Grant-Kohrs Ranch – History on the Montana Range

Deer Lodge, Montana.

We left I-90 at the Deer Lodge exit 184 to visit the Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site. Dedicated to the American Cattlemen of the 1860s through 1880s, the ranch is an example of a successful ranch preserved and commemorating the era of wide-open ranges, large herds, and cowboys. Once encompassing 10 million acres, the Grant-Kohrs Ranch was an example of the wealthy cattle ranches of an era that lasted only some 30 years.

The park area of the ranch is fenced, but looking past the fences to the west and north, one can get the notion of wide-open spaces. It is easy to imagine large cattle herds grazing on the lush prairie grasses. When one area became overgrazed, there was plenty of fresh grass just over the next hill.

It’s a bit of a walk (about a quarter-mile, 400 meters) from the parking area and visitor center to the main ranch buildings. There is parking available closer to the park buildings for those with handicap parking stickers. These days, a railroad overpass crosses the path to the ranch house and the other nearby buildings.

The era of the million-acre cattle ranches and open range ranching didn’t last long partly due to the large number of homesteaders heading west and staking homestead claims to 160-acre parcels, each fenced to mark the homesteader’s boundaries.

That railroad overpass is still in use today as we crossed under it, a Burlington Northern Santa Fe freight train approached. A closer view of the engine is included in the gallery at the end of this post.

There are over 80 outbuildings on the property, about a dozen or so are open for visitors to explore, some with equipment of the day, some with collections of one sort or another, yet others furnished as they would have been in the days when cowboys lived and worked the ranch. Guided tours of the ranch and tours of the house are generally available though they have been discontinued for the duration of the Covid-19 pandemic. You can find a map of the site with the location and function of each building here.

I regret not getting a better image of the large ranch house for this post, but that large brick structure in the image above is the western end of the 8,000-plus square foot (743 sq m) ranch house.

Park personnel, appropriately masked due to the pandemic, were available for some of the outdoor exhibits on the day we visited. A typical chuckwagon was manned by a park employee who answered questions and provided background on the functions of these portable “kitchens” and their deployment on the working ranches of the day.

The park still features a working ranch, now a much more manageable 1600-acre facility with a small herd of cattle and some working horses. On the day of our visit in late September, the seasonal park employees were coming to their last few days before the summer exhibits closed. The park remains staffed to support visitors who stop by during the winter.

In 1863, Johnny Grant began ranching the property, but by 1866, he moved to Canada, selling the ranch to Conrad Kohrs for $19,200, a princely sum of money in those days. Over the years, Kohrs expanded the area of the ranch and increased the size of his cattle herds. By the 1880s, Kohrs became one of the area’s wealthiest cattle barons.

One interesting piece of equipment is the haystacker shown in the image above. During the harsh Montana winters, cattle still needed to be fed. Ranchers cut and stored hay in large stacks to provide feed for the cattle during the long winters.

A miniature haystacking machine is available to show people how they work. As we walked by, a woman and two kids were “stacking” some grass that was cut and available for demonstrating the stacking operation. Those youngsters started with that sliding element at the base of the ramp. They piled loose grass on the ramp at the base of the slide and then used ropes to pull the pile of grass to the top of the ramp where it fell into the opening about half-way up the ramp. Lowering the slide then allowed them to put some more grass on the ramp and slide it up the ramp, making the stack a little taller.

In the 1970s, legislation was passed in the 92nd Congress that authorized the establishment of the Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site. The owner of the ranch at that time was Conrad K. Warren, a grandson of Conrad Kohrs. As the ranch was maintained in the family since 1866, and the owners kept historical records for the long-term, the property came to the National Park Service with a detailed history of the ranch operations over the years. 208 acres of land containing buildings and equipment such as buggies, sleighs, and other equipment were purchased, and a scenic easement that permitted the continuation of agriculture and ranching activities was provided for another 1280 acres.

I submit for your review a gallery of images captured at the Grant-Kohrs Ranch. Click on an image to enlarge it for better viewing and to scroll through the gallery.

John Steiner

 

 

 

Dronie Sunday – 10 January 2021

Ellensburg, Washington.

The Yakima Scenic Byway is a popular detour from the Interstate highway system in central Washington state. Highway 821 and the drive through this beautiful river valley will be featured in an upcoming Travel Tuesday here. For now, here’s a teaser, an image from my drone of a section of the valley near the city of Ellensburg. Continue reading

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge – Favorites of 2020

For the first Lens-Artists Challenge of 2021, Tina Schell asks us to share favorite images or favorite experiences in the last year. You can read her entire challenge post here. For a year of spending much time at home, I realize that I have quite a backlog of images, mostly due to a long trip in the great northwest where we safely visited many of our national parks and other venues that are out in the fresh air. One of my favorite images for the year features a bridge and a train, both favorite subjects of mine. The image was captured with my Mavic Air drone. It features the Highline Bridge, a long trestle bridge that carries trains high over the Sheyenne River Valley at Valley City, North Dakota.

On our trip across the northern tier of states from North Dakota to Washington, our stop at Glacier National Park didn’t leave me with many beautiful mountain images as the smoke from those western wildfires permeated the park on the day of our visit. This view of Saint Mary Lake allowed me to get a bit creative in blue-toning those smoky mountains in the background. I appreciated very much one reader’s comment, “Could be the cover of a fairy tale or a fantasy novel.”

 

In the spring of 2020, we discovered a new (to us) park in Fargo, Orchard Glen. Situated along the Red River, it is a wonderful place to enjoy a summer day. In the fall, the fruit orchard is available for community residents to pick for only the cost of the time it takes to do the picking. No commercial enterprises are allowed, only residents are allowed to pick from the several varieties of fruit trees for personal use.

During our recent western states trip, we purposely picked scenic byways rather than Interstates for our travels. On our way through Wyoming, after leaving the Grand Tetons, we were on our way to Devils Tower. Since it’s a long drive, we picked the shortest route recommended by Google’s Maps program. We were amazed to discover that the road is also a scenic byway, the Wind River region. It was a total surprise to see the beautiful scenery along the way.

Coldwater Lake is brand new in geologic time. It was created in 1980 when Mount Saint Helens erupted and volcanic mud blocked a section of Coldwater Creek. As runoff from the mountains continued to flow down the creek, the area behind the blockage created a dam that eventually filled until the water could flow over the blockage. Coldwater Lake is one of several new lakes created by the eruption.

Diablo Lake is a man-made lake on the Skagit River in Washington. The Diablo Dam, one of three hydro-electric dams on the river, helps to provide the electricity needed to power Seattle and suburbs. That green color is caused by glacial action grinding rocks into a fine powder. The powder is greenish and especially on sunny days, that unusual color for a lake gave this panoramic image a unique look.

While I am sharing favorite images in Washington, the Reflection Lakes provide a nice foreground reflection of Mount Ranier. We found it interesting that the closer we got to those western wildfires, the less we were bothered by atmospheric haze. I think the prevailing winds carried the smoke southeast of our route. We did skip Crater Lake in Oregon as that park was in the vicinity of Oregon’s largest fires.

One of North Dakota’s major agricultural products is generated by the sunflower. In the fall of 2020, there are plenty of sunflower fields to choose from. On a late afternoon, we stopped by a nearby field to gather some images of the field. I liked the result of this sunflower portrait so much, I had it printed on metal to hang in our living room.

In the spring of 2020, I acquired a new cell phone. Regular readers know of my weekly Cellpic Sunday where I share an image captured with a cellular phone. One of the features of the Samsung S20U is its advanced camera features, and it’s one of the reasons I purchased the Ultra version with its capability to deliver 108 Megapixel images and excellent low-light handling. I don’t do much with still-life images but I wanted to challenge the camera’s low-light abilities so I created this scene. I mounted the camera on a tripod and lit the scene with two LED candles (very low light similar to votive candles.) This image was captured with a 1-second exposure at f/1.8, 1000 ISO. Other than cropping the image to a square format and reducing its pixel count for publication, the image is straight out of the camera.

In the spring, the Arizona desert comes to life, especially when the previous months were a bit wetter than normal. My favorite feature of this image is the delicate structure and color of the petals on this cactus blossom. This photo, like the sunflower, ended up on a metal print. I was really pleased with how the metal translates from a computer screen to a printed format.

Thanks again to Tina and the Lens-artists team for providing a platform to share our work. I am looking forward to meeting another year’s worth of challenges.

John Steiner

Skydio 2 – My First Look at a New Drone

Fargo, North Dakota.

As this is being written in the midst of a Presidential election vote count that is seeming to take forever, I started looking for a diversion from hours on end of talking heads and electoral college maps. An email from one of my Civil Air Patrol (CAP) colleagues alerted me to a webinar featuring information on new drones in our fleet. I sat in on the webinar and immediately got the itch to find out more about this new generation of flying cameras.

I’ve made it no secret that I purchased a drone in 2019 to add to my camera gear. My purpose was twofold; to add more variety to my blog posts and to gain proficiency in drone operations for Civil Air Patrol missions. I purchased a DJI Mavic Air because of its small size for transport and its brand affiliation (and therefore similarity of flight control) with the CAP drones, larger, more sophisticated, and considerably more expensive aircraft models. CAP now operates the largest fleet of small drones in the world, the vast majority of them being DJI products.

Besides the lower price,  Mavic Air drones are easy to transport. The propellers are on foldable arms that tuck beside the body which is only a little bit longer than a standard pocket pen. The drone and its accessories fit into a small backpack camera bag suitable for using to hike to a scenic location, so it fits my photography application very nicely.

Politics, Espionage, and National Security

DJI is a major player in the drone market and it’s no wonder because DJI has a quality product line. The products, however, are designed with Chinese components and software engineering. Due to security concerns, the Department of Defense has forbidden the use of drones with software engineered in China for certain applications involving both military and civilian applications that relate to our national security. That affects some of our CAP missions.

A large percentage of the CAP DJI drone fleet has had its software redesigned to ensure there is no potential for nefarious activity by the Chinese government. Those units are the only DJI product that can be used on Air Force related missions. For our civilian missions, such as disaster relief or missing person searches, we are allowed to use unmodified DJI products as national security is not at risk.

That brings me to one of the reasons why CAP has moved to the Skydio platform. Coincident with the desire to move away from Chinese-manufactured drones, Skydio has attracted a growing customer base of government agencies due to autonomous flight control software that makes their drones easy to fly and able to avoid obstacles automatically. In addition, its products are designed, engineered, and assembled in the United States and are certified for use in applications where other products are not authorized.

Due to the nature of electronic components needed, there are specific components that are currently only available from Chinese sources. Those components are the only remaining Chinese products in Skydio’s drones. The company is working toward replacing even those basic components. From their website, “We take our responsibility as America’s leading drone manufacturer seriously. We design, assemble, and support our products in the U.S. We develop our software in-house and source our processors from U.S. companies. That enables us to provide a high level of supply chain security and serve as a trusted partner to government customers. The result is a homegrown aircraft that reflects the best of American innovation, trustworthiness, and craftsmanship.”

Recently, the North Dakota Wing CAP received some of these Skydio kits. Though similar to the kits available for retail purchase, CAP ordered some special configurations that fit our specific operational needs.

The autonomous nature of the drone allows it to track people or vehicles while simultaneously ensuring that it “watches where it’s going” and doesn’t run into any obstacles in the way. In the image above, the drone is tracking my wife as she walks through an open field. By default, the camera turns on and records video during the entire duration of the flight. Alternatively, it can be set to record a still image at intervals between 1 and 10 seconds between shots. For my tests, however, I shut off both automatic capture modes.

As the tools and controls are new and somewhat different from the DJI system, I opted to test it in open areas until I got a handle on using the software. It didn’t take long, though, and we were walking along trails with trees on both sides, the drone’s six positional cameras making sure that it either went around, above, or below obstructions, or if it couldn’t figure out how to avoid an obstacle, it would just stop and hover in place.

Video is this camera’s forte, but I am most interested in still photo performance. I switched off the automatic video recording and, doing what I do with my Mavic Air, I manually pressed a shutter button whenever I felt like taking a photo. To give you a feel for the image qualities, the opening and closing images are from the drone. The first is actually a panorama of two images stitched together in Lightroom. The last is simply a snapshot from the camera as it tracked Lynn on our walks around the park.

The output of the camera is excellent right off the microSD card, but almost any digital image can be improved by some “tweaking” in a post-processing tool like Adobe’s Lightroom or Skylum’s Luminar. After I gain more experience with this new drone, I will give you a closer look at the Skydio 2.

John Steiner

 

 

Cellpic Sunday – 3 January 2021

Enchanted Highway, North Dakota.

In Western North Dakota, a stretch of highway between Gladstone and Regent contains the world’s largest collection of scrap metal sculptures. This giant grasshopper is just part of the display at this location. Just to the right of the large sculpture, you can see one of the much smaller sculptures at this site. Each stop has a large parking area, a place to enjoy the view, and just maybe have a picnic lunch or snack. The 32-mile (51 km) section of highway was the dream come to fruition of metal sculptor Gary Greff. Continue reading

But I Digress – LAPC on Hiatus

Buckeye, Arizona.

Happy New Year. Here’s hoping for a safer and saner 2021. Since the Lens-Artists Photo Challenge is on a holiday break, I decided that for my Thursday post I would share some golden hour images captured over the years in our winter hideaway in Arizona. Though it looks like I misaimed the camera for picking up the sunset in the opening panoramic photo, I was most interested in capturing the skies over the White Tank Mountains. This location is my favorite sunset location as it’s at the southern edge of the range and the sun doesn’t disappear behind the nearest mountains from this location. Continue reading

Elk Migration at Cody Wyoming – Don’t Fence Me In

Cody, Wyoming.

On our way to visit Yellowstone Park, we were westbound on the highway between Cody and the park. All at once, traffic started to slow, and then the cars in front of us stopped. There were no cars coming in the opposite direction. It was then that I looked out the side window and saw the largest elk herd I’d ever seen. Numbering well over a hundred individuals, the line stretched for some distance. Using my 16-300mm telephoto set to maximum zoom, I captured an image of the lead group well off in the distance. Continue reading

Cellpic Sunday – 27 December 2020

Badlands National Park, South Dakota.

On our first trip to the park in western South Dakota, I was impressed at how much different this badlands looks from the badlands I have seen many times just a few miles across the North Dakota border. The Lakota Sioux named this area Mako Sica. Literally translated, “Bad Lands”.

Early settlers found the terrain challenging. In wet weather, the clay becomes slick in some places, sticky in others. The canyons and buttes makes any trips through the area circuitous, and the hot, dry summers leave whatever remaining water sources unsafe to drink.

About the photo: Captured with my Samsung S20U, the 12,000×9000 pixel original image was a much larger area of a section of jagged rocks. The advantage of so many pixels is that I easily cropped the image to focus on the two highest points with a remaining image of over 7100×4100 pixels. As usual, basic edits were accomplished in Adobe Lightroom with finishing touches applied in Luminar 4. The resolution was reduced further for publication here, but you can still get a closer look by clicking on the image to check out details, if your browser supports the function.

John Steiner

Glacier National Park – A Tribute to Shrinking Glaciers

Glacier National Park, Montana.

Upon good advice, we decided to head to Saint Mary Lake Entrance on the east side of the park. We were given explicit options for sights with a couple of options for spectacular views as we approached the park’s eastern entrance. Fortunately for us, somewhere along the way, while looking for things to see in the park, we noticed that the eastern entrances were closed due to road renovations. Continue reading