I rolled out of bed, licked the shaving wounds from last night, and headed out. Based on the weather forecast, I changed my route: initially I planned to leisurely drive to the Devils Tower via various scenic routes, spend some time there, and then head straight back to Denver - something that's much easier to do from a scheduling point of view. However, the weather forecast for Devils Tower was such that thunderstorms were forecast for the next two days and then the temperature was to drop significantly, making thunderstorms less likely; so I decided to make a run for it. Unfortunately yesterday I made already 1/3 of the detour, so now I was in the middle of nowhere with no "straight shot" to the tower...
Driving thru the Wyoming plains I was more or less observing the posted speed limit of 65 mph. Even so, going 70, this was rather on the slow side for many, if not most traffic around here. This included a semi that zoomed by as if I were standing still. Must have been an important delivery of pipes for an oil field or something...
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I stopped for a quick bite in Casper, which is a town about as big as they come around here. I could not help but notice that people around here really love their customized license plates. Within five minutes I came across BETH, CHEL, BONE and GUFY to name just the most notable ones. I guess things are tough if you have to live with just four characters - one number for the county, then the cowboy, and then the actual four characters at your disposal.
Heading further north I ran into the first oil field of the trip by the aptly named town of Midwest. Most pumps were standing still, despite the current fuel prices - but what do I know how an oil field works. After a short stint on the freeway I was on a small road again, and was immediately greeted by the first Wall Drug sign. We still have fond memories of Wall Drug from seven years ago, and I am looking forward to my visit there in a few days, if for no other reason than silly memories of a virgin drink and the worst thunderstorm ever.
And there it was, finally standing above the not so flat plain, the subject of the journey. nI went for a quick walk around the perimeter, and then drove around to find other good views. Once I had a pretty good idea I sat down at the rest area by the campground and started writing. The campground was still pretty much empty, given that the season is just barely beginning; I had the whole rest area for myself. Proving one more aspect of my brilliance, I realized that I brought only one battery for my laptop. The friendly rangers have thought of that however, and installed four power outlets right by the seating area. What more can you ask for?
Weather, that's what you can ask for. What I had was sorta blue skies, with a rather thick haze. Not what's called photo weather. So I left the park looking for some lodging. Not much to be found around here, given you're in the middle of nowhere and outside the season. Still, in Hulett I signed in at the aptly named Hulett Motel, featuring cell phone coverage and even WiFi. Now I needed to get food, which I got at the only local restaurant, nine miles back at the Devils Tower, in the form of a grilled sausage with mashed potatoes (everything on the menu was with mashed potatoes). I was the only guest until a few local tribesmen arrived; is that a sign of good authentic food?
Now it was time to wait for the sunset, occurring at 20:31 local time. Plenty of time to find a good spot, and hope for some clouds. They finally came after the sun had set, but I guess better late than never. More importantly, far in the distance, I could see lots of darkness, so my gut feeling told me not to pack up quite yet. I shot a few silhouettes waiting to see what may happen. The first signs of things to come appeared on the horizon, so I busted out my friend the lightning trigger and started practicing. When it became clear that the storm was heading in the right direction I relocated such that the angle would be right, set up, and let the magic begin.
The only thing missing from perfection was technical execution. See, I never shot a lightning storm, especially not at night. What exposure? Trickier than you think. Or let's start with the basics - focus. Try focusing in total darkness, outside any civilization (so that you can't use distant lights to focus). Well, it would turn out one way or another, that's for sure. I waited safely in the car (don't get caught in a lightning storm outside) while the camera was doing its thing outside. That changed when the storm suddenly and rapidly headed my way, accompanied by serious rain. I dragged the camera and tripod inside, and performed back seat acrobatics like not in a long time. I set up the new Giottos MT 8361 tripod, specifically purchased for this trip to allow me shooting lightning from the inside of the car, as this tripod can contort itself into positions previously thought impossible. Very much to my surprise it worked, and within minutes I captured the photo that I came for. Now if only the exposure, focus and framing were better - but given that I didn't actually see what I was shooting other than for a few milliseconds every so often, I can't complain much.
What needs to be said is how roomy this car is. I mean, people, look at it, it's a Corolla. It's the size (and has the looks) of a dumpster. But it has a turning radius that would let me make a U-turn in my garage, which should make my neighbors really jealous, given that they barely can maneuver their new Volvo SUV into their garage via a three point turn. In this Corolla I can sit behind myself, comfortably, something I can't say for my physically bigger S4 - not by a long shot: Even poor Rachel, aged 2, finds it difficult to sit behind me. Granted, they had to somehow put twice as many cylinders under the hood of my car, but come on, did it really have to take Audi 28 years to figure out how to make an all wheel drive system that didn't require a nose the size of a tennis court?
Once the storm passed I headed back to the motel, eagerly checked out the photos (which could have been better but more importantly much worse), and went to bed. Through the night I could still hear the storm hanging out in the area.