Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Hawaii

We crammed as much Hawaii as we could into the week of April 15-24, touring Maui, Oahu and the Big Island. We lost a half day on the front end as a Russian volcano disrupted air traffic through Seattle and we arrived midday Sunday. On our first full day, Monday, we flew to Oahu and toured the Arizona Memorial and the USS Missouri in Pearl Harbor. We drove around the island a bit before returning the same day to our rental in Maui.


USS Missouri

Next up was a tour of a cocao plantation on Tuesday, which was more interesting than I thought it would be.


Cocoa

On Wednesday, it was back on an airplane headed to the Big Island. We drove counter-clockwise from Kona and were rained on almost all day. By the time we got to Volcanoes National Park, it was so foggy that we couldn't see any of the sights. After overnighting in Hilo, we decided to head back to the park on Thursday and were able to see all that we had missed the day before, including the KÄ«lauea crater and the lava cliffs abutting the ocean. When I was in Hawaii in the late 80's, we saw from the air as hot lava hit the ocean and raised columns of steam. No such luck this time.


Lava meets the sea.

It was back to Maui Thursday night, and I was finally able to just sit around the unit and relax much of Friday. We had an oceanfront lanai with a seawall, and there were little crabs skittering around on the rocks. Later on Friday the Green Sea Turtles made their presence known just off shore, and I got a few shots of them. We did not take a whale watch cruise, but from our lanai we could see the whales several miles off shore doing tail slaps and breaching. Supposedly it is near the end of the season for whales near Maui, but I could tell the people who did take the cruises got tremendous views. Oh well, some other time (and place probably).


Turtle gets flipped in the surf.

Saturday we foolishly made the "can't-miss" drive on the Road to Hana. It is the worst road of any length I have ever been on in my life. To say that it was narrow, curvy, rough and dangerous is an understatement. There were some interesting stops along the way such as Haleakalā National Park, but "never again." Sunday we did some last-minute dining and shopping before taking a redeye back to the mainland, arriving Monday morning.


The Road to Hana sucks. Sorry, it's the truth.

I'm conflicted about vacations like this. On one hand, you want to see everything. On the other hand, you want to relax. If I had to do it over again I would do more relaxing and less traveling. Particularly not driving to Hana. Also, I ceremoniously deleted the Hawaiian Airlines app from my phone. The four flights we took were all a little bit or a lot late, and I hope I never have to use them again. Like I said, next time I'll do more relaxing, less traveling.

Saturday, April 01, 2023

Contenders

I snapped a contender for 2023 Photo of the Year today, catching this fox hunting voles just outside my back garage door. A split second after I got this image, the fox took off like a shot. I hope he comes back and gets some more voles.

A few other early contenders for 2023 POY:

A bison is not a uniform shade of brown, Badlands
Frosty morning in Custer State Park
Bighorn ram jumps a creek, Custer State Park
Bighorn ram on the rocks, Custer State Park
Frost-covered bison, Wind Cave
Yellowstone coyotes
Back yard hawk
Yellowstone bighorn

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Bighorn Bonanza

I have semi-reliable places to find bighorns, most recently Yellowstone's Lamar Valley where there are usually 2-4 rams grazing on the cliffs and hillside near Soda Butte. But the first place I saw Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep wasn't even in the Rockies, it was Custer State Park in 2008. I drove back to South Dakota last week to attend a retirement party, and of course I swung through the western South Dakota parks to see the wildlife. Because of snowstorms back home in Montana, my stay in South Dakota got extended and I was able to do the Custer State Park loop on four different days. Two outstanding memories will be the largest bighorn herd I've ever seen (44), and a cold fog that decorated the plants and animals with frost one morning.

On my first drive through Custer and the Badlands on the 21st, I set a personal record of 63 bighorns in one day. In Custer I saw a mixed herd of 33 east of the new visitor's center, 16 ewes and lambs on the lawn of the old Norbeck visitor's center, and two rams on Highway 87 far to the south. Then in the Badlands later in the day I saw two small herds of six each. On my return to Custer on Friday, I saw the herd of 44 next to and east of the new visitor's center. Some of them eventually took to the cliffs behind the building and I got a few good shots of them up there.

I saw an incredible variety of wildlife during the week and got photos of bison, pronghorn, deer, prairie dogs, plover, and turkeys. I saw but did not get good images of a large herd of elk (105) in the northern part of Custer where I have never seen them before, coyotes, a large hawk, and even an early bluebird. Also included on this trip was a stop at Devil's Tower in Wyoming for the first time in a few years.

I recently purchased a new DSLR, a Canon 6D Mark II. It is extremely similar to the 5D Mark III, and for the first time since film days 20+ years ago I have two SLRs at hand and don't have to spend so much time changing lenses. The 6D has a few more pixels and a few other handy features since the technology is five years newer, but the 5D is still extremely useful. For anyone who cares, on my web site photo pages the images taken with the 5D start with "F" and the 6D with "K", for example the first image below is "K1024". Maybe I'll get a mirrorless SLR-style camera someday, but for now I've still got the mirror slap.

I post a lot of bighorn images, maybe too many. I know this, but I do it because I can. Click on an image to get the slide show started at that point, 30 bighorn images and 26 others.


Bighorn in Custer State Park

Bighorn in Custer State Park

Bighorn in Custer State Park

Bison on a frosty morning in Custer State Park

Devil's Tower

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Yellowstone

We did a snow coach tour to Old Faithful from West Yellowstone, then did two half-days driving the Lamar Valley. The highlight, as it often is, was the bighorn sheep on a hillside near Soda Butte. There were two rams, one older with a full curl and one younger with a smaller curl. The hillside/cliff they were navigating looked very steep and I got some shots of them climbing around. Click here for more images.

During the snow coach tour the first day, it was snowing constantly and the wildlife was limited to bison. At Old Faithful, the estimated time of eruption came and went. It finally went off 47 minutes after the estimate, which our driver said was the latest he had ever seen in 20 years. The best shot I got of that is a video, below.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Fear the Rabbit

The South Dakota State Jackrabbits won the NCAA Division 1 Football Championship (FCS) over the weekend, dominating nine-time champion North Dakota State 45-21. This was reported as South Dakota State's first NCAA national championship, which isn't entirely true. It was the first D1 championship.

For a journalism class at South Dakota State 45 years ago, I did a writeup on construction of a new shopping mall. I didn't go into it looking for a scoop, but it turned out that the project had not been announced yet and this was big news in the small town of Brookings. My professor used her contacts and the article ended up on the front page of the Brookings Daily Register, the first time I had something published in a real newspaper. My primary source for the story was Sid Bostic, a loan officer at the local bank which was involved in the financing. His claim to fame was throwing in a midcourt shot to win the 1963 NCAA College Division national basketball championship for the Jackrabbits, 44-42 over Wittenburg, Ohio.

With the exception of this NCAA championship, South Dakota State was an unremarkable participant in College Division/Division 2 men's sports over the years. During my college years 1974-78, the basketball team made the tournament once and lost badly to Green Bay. The football team under Coach John Gregory, who sadly passed away a few weeks before the recent championship game, made the D2 playoffs once, losing to Youngstown 51-7 in 1979. Meanwhile, North Dakota State won three College Division football titles by poll from 1965-69 and five D2 championship games from 1983-90. By the '90s, the SDSU men's basketball team made the Division 2 tournament most years but the football team remained mired in mediocrity. When SDSU announced it was going Division 1 in 2004, I thought the school administration and athletic department were suffering from delusions of grandeur and would be condemned to permanent irrelevance in the two major men's sports.

What I realize now is SDSU had no choice. The Universities of South Dakota and North Dakota followed their ag school State cousins to D1 five years later, and with perfect hindsight I believe they should have done it earlier. The SDSU men's basketball team has been an above average mid-major program, winning the Summit League to qualify for the NCAA tournament six times, but not yet accomplished that first March Madness win.

Anyway, football. After some decent seasons during the transition starting in 2004, the climb really began with a 58-10 win over Eastern Illinois in the 2012 playoffs. But by then North Dakota State already had a championship under its belt and took out the Jackrabbits in the next round 28-3. The next few years through 2015, Jacks were unseeded in the 24-team tournament. In 2016, they started getting seeded in the top 8. There were early-round wins, but including that 2012 game, North Dakota State ended South Dakota State's season four times on their way to nine championships through 2021. The most recent of the playoff losses to the Bison came in the 2018 national semifinals.

The last two seasons have been weird. SDSU was the #1 seed in the 2020-21 COVID year but lost by two points in the national championship game to Sam Houston after quarterback Mark Gronowski was lost to injury in the first quarter. In the 2021 fall season, the Jackrabbits beat North Dakota State but also had some bad losses and were unseeded. I know the records may say differently, but prior to this year it seemed like they always lost to UNI even if UNI was terrible. As an unseeded team, they had to travel all over the country with playoff games in all four time zones before falling at Montana State in the semifinals. NDSU recovered from their regular season loss and dominated Montana State 38-10 in the championship game.

This year, the Jackrabbits beat North Dakota State in the regular season again AND this time avoided those bad regular season losses to gain the #1 seed again, escaping UNI by three points with the help of a late penalty. The Jackrabbits have won the last three Dakota Marker regular season games with North Dakota State, but Bison fans would issue reminders about their 4-0 playoff record. Finally that was put to rest with the dominating 45-21 result on Saturday.

They call it FCS in football and mid-major in basketball. It's tough being a fan of a mid-sized school, and is becoming tougher with the transfer portal and NIL money. SDSU's best basketball player Baylor Scheierman decided to return to his home state of Nebraska and play for Creighton of the Big East. My fear is some of the top Jackrabbit football players may be lured away also. I can't help but note that the two running backs who both went over 100 yards in the championship game, Amar Johnson and Isaiah Davis, are both from the state of Missouri. Gronowski is from Illinois. When they were little kids, they didn't dream of playing ball in Brookings. Tight End Tucker Kraft famously resisted attempts to get him into the portal and get some bigger NIL money, but he is from Timber Lake, South Dakota, the most desolate place I have ever been to on Earth. (And I've been to Antarctica.) Downtown Brookings must have seemed like Times Square to him the first time. But he is giving up his remaining eligibility to enter the NFL draft, where he will likely go in the second round. Barring any other major defections, SDSU will be a solid #1 in the 2023 preseason FCS polls.

A longer-term question is whether North Dakota State and perhaps South Dakota State will be lured to an FBS Group of Five conference. For now that is a bigger question up north, but it seems to be percolating south. Teams are shifting around in the Group of Five, and there may be a landing spot somewhere. Travel is a concern, of course, but right now the Dakota teams have to travel to Youngstown for football, and flying to San Antonio is just as easy. I think it is cool to win an FCS championship, but supposedly there is more money in the minor bowls than in the FCS tournament. For South Dakota State, however, leaving the Summit League would mean giving up what is essentially a home court advantage in Sioux Falls in the conference basketball tournament every year. Unless they can find a football-only conference, the anticipated gain in football money may be offset by a loss in basketball money.

The transition away from Division 2 may have begun in 2004, but perhaps it has not ended. My preference would be for the Jackrabbits to pound out a few more FCS championships before taking another leap, but the BIZON may not wait that long to cash in on their reputation as an FBS wolf dressed in FCS sheep's clothing. The two don't have to move up together, but being together in 2004 made that transition easier.

One last thing. One news service reported the recent Jackrabbit win over "their hated rival." I don't think that's accurate. The four Dakota schools are all on the eastern edge of the Dakota land mass near the more populous states of Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska. They can't afford to hate each other. They all need each other to succeed, and any hate should be directed toward those other states. I can't find greater joy than any one of the four beating the Gophers on the football field, which NDSU and (strangely) USD have done and SDSU has come close. It would be fun to have Gronowski, Johnson and Davis stick around and beat down the Nebraska Cornhuskers in 2024. I don't know if the Sagarin computer ratings (combined FBS and FCS) mean anything, but the 14-1 Jackrabbits finished this year #41 and the 4-8 Corndogs were #65 after firing their coach mid-season.

Sunday, January 01, 2023

Photo of the Year

My first inclination on Photo of the Year for 2022 was bluebirds. With the help of trailcams, I got literally thousands of bluebird images this year. But a drive to Yellowstone in May just before it was shut down by flooding resulted in the sighting of more bears than all our previous trips to Yellowstone combined, including these black bear cubs. I haven't kept up with the web site images since about April so there is no link to that trip yet. I also included a couple of bluebird photo as runners-up. I don't actively market my images but I did make a couple bucks on the second bluebird image when it was published in the Montana Elective Cooperative magazine.

Click here for my Photo of the Year page 1999-current.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Friday, September 09, 2022

Waterton-Glacier

After getting smoked out of a Glacier National Park trip during the 2017 fires, we finally made it to Glacier this year. After overnighting in Great Falls, MT, we crossed the border into Canada to visit Waterton Lakes National Park where we took in the scenery on a boat ride. We saw a bear which appeared to be a black bear even though its fur seemed to be brown. Then it was on to Glacier, which was much more crowded than Waterton. We did the Going to the Sun road and another boat ride. On our way home we stayed in Helena, the first time I've been there in 50 years. Click here for the images on thomasoneil.com

A black bear that is brown.

Monday, July 04, 2022

Red Lodge 4th

Time again for the 4th of July festivities in Red Lodge, MT, including the parade, rodeo and fireworks. See Summer 2022 photo pages.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Warbirds

We went to Bozeman (actually Belgrade) today to see the Commemorative Air Force display of B-25 and B-17 bombers from WWII. We were able to go inside the B-25 "Maid in the Shade." The B-17 "Sentimental Journey" was in the hanger getting some work done and we were only able to get a distant shot of it. They are selling rides in these planes this weekend but we did not see them in the air. (Here is a link to flight shot of "Sentimental Journey" from the Sioux Falls Air Show 2016.) I've been to the Commemorative Air Force museum in Mesa, AZ, but it was many years ago.


B-17 Sentimental Journey

Cockpit of B-25 Maid in the Shade

B-25 Maid in the Shade

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Flood

Last year we had a daily air show with choppers and planes dumping water on the fire. This year we have flooding and a different air show. A National Guard chopper (perhaps the one below) rescued 60 people stranded at a lake 20 miles west of town and brought them back to Red Lodge Tuesday. There also have been several National Guard Black Hawks flying out of the airport.

Sunday, June 05, 2022

Renaissance

We usually don't patronize Renaissance Festivals, but this one in Red Lodge, MT was just a few blocks away so we biked over. Lots of broken lances in the jousting.

Friday, May 27, 2022

Sunlight Ranger Cabin

We had an opportunity spend two nights at the Sunlight Rangers Cabin in the Shoshone National Forest, Wyoming. No cell service and no TV, but we did have four walls, a roof, heat, plumbing and electricity, unlike the folks who were boondocking in the area. We did some hiking and some four-wheeling...not really four-wheeling, but the narrow roads were muddy in spots and I did engage the 4WD a couple times. We were hoping to go over Beartooth Pass (US 212) on the way home today, but it was storming and snow was expected.

Click for images.

Friday, May 20, 2022

Jellystone

Our previous record for bear sightings in Yellowstone was two in 2020. These past two days we saw 13. The breakdown is eight griz/brown bears (three adults, three cubs, two yearlings) and five black bears (three adults, two cubs). The road going south from Tower-Roosevelt is only open for 2.5 miles, but it is a hotspot of bear activity. The highlight was two unbearably cute cubs crossing the road and climbing a tree as their mama kept a watch on the 50 or so tourists who were witnessing. We also saw some bison babies today, which is what we expected to see on this trip. BTW, the white spots on many of these images are snowflakes. I know much of the country has already had a heat wave, but in Yellowstone it was in the 30s with intermittent snow yesterday and today.

Here's the list of bear sightings.

  • Bear #1 - Griz near Tower Falls
  • Bears #2-5 - Griz mama and three cubs north of Old Faithful
  • Bear #6 - Griz west of Tower Falls turn
  • Bear #7 - Black bear near Tower Falls
  • Bears #8-10 - Black bear mama and two cubs near Tower Falls
  • Bears #11-13 - Griz mama and two yearlings in Lamar Valley

See thomasoneil.com for all of the images. We also saw fox, coyotes and pronghorn but didn't get images of those this time.