Into the Badlands

The Badlands of South Dakota…

From the moment I saw them I was in awe! Don’t let the name fool you…the Badlands are far from bad.  The peaks and gullies, ancient rock formations and bands of color are mesmerizing and beautiful. Particularly in the golden hour of early morning and late afternoon, when soft low light throws shadows and brings the landscape to life.  During those hours the true beauty of the Park reveals itself.

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Sunrise Panorama, Badlands National Park, SD.

Our trip was in early September and surprisingly the number of tourists and traffic was pretty low.  One morning I was up well before sunrise and in the park and to my delight barely saw any other people.  I felt like I had the Badlands all to myself, but for the distant howls of a pack of coyotes.

Just before sunrise along the loop road.
Just before sunrise along the loop road.


Sunset at Pinnacles Overlook






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It was a short trip, just 3 days.  A good start to many more treks to South Dakota and into the Badlands.  

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Along Boreas Pass

Boreas Pass, elevation 11,481 ft (3,499 m), is a high mountain pass in the Rocky Mountains of central Colorado in the United States. The pass is located on the continental divide, at the crest of the Front Range along the border between Park (south) and Summit counties. The correct pronunciation of the pass name is (Bore-ays).

The pass was formerly known as Breckenridge Pass in the 1860s, when it served as an early route for thousands of prospectors during the Colorado Gold Rush who crossed from South Park to look for gold in the valley of the Blue around Breckenridge.


DSC_7431_HDR by .
“Along Boreas Pass”


















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Contemporary sunflowers trace their ancestry to plants found at archaeological sites dating from 3,000 BC. While they grew abundantly on the Great Plains, sunflowers were first purposely cultivated by Native Americans in the Southwest or Mississippi River valley area as a source of medicine, fiber, seeds, and oil.

When the European settlers arrived, they immediately recognized the value of sunflowers and sent seeds back to Europe. There they found a place in English cottage gardens and even Van Gogh’s paintings. However, it was in Russia that the sunflower became a major agricultural crop. They provided a source of oil that could be eaten without breaking church dietary laws. Early in the 20th Century, Russian growers spearheaded the breeding and selection for disease resistance and high oil content. In the 1960s, the U.S. began sustained commercial production of oil seed cultivars to produce vegetable oil.

Long beloved as part of the rural landscape, sunflowers have been embraced by gardeners as an ornamental plant relatively recently. Responding to this interest, breeders in Germany, Japan and the U.S. have developed types particularly suitable for home gardens.  -from


Summer Sunflowers


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The Amazing Angel Oak

The Angel Oak, named after its previous owners, Justis and Martha Angel, is a live oak tree that grows on Johns Island, just a short drive from Charleston, South Carolina.  It is estimated to be at least 400 and possibly up to 1400 years old. Local folklore tells stories of ghosts of former slaves appearing as angels around the tree. Whether you believe that or not, the fact that this tree was standing at the time of both the Revolutionary and the Civil war is just plain cool.  It was heavily damaged during Hurricane Hugo but is still growing…so maybe there are some angels watching over her.

Equipment Used : Nikon D610 w/Nikkor AF-S 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 G ED VR Lens, Tripod w/ remote shutter release.

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Green Heron

I’ve only seen a green heron one other time while out shooting but this past Saturday morning I had the pleasure of three.  Compared to other herons I’ve seen they are quite a bit smaller and stocky with short legs. There color is quite striking up close, with a green back, chestnut body and dark cap. They occasionally raise there crown feathers which to me, makes them resemble a kingfisher from a distance (of course Kingfishers are a lot different in reality).  Like other herons, they stand motionless for long periods, then strike suddenly, snatching their prey with there dagger like bill.  Click on an image to view a slideshow of a few shots I was able to get.

Harpy Eagle

“The largest and most powerful raptor found in the Americas.”

Arguably the largest of the Eagles in the world and therefore the biggest predatory bird living today, the  Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyja) is a Neotropical species of eagle. It is sometimes known as the American Harpy Eagle to distinguish it from the Papuan Eagle which is sometimes known as the New Guinea Harpy Eagle or Papuan Harpy Eagle.  It is the largest and most powerful raptor found in the Americas, and among the largest extant species of eagles in the world.  It usually inhabits tropical lowland rainforests in the upper (emergent) canopy layer. Destruction of its natural habitat has seen it vanish from many parts of its former range, and it is nearly extirpated in Central America. In Brazil, the Harpy Eagle is also known as Royal-Hawk (in Portuguese: Gavião-Real).

Captive Harpy Eagle
Harpy Eagle

Although the Harpy Eagle still occurs over a considerable range, its distribution and populations have dwindled considerably. It is threatened primarily by habitat loss provoked by the expansion of logging, cattle ranching, agriculture and prospecting. Secondarily, it is threatened by being hunted as an actual threat to livestock and/or a supposed one to human life, due to its great size.  Although not actually known to predate humans and only rarely a predator of domestic stock, the species’ large size and nearly fearless behavior around humans reportedly make it an “irresistible target” for hunters. Such threats apply throughout its range, in large parts of which the bird has become a transient sight only: in Brazil, it was all but totally wiped out from the Atlantic rainforest and is only found in numbers in the most remote parts of the Amazon Basin; a Brazilian journalistic account of the mid-1990s already complained that at the time it was only found in numbers, in Brazilian territory, on the northern side of the Equator.  Scientific 1990s records, however, suggest that the Harpy Atlantic Forest population may be migratory. Subsequent research in Brazil has established that, as of 2009, the Harpy Eagle, outside the Brazilian Amazon, is critically endangered in Espírito Santo,  São Paulo and Paraná, endangered in Rio de Janeiro, and probably extirpated in Rio Grande do Sul and Minas Gerais  – the actual size of their total population in Brazil is unknown.

Globally, The Harpy Eagle is considered Near Threatened by IUCN  and threatened with extinction by CITES (appendix I). The Peregrine Fund until recently considered it a “conservation-dependent species”, meaning it depends on a dedicated effort for captive breeding and release to the wild as well as habitat protection in order to prevent it from reaching endangered status but now has accepted the Near Threatened status. The Harpy Eagle is considered critically endangered in Mexico and Central America, where it has been extirpated in most of its former range: in Mexico, it used to be found as far North as Veracruz, but today probably occurs only in Chiapas in the Selva Zoque. It is considered as Near Threatened or Vulnerable in most of the South American portion of its range: at the Southern extreme of its range, in Argentina, it’s found only in the Parana Valley forests at the province of Misiones.  It has disappeared from El Salvador, and almost so from Costa Rica.                                                                                                                                      (From Wikipedia)



I guess I’ve been feeling a little squirrelly lately.  Squirrels are the one animal I commonly see when I’m out taking photographs, so I thought I would share some of the photos I’ve taken over the past few years. You can click on the first image to see a slideshow.  To see more of my images, check out my Flickr site : or connect with me on Facebook : and

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to All!


The Tree in the Middle of the Road

Not far from where I grew up in southwest Iowa, stands a 100 foot tall cottonwood tree.  You might be asking yourself, what is so special about a 100 foot tall tree?  Well read on and I shall explain. The story goes, that a surveyor, marking the line between Audubon and Cass counties in Iowa, had only a cottonwood sprout on hand to mark the location that the lines intersected.  Keep in mind the year was 1850, so apparently official marking sticks were in short supply. The sprout subsequently took root and grew into what is now a very large cottonwood tree.  Now what is unique about this story is not that a cottonwood tree grew from a sprout pushed into the soil 164 years ago.  It is that the location that these two lines made is now the intersection of two roads, and you guessed it, that big cottonwood tree stands smack dab in the middle of the intersection. The infamous tree in the middle of the road!

This tree was the thing of legends and mysteries to us young and impressionable kids back in the good old days.  It is quite an eerie site to see the top of this massive tree emerge above the road ahead of you, especially at night.  To top the hill and see a tree where one should not or has never seen one before is a bit disconcerting at midnight out in the country on a dark dirt road.  I’m sure many a spooky tale has been told going to or  from this spot.  It might have been a source of great trepidation for us, had it not on those occasions, been for our liquid courage.  I suppose over the years since then, we have not been the only teenagers to make the journey out to see this imposing landmark.  If you ever find yourself traveling on I-80 in Southwest Iowa, it is worth your time to pay a visit to the tree in the middle of the road. I think you will be glad you did.

I made this shot just a few minutes before sunrise recently.


DSC_8510_1_2 by Christopher L. Nelson.


Nature and Wildlife Photography by Christopher L. Nelson

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