patience required to collect this anthology of imagery, it pales in comparison to the understanding and energy that must be required to keep our environment intact. Of the approximately 2 million animal species identified on our planet, over 16,000 species are rapidly dwindling, due largely in part to habitat destruction and climate change.

According to Endangered Earth,

“There are now 41,415 species on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List, and 16,306 of them are endangered species threatened with extinction. This is up from 16,118 last year. This includes both endangered animals and endangered plants.

The species endangered include one in four mammals, one in eight birds, one third of all amphibians and 70% of the world’s assessed plants on the 2007 IUCN Red List that are in jeopardy of extinction. The total number of extinct species has reached 785 and a further 65 are only found in captivity or in cultivation. In the last 500 years, human activity has forced over 800 species into extinction.”

We must be resolute and vigilant as conservationists and global citizens to ensure that future generations share the same joy of experiencing wildlife in their lifetime, lest we only have these and other photographs to offer them by default.

Happy Earth Day!

Rocky Mountain elk

Battle Lands

It was 103 degrees outside and we were melting. “Where are the trees? There aren’t any trees here,” moaned Leah. There were no shadows to hide from the relentless sun. Even the clouds had forsaken us. Fortunately, they had drifted into the distance, providing the coveted contrast that landscape photography almost always requires.

Cedar Pass peaks

With the mercury steadily rising over the Black Hills of South Dakota the past few days, and the forecast not cutting us any slack from the heat, we bit the bullet we dodged in Belle Fourche, and decided to leave early the next day for Badlands National Park.

Except it was almost noon by the time we got underway. We really did try to get leave on time, but life got in the way, and in a small way it was a small blessing. We mapped a route to our destination with a way-point to Walmart, since we needed an assortment of groceries and dry goods, and I needed a new camera chip, having filled the last chip with nearly 4000 shots–half of them from StreamingThruAmerica locations.

“Make sure when you format this chip, that it’s compatible with your camera,” the associate advised. “Otherwise, you have three days to return it.”

“When are you planning on doing that?” Leah asked.

“As soon as we get back to the truck,” I answered, “I’ll insert it into the memory card slot, and I’ll know right away if it’s working.”

That’s when I discovered that I left the camera battery charging in the Airstream.

So we rode back to Rapid City to retrieve the battery and stow the groceries. “But if I hadn’t bought the chip in the first place,” I rationalized, “then we would have driven all the way to Badlands, and realized that the camera was useless. No battery, no camera; no camera, no photos; no photos, no blog.”

“Right! Meanwhile, it’s cooking outside! And we’re going to get there, and not be able to do anything. Why don’t you put that in your blog?” Leah announced with a healthy dose of sarcasm. The heat had definitely taken a toll on human relations. From that moment, neither one of us felt like making the trip, but we also couldn’t imagine missing a National Park, so we d(r)ove into the fire, hoping to adapt to our inhospitable surroundings, much like Badland’s earliest pioneers.

We drove across a 45-mile stretch of I-90 East, counting 60 Wall Drug billboards and road signs along the way.

“We should go there,” Leah informed.

“It looks like another South of the Border,” I hedged.

“But it looks like fun,” she tempted.

“We’ll see,” I relented.

We arrived at Badlands National Park during the hottest part of the day. Even the bugs were in hiding. Crossing into the park at the Pinnacle Entrance, we took an early side-road to Sage Creek Basin Overlook in the hopes of spotting wildlife along the prairie. But the animals had better ideas other than baking in the blistering sun.

Instead, we admired the scarred lunar landscape of Pinnacles Overlook,

Hay Butte Overlook

and claws of vulcan mounds crawling across the Hay Butte Overlook. It resembled a box of burnt streudel.

fields on fire

We backtracked through Roberts Prairie Dog Town–mindful not to pet a varmint potentially infected with bubonic plaque–and continued along Badlands Loop Road to Ancient Hunters Overlook, trying to imagine early tribes scouting the lowlands for buffalo,

Ancient Hunters Overlook

much the way I was location-scouting for worthy photographs of black Pierre Shale.

rock brittle

We continued our air-conditioned trek to Yellow Mounds Overlook, where the surrealism was so profound, we had to leave the comfort of the cab to explore by foot…

yellow mounds

receding yellow mounds

leaving us to wonder how 35 million-year-old fossilized soil could weather into something so beautiful, yet other-worldly.

Burns Basin Overlook, while stunning in its desolate vastness, was beginning to look like every other overlook. I feared we were becoming “geo-jaded”.

Burns Basin Overlook

But that feeling quickly faded after we sighted a bighorn sheep lounging on a breezy slope, surveying the best way to Wall Drug.

bighorn sheep look out

I stealthily walked around the cliff edge as far as I could to score the best possible angle without falling into the abyss.

bighorn profile

It was a standoff–both of us locked into position. She remained frozen as a statue, but I held my crouch under the blazing sun until my subject finally cooperated.

Bighorn CU

Leah was waiting in the truck with the air conditioner running. “I can’t take much more of this,” she vented. “It’s just too hot out there, and I can’t even bother to get excited about any of this. You’re out there taking pictures while I’m stuck in the truck, and it’s not fun for me.”

“Tell you what,” I negotiated, “We’re at the point of no return, so we have to finish the park drive. But I’ll make it quick, and I’ll buy you an ice cream at Wall Drug on the way home.”

Fortunately, the road opened up to grasslands on both sides, and a 45 MPH speed limit. We made good time until we arrived at Panorama Point, and the light was perfect.

“Go ahead,” she conceded, “we’re already here.” I tight-roped across a knife-edge ridge as far as I dared…


to capture the enormity of the jagged peaks.

Panorama Point

Just around the bend, I discovered the Big Foot Pass Overlook, on the right side of us,

Big Foot Pass Overlook

followed by the White River Pass Overlook on the left side of us.

White River Valley Overlook

Cedar Pass Fossil Area (2)

It was overwhelming.

We ended our tour at the Ben Reifel Visitors Center, where Leah enjoyed the film presentation, while I strode across the prairie grass for a closer look at The Wall.

The Wall detail

I kept my promise to Leah, driving to Wall just as the weather was quickly changing.

Wall Drug silos

The silos at the end of town re-created an ironic juxtaposition to the Badlands scenery.

Rain clouds gathered against gray skies, and the temperature dropped enough to cool rising tempers. But after a diet of Badlands drama under theatrical settings, I found it nearly impossible to buy into the Wall Drug über-kitsch experience.

Wall Drug Frontier Town

Occupying 76,000 sq. ft. of retail space in downtown Wall, it’s a fascinating rags-to-riches story from the Great Depression, and it stands as a titanic testament to American consumerism.

But it’s really a shit show, with “wall-to-wall” tourists.

Still…the donuts were fresh, and the 5⊄ coffee was hot,

…and most importantly, it brought a smile to Leah’s face.


Horsing Around—South Unit

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a tribute to the man who became a conservationist out of his love for the North Dakota badlands. In fact, he credits his North Dakota experience as early preparation for his ascension to the Presidency. It’s easy to understand Roosevelt’s attraction to the hardscrabble prairie,

prairie pups

prairie dog town look-out

the steep rolling mounds of shrubs and cottonwoods,

badlands overlook

the wrinkled cliffs with ribbons of paint,

coal vein

and the densely populated wildlife that freely roam the roads…

Git along

and plains.

eating and drinking

While not a park that is overwhelming in beauty, it is a park that speaks to the power of preservation, as herds of bison, elk, bighorn sheep and feral horses have been reintroduced to the landscape, and continue to flourish.

getting ready


oh yeah


She's mine

There is a solitude and serenity that surrounds the rugged territory that originally attracted Roosevelt to the area. Fortunately, the sparse crowd allows the same chance for an immersive covfefe with the wilderness, where the quiet wind carries an energy that seems to rejuvenate the senses and soothe the soul.