God’s Garden

Out of the cold north we’ve come.  Winter holds the land of Bismarck, ND in a chilly grip for seven months out of the year.  On our arrival from two plus years in Korea, we found work where January’s wind chills are often -30 degrees fahrenheit.  Ironically, it was ten months of refining fire.  A challenging geographical and work environment formed, focused, and affirmed our vocational and educational goals.  Journeys are filled with periods of fruitfulness, and desert climates.  This section of our journey for me was like a desert artistically.  One year was enough.  In May, an employer of interest invited us for a face to face interview in Nashville, TN.  After our interview, we decided on a day long lay-over in the Denver, Colorado area.  Garden of the Gods seemed like a place for fertile photographic opportunities after a year of dryness.

The Balancing Rock

The Balancing Rock

Wings of Stone

Wings of Stone

Garden of the Gods

Garden of the Gods





It seems that our desert is breaking into fertile ground.  We were offered the job in Nashville!!  We’ll be moving there the first week of July.  I’m looking forward to the many landscapes of Tennessee!

Official Launch: Complete Badlands Gallery!

I’m excited to announce the official launch of my complete Badlands National Park gallery at www.leeephelpsphotography.com !! If you’re looking for some great photo art for you personal or professional space, I invite you to take a look here!

Any images on www.leephelpsphotography.com would make great Christmas presents!  Stay tuned for a special Christmas deal!

Upon the Devil’s Land

A dramatic title is only fitting for a dramatic natural monument.  Funny thing is, “Devil’s Tower” is actually a misinterpretation of Native American names such as “Bear’s House, Bear’s Liar, Home of the Bears, ect. (source).”  In 1875, a mistaken interpreter for Col. Dodge referred to it as “Bad Gods Tower (ibid).” Later shortened to Devils Tower (minus the apostrophe), this monolith in eastern Wyoming seems to rise out of nowhere to 5,112 ft. (1558 m) above sea level.

Devils Tower, AKA Bear’s Liar

The traditional Native American name is more fitting for their story of how the tower was formed:

“According to the Native American tribes of the Kiowa and Lakota Sioux, some girls went out to play and were spotted by several giant bears, who began to chase them. In an effort to escape the bears, the girls climbed atop a rock, fell to their knees, and prayed to the Great Spirit to save them. Hearing their prayers, the Great Spirit made the rock rise from the ground towards the heavens so that the bears could not reach the girls. The bears, in an effort to climb the rock, left deep claw marks in the sides, which had become too steep to climb. (Those are the marks which appear today on the sides of Devils Tower.) When the girls reached the sky, they were turned into the star constellation the Pleiades (source).”

What scientist believe is the remains of the interior of an ancient volcano, is still considered highly sacred to modern Native Americans.  Many visitors are impacted by a sense of the spiritual when their eyes are caught by its lines that lead heavenward.

“At the top of the ridge, I caught sight of Devil’s Tower up thrust against the gray sky as if in the birth of time the core of the earth had broken through its crust and the motion of the world was begun.  There are things in nature that engender an awful quiet in the heart of man; Devil’s Tower is one of them.”

  • N. Scott Momaday – The Way to Rainy Mountain, 1969

While some are content to simply gaze heavenward, others are drawn to close contact in an attempt to reach the summit.

Climbers reaching for the summit.

Not being skilled to make the climb, the wife and I settled for hiking upon the Devil’s land via Red Beds Trail, a short three-mile hike around the base of the tower.

Red Beds Trail

Devils Tower, or Bear’s Liar…either name brings with it a sense of the spiritual, and images of chaotic dramatic beauty.  Which is fitting when one considers the story of this tower that spans millions of years.  It’s a tale that we had the privilege of witnessing in part, and an epic drama that continues to go on.

The Jewel in the Black Hill’s Crown

A crown isn’t really a crown without valuable jewels that signify why the one who wears it is important.  The Black Hills are South Dakota’s crown.  But the canyons known as Spearfish are the most significant jewel in this Dakota’s crown.  How many times can I use the word “crown” in a few short sentences?  Dang, that’s five times.  I’m OCD about over-using words, and now i’m off my point.  Recapture in you mind’s eye, if you will, the word “Jewel.”  NOT “crown.”  Crap, that’s six times…  Moving on from the analogy because I think you all get my point.  In other words, SPEARFISH IS LEGIT!

We were kind of let down in Keystone yesterday because of the gale-force winds.  But today the weather was perfect for our hiking in Spearfish!  We spent most of our time on the trails of Roughlock Falls.  It was a bit overcast in the morning which I knew would help with the long exposure shots I was hoping to get!

The wife and I enjoying Spearfish

There are actually two sets of waterfalls that are famous in Spearfish.  They are both known as Roughlock Falls, but they are accessed from two different trails.

Where the final scenes from ‘Dances with Wolves’ was filmed.

We really couldn’t have asked for a better day to see the Black Hill’s crown jewel.  The weather was great, the light was warm, and the landscapes are breath-taking.  Any visit to South Dakota isn’t complete without hiking in Spearfish.  We’re looking forward to tomorrow because we’ll drive a little over an hour into Wyoming to see Devil’s Tower.  Stay tuned!

Vintage Keystone

The wife and I recently took a short trip into the Black Hills of South Dakota on long weekend.  Our plan was to do some hiking in Custer State Park, then hit up Spearfish Canyon (known as the most beautiful area of the Black Hills), and finish up our trip hiking around Devil’s Tower National Monument in Wyoming.

First on the agenda was the area of the Black Hills known as Keystone.  Our goal was to hike the ten-mile trek up to Harney Peak, which is the highest point east of the Rocky Mountains at 7,242 ft (2,207 m).  Unfortunately for us, the weather gods just weren’t permitting a safe trek.  40 mph winds with regular gusts up to 70 mph made balancing on rocky terrain extremely difficult.  Our plan B wasn’t nearly as exciting, but we made due with our situation and our desire to still see some of the landscape.  So we jumped in our car and made a slow stop-and-go route through Custer Park via the well-maintained roadways.

I opted to focus on improving my mobile photography skills, so I used my iPhone 4s to capture most of these images.  The image quality isn’t nearly as great, but the joy of simply taking pictures comes back in a nostalgic way since I didn’t have to think about all the manual adjustments I’m constantly making on my DSLR.

In an effort to not only capture Keystone through an iPhone, but to also capture the nostalgic joy of point-and-shoot photography, I edited all of these pictures in my iPhone with a vintage filter using the great Snapseed photo app.

It was nice to see the sites from the car, but it’s just not the same as being in the outdoors and hiking through this beautiful landscape.  Hopefully our hiking in Spearfish tomorrow will be met with calm winds!