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Photographing the Custer Buffalo Roundup can mean an early start to the day. We were up at 3:30am to head out to the Buffalo Roundup. When I went down to the motel lobby to pick up my breakfast bag I didn’t see anyone else up.

It was pitch dark when we headed out into the park. As we neared the park we started to see more cars. We decided to go to the south parking area. I’ll discuss that decision later in the blog. After driving several miles on the Wildlife Loop Road we headed up a steep hill. Just after reaching the crest we encountered a traffic jam. We could see a trail of red lights all the way down the mountain. Soon the lights started to disappear as everyone concluded they would be stuck in place for a while.

We decided to spend the time watching the stars and eating our bag breakfast prepared by the motel. I could really kick myself for not thinking about some star trail photography. The stars from the top of the mountain were spectacular and the next time I make this trip I hope to spend some time photographing star trails.Buffalo Roundup Custer State Park 14-9-_2730

About an hour after we arrived we started to see break lights go on as the traffic was starting to move. When we reached the bottom of the mountain we saw where the barricades had been setup. A short drive later we noticed park rangers directing traffic as we moved through the buffalo herd. Apparently the goal was to stop traffic before it entered the area where the buffalo were spending the night.

Shortly before sunrise we arrived in the south parking lot. The parking lot opened at 6:15am by the time we arrived at the parking lot we had already been up for about four hours.Buffalo-Roundup-Custer-State-Park-14-9-_2758

As soon as we arrived we made our way over to the fence so we could pick a good spot to photograph the buffalo as they were driven past. I Picked out a low spot that would allow for a good shot of the buffalo when they were driven through a gap in the hills. As soon as we put our chairs down someone said this wasn’t a good spot then someone else said that it was a good spot. I decide it would be an great spot.

Unfortunately I had forgotten that I don’t like to sit still so, while my wife sat and talked with some of the folks who had gathered at the fence I wandered off to take some photos.

This cowboy was from Michigan on a horse that was from John Wayne’s hometown. He looked the part and has driven out to the roundup for years to help out. He said he was too old to ride in the roundup but he could still assist folks and provide some local color.Buffalo-Roundup-Custer-State-Park-14-9-_2807

An hour after we arrived cars were still streaming into the parking area. This ranger was having a great time directing traffic. I think the early workday made her a little goofy. As I recall they had to be in place by 3am.Buffalo-Roundup-Custer-State-Park-14-9-_2822

The Begging Burros were back in their usual location south of the south parking lot. As the morning wore on they became increasingly nervous about all the activity. The buffalo drive would come right through the area where they usually hang out. They gradually migrated far to the south out of the way of the drive before it started.Buffalo-Roundup-Custer-State-Park-14-9-_2826

About an hour and a half after the parking lot opened most of the cars had arrived. The area along the fence east of the parking lot was packed with folks waiting for the Roundup to start.Buffalo-Roundup-Custer-State-Park-14-9-_2856

I continued to walk around the grounds photographing the crowds gradually migrating to the south end of the south parking lot where I would have a good view of the start of the drive. Around 9 am (seven hours after leaving Custer) I noticed the first of the horseman heading out on a ridge line to block the buffalo from getting away. I should point out that I was using a Tamron 150-600mm (250-900mm equivalent) lens to photograph the event. Even with this lens the riders looked small.Buffalo-Roundup-Custer-State-Park-14-9-_3433

Apparently the South Dakota Governor brought a group of business folks to the Roundup as part of his plan to bring new business to South Dakota. They were entrenched on a high hill above the corrals. Once the drive started they were driven down the ridge closer to the actions. The common folks had to walk.Buffalo-Roundup-Custer-State-Park-14-9-_3421

Soon the buffalo appeared in the draw just south of Wildlife Loop Road where it intersects with Red Valley Road. The plan was to drive them slowly because of the heat. I forgot to mention that it was very warm. By noon the temperature was 90 degrees. The was in sharp contrast to the previous year when snowflakes were in the air.

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In this photo you can see a horse in the background kicking up a little dust. Shortly after the photo was taken the rider was thrown from his horse. He appeared to be ok and was not caught in the buffalo stampede.Buffalo-Roundup-Custer-State-Park-14-9-_3480
Once I saw that the buffalo were on their way to the corrals I headed over to my seat by the fence. As it turns out the drive moves quickly. Only three minutes elapsed from my first shot through the fence to my last shot. There were a couple of other problems with this location. I was shooting into the sun, the buffalo kicked up quite a bit of dust which was blowing directly at me. I was happy that I did not choose this location to watch the entire Roundup.Buffalo-Roundup-Custer-State-Park-14-9-_3497

Several riders came by one carrying the American Flag and another the South Dakota flag. This was a nice touch and provided everyone with a good photographic opportunity.Buffalo-Roundup-Custer-State-Park-14-9-_3505

As soon as the Buffalo were past me I headed to the north end of the parking lot and a ridge that provided a good view of the buffalo as they were driven into the corrals. On my way over to the ridge line I took this photo of the buffalo as they were lined up to be driven toward the Corrals. On the right you can see the folks watching from the south parking area and on the left you can see the white tents from the north viewing area.Buffalo-Roundup-Custer-State-Park-14-9-_2865

From my vantage point I could see the buffalo lined up at the head of a draw with the wranglers waiting to drive them toward the corrals. There are two gates to the corrals. You can see the south gate at the bottom left of the photo. The other gate is below the north viewing area.Buffalo-Roundup-Custer-State-Park-14-9-_2867

With a lot of shouting and cracking of whips the wranglers started driving the buffalo toward the pens.Buffalo-Roundup-Custer-State-Park-14-9-_3557

Most of the buffalo headed for the north gate but a few were moving toward the south gate. These four buffalo made a break for it trying to get back to the open pasture. A loud cheer went up from the crowd as they made their break. Three of them made it. The wranglers chased them for a while but they soon found freedom over a far hill.Buffalo-Roundup-Custer-State-Park-14-9-_3579

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The folks on the north viewing area had a good view as the buffalo headed into the corrals. For some reason all of the buffalo went through the north gate this year.Buffalo-Roundup-Custer-State-Park-14-9-_3585

After the buffalo were safely in the corrals folks started heading down to the corral area where lunch was being served. Transportation was provided but my wife and I are hikers so we decided to walk down.Buffalo-Roundup-Custer-State-Park-14-9-_2885

When we arrived some of the wranglers were trying to herd a group of buffalo into a holding corral next to the pens where they would be processed. These were the buffalo that had been put into the pens before the public roundup so they could calm down before being processed.Buffalo-Roundup-Custer-State-Park-14-9-_2899

There is always one that doesn’t want to go with the crowd. The wranglers had to make a number of attempts to get this fellow to follow the rest of the buffalo to the new pen.Buffalo-Roundup-Custer-State-Park-14-9-_2906

It was a little warm so I managed to find a couple of extra dollars so we could have a cold beer with our buffalo meat lunch. Although the lines were long they moved fast and it wasn’t long before we were enjoying a cold one.Buffalo-Roundup-Custer-State-Park-14-9-_2927

After lunch we walked around for a while but decided not to stay to watch the processing of the buffalo. On our walk back to the car we noticed the buffalo were peacefully grazing in the corrals.Buffalo-Roundup-Custer-State-Park-14-9-_2976

I was happy with my choice of the south viewing area. Did we need to get up at 3:30am? I don’t think so unless you have a particular spot you want to photograph from or you want to photograph the star trails. We would not have gotten our spot along the fence east of the road without being one of the early arrivals. Having said that I only spent a brief time photographing from this location. Most of my time was spent at the south end of the parking where I could see the start of the drive. The rest of the time was spent on the ridge photographing the buffalo being driven down the draw toward the pens. Neither of these locations required an early arrival.

After visiting Au Train Falls we moved on to Laughing Whitefish Falls. Having visited most of these waterfalls numerous times it’s sometimes difficult to get a different perspective but I did manage a few different photos this trip.

The drive into the falls was beautiful with most of the leaves at near peak color. The road was also in the best shape I’ve ever seen it. Those of you who have driven into Laughing Whitefish Falls know the potholes in the road can be quite large but this year there wasn’t a pothole to be found.Laughing-Whitefish-Falls-14-10-_1631

When we reached the falls we found more water in the falls than we have ever seen in the past. This allowed for some different photographs. This photo was taken at the top of the falls.Laughing-Whitefish-Falls-14-10-_1645
This photo was taken from the boardwalk to the bottom of the falls. As you can see there was quite a bit of water flowing over the falls because it had been raining quite a bit the last few weeks.Laughing-Whitefish-Falls-14-10-_1197

This photo was taken from the exact same spot as the previous photo but a much more intimate shot of a rock formation underneath the water. It was converted to black and white.Laughing-Whitefish-Falls-14-10-_1692a

I don’t often photograph the sunset from Castle Rock but thought it might be interesting given the light and the heavy surf. There were a few others at the location but we didn’t have any problems getting a good spot.

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Our second day in Munising turned out to be a rainy day so we decided to go looking for waterfalls to photograph. Our first stop was Munising Falls and apparently every other photographer in the Munising area had the same idea. The parking lot was full at least too full for me so we moved on.Au-Train-Falls-14-10-_1612

Our second stop was Wagner Falls with the same result. There were too many photographers around.Au-Train-Falls-14-10-_1597

We then headed off to Au Train Falls where we found fewer photographers. We took a few photos but spent most of our time talking with a few other photographers. No one seemed to be in a great hurry.Au-Train-Falls-14-10-_1583

Typically when we drive over to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore we have an early dinner then drive out to Miners Beach for some sunset photos. We continued this tradition again on this trip. When we arrived at Miners Beach we could hear the roar of the waves hitting the beach. There were also quite a few cars in the parking lot. This is a popular spot during the fall photography season.Miners-Beach-14-10-_2179

When we walked out to the beach we were surprised to find that there wasn’t much of a beach. All of the photographers were huddled into a small area above the beach. My wife counted thirteen photographers and a few other folks vying for space.Miners-Beach-14-10-_2165

Given all of the photographers around we decided to drive over to Castle Rock and check out the waves and evening light. Before going I took one last photo of what looked to be a nice sunset.Miners-Beach-14-10-_2216

After dodging the rain at Bond Falls we drove over to Canyon Falls. It was raining when we arrived but there were still a large number of folks visiting the Falls. We were able to get a few shots by dodging the rain during our stay.

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After our western road trip we returned to find that there were still plenty of fall leaves to be seen. We headed up to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. On the way we stopped at Bond Falls. The peak leaf time at Bond Falls is usually around the end of September so we missed it but Bond Falls is always a great place to get some photos.

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We arrived in Custer State Park early in the afternoon and planned to do some scouting to see just where the roundup would take place and to try and pick the “best” location for photography.

On the day of the roundup there are two viewing areas setup. On to the northeast of the Buffalo Corrals and one to the southeast of the buffalo Corrals. This is also where you would park while watching the roundup. When you drive to the Roundup you must choose one of the two locations to view the Roundup. Once in one of the viewing areas you cannot leave and when you leave you must leave the way you came in.

As we drove through the park on the Wildlife Loop Road we did not see much in the way of wildlife. When we reached the area where the Roundup would take place we found there were park rangers station at both the north and south viewing areas. We stopped and talked to them trying to find out where the best location for viewing would be and the route the buffalo would take when they are driven into the corrals. This appeared to be the question that everyone else was asking. Several times I was approached asking if I knew the best place to be to photograph the Roundup.

We were a little disappointed to find out that the buffalo had already been rounded up and were stashed in an area southeast of the pens. In retrospect it makes sense because the herd is normally scattered around the Park and it would be impossible to round them up and get them into the pens in a single day. The Roundup that we would be watching is staged for tourists and allows all of the buffalo to be driven into the viewing area in a single large herd. It makes for great theatre.

After talking with the rangers we drove down to the buffalo corrals. There were a small herd of buffalo already in the Corrals. These had been driven in early in the roundup so they would be acclimated to the corrals and would have time to calm down. On the day of the Roundup some of the buffalo are processed and these would be the buffalo processed. Processing includes vaccinations, branding and checking the cows for pregnancy. The buffalo driven into the pens during the “Roundup” would be processed later after they had a chance to calm down.Buffalo-Corrals-14-9-_2982

We then headed out of the Park on the Wildlife Loop Road looking for buffalo. We drove past the location where the Begging Burros are normally found but the burros were gone. We found them a ways down the road near where the buffalo were said to be stashed. They were a ways from the road but when cars started to stop they started moving to the road.Begging-Burros-14-9-_3715

We continued on to Custer, SD where we checked into our Super 8 Motel. When we checked in the clerk mentioned that a breakfast bag would be available at 5am for those heading out to the roundup. My wife was not happy to hear that we would be getting up at 4:30 am.

We stopped for a bite to eat then headed back out to the Wildlife Loop Road looking for wildlife as evening approached. We found a group of buffalo next to the road bathed in evening light. We stopped for some photos before continuing on.Bull-Buffalo-14-9-_3751

We soon found the Begging Burros along the road with a mother and a very young burro standing in the middle of the road begging. We also ran into bull buffalo lounging in a wallow. Apparently they don’t roundup some of the bulls because they are so mean. This one had been in the same place earlier in the day.Bull-Buffalo-14-9-_3036

Dusk was approaching as we drove out of the park.Dusk-Custer-State-Park-14-9-_3045a

I had several photographs receive awards in this years Crex Meadows Photo Contest. My photograph of a Karner Blue received first place in the insects category. The Karner Blue is on the federal endangered species list. Apparently it is rare nationwide but common in parts of Wisconsin. Wisconsin is making an effort to restore and protect Karner Blue habitat. Their habitat are in oak and pine barrens, dry sand prairies and other open areas with sandy soil. they lay their eggs on or near Wild Lupine plants. The caterpillars feed only on Wild Lupine. Fortunately these conditions exist in the northern part of Crex Meadows.Karner Blue 13-8-_7795

My photograph of a controlled Burn in Crex Meadows received third place in the black and white category. This photo was taken during the spring when portions of the Meadows were being burned to control brush.Controlled-Burn---Philip-Schwarz--11-5-_1977

All of the winning photos can be found on the Crex Meadows Website.

I keep thinking of it as a vacation but my wife keeps pointing out that retired people can’t take a vacation so it’s a road trip. The plan was to head out to the Badlands, Custer State Park, Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park starting the latter part of September.Buffalo-14-9-_3035

The trip got off to an inauspicious start. The day before we were to leave my wife came back from town and said that a warning light appeared on the dash – something about a battery. She immediately called the dealer and they set up an appointment for early afternoon.

When she returned home she was driving a different van. Apparently the problem was an alternator, something that never goes wrong with a Toyota. The dealer was having problems finding a replacement. My wife talked them into letting her drive a van home so we could pack all of our gear and then make the transfer at the dealer and head out west without returning home.

The next morning the dealer called and said they would have the new alternator at 10am and would have it ready by noon. We called and canceled our reservation for the first night because there was no way we would make Murdo, S.D .given our late start.

When we arrived to pick up our van I started transferring our gear to our car while my wife paid the bill. When I reached for my tripod something didn’t feel right. Sure enough it was my old tripod. I really needed the new one. So, back home we drove to get the new tripod.

Once back on the road we headed to Wabasha, Wis. to catch the highway south to I-90. As we drove through town I took my normal shortcut. When we reached highway 61 I turned right. At that point my wife asked me where I was going. I said to catch the freeway. Unfortunately I had been so used to heading to Redwing, Minnesota to watch the eagles last winter that I was heading north rather than south.

Back on the road , in the right direction, we were within spitting distance of I-90 only to encounter a 20 mile detour. At that point we reassess our progress and decided to stop at Mitchell, SD. Unfortunately we couldn’t find a hotel we liked so we decided to continue on to Sioux Falls, SD.

Early the next morning we resumed our western road trip. We planned to stop in the Badlands but decided to skip that side trip and continued on to Custer State Park. The goal was to photograph the Custer Buffalo Roundup the next day so we wanted to scout the area.

So for the past month we have been driving around the western U.S. and the upper Midwest chasing the fall leaves. They are just about gone now so I should have time to starting going through the many photos I’ve taken and writing my blog on a daily basis.

In the meantime I’ve started processing some of my most recent photos and interspersing blogs from the western trip with those of the Midwestern leaf peeping trips.

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