Endangered History

So you don’t want to see your history erased.

If history is truly your concern, the major battlefields and historic sites from the Civil War are meticulously maintained by the heroes of our National Park Service. At these national monuments and parks you can see actual history, not romanticized sugar-coated statues placed with questionable motives.

You can see the rolling hill that provided cover at Antietam. You can step out onto the top of Little Round Top at Gettysburg and see the whole battlefield in context. You can climb the same steep grade that forces hauled canons up at Kennesaw Mountain – three thousand feet up in just one mile! You can understand the importance of border states by walking the canon lines at Pea Ridge where a Park Ranger can tell you how the tide turned once Missouri was saved for the Union. Fredericksburg, Vicksburg, Wilson’s Creek, Shiloh, Andersonville, Arlington and many more. These places are truly our hallowed ground – the places where we can confront the real truths and come to understand the reasons why that terrible war had to be fought. These are the places that America wrestled with it’s very soul. These places ARE history.

It’s all there and it’s all in context. It’s preserved. These statues that Mr. Trump wants you to worry about give you nothing like that, and they are a poor substitute for actual history. In my travels I have seen hundreds of these “monuments”. None of them had the power of that view from Little Round Top that overlooks the field of battle that saw over 51,000 casualties in the course of three days . None of them compare to the power of that last image of the single stone at Arlington House. Those statues ring as hollow as the bronze shells that they are. Robert E. Lee never visited Charlottesville. I get no sense of history standing in his artificial shadow there.

What you might not realize is that Donald Trump has signed executive orders for the removal of protected status of some national monuments in the Parks system in an effort to open them up to mining, fracking, and general business development. If he cared at all about history and beauty he would never have considered plundering our national treasures.

If you love history, you really should be worried. While Donald Trump has you focused on statues he’s prepared to sell off your actual history to the highest bidder.

I apologize if this shift in focus on my little photo blog catches you by surprise. These are strange days my friends. Strange days.

Something Fishy

Years ago I got something called a “fisheye converter” for one if my lenses. It fit right onto the end of my kit lens and I really enjoyed using it. I would shoot lots of architecture and landscapes with horizon lines. It was limited by the mediocre speed of my kit lens – and as I acquired faster lenses it fell out of the rotation for me. I was just a cool novelty. A couple of years ago I passed it on to someone starting out with the same system. I forgot all about that lens and moved on to primes and lenses that had a wider use.

 

I hadn’t even considered wanting a fisheye again until I saw that Olympus had a sale on their 8mm f1.8 Pro late last year. I have been experimenting with night sky photography and thought that a fisheye might be a good addition to my kit.

 

What I hadn’t counted on where the many interesting things I could do with this lens. It has become a regular part of my kit. I take it everywhere. I shoot all kinds of things with it. It lets me change the way I see things.

 

Shutterbug Notes: You can control the amount of curve in your images by shooting close for more curve and further for less curve. You also can exaggerate the direction of a curve by shooting above or below it, to the left or the right if it. Using a fisheye lets you tell the viewer what you want them to see by curving around it or curving the subject itself – like shooting shallow DOF it lets you choose what stops the viewers’ eye. 

A Photographic Work Out

There is no better place to flex your photographic muscles than a visit to a National Park.   You get a chance to shoot amazing wildlife, grand vistas, tiny details, and history. Really capturing the essence of these remarkable places requires more than a single set up. I carry primes, zooms, fisheyes and more. You never want to miss a shot so make sure to pack a kit that’s ready for action!

For me the Parks are a treasure – never short on adventure or inspiration. Let me share some of my favorite spots with you.

Wildlife – Shoot long.

You see it everywhere – even in the city park sites. Make sure you have a lens with lots of reach so that you can make sure you get the shot. Years ago I was frustrated trying to get a sharp image of a robin outside a visitors center and it pushed me to focus on shooting birds every single day for a year – this experience not only helped me to learn the behaviors of birds and the best techniques for capturing them – it taught be to think fast, to learn to adjust my camera without taking my eye away from the viewfinder, to capture action. It changed my photography. It made me a wildlife photographer.

 

 

Vistas – Shoot wide.

Nothing is more American than getting out into the wide open spaces of nature. You need to make sure to carry a lens that will let you take in those big wonderful views – wide zooms or primes can capture it all. I recall thinking that landscapes were just not my thing, but each time I visited a spectacular place I longed to take something home with me to capture that moment of wonder. Landscape photography taught me to slow down, to use a tripod, to be a part of the vista even as an observer. Today I shoot some locations several times a year so that I can see all the opportunities that differing lighting conditions have to offer me creatively. It has opened my mind and my vision for my work.

 

 

Details – Shoot close.

I love seeing beautiful details in a park. This is where I take out the macro lens or something that lets me focus close. There is always opportunity to discover pattern and color that you just don’t notice when you pass by what you might think of as just “ordinary”. There is alway more to see when you get close. Shooting macro and details has taught me to investigate things and to be present in the moment.

 

 

History – Shoot the angles.

Everyone has seen a shot of the Lincoln Memorial – right? When you see something so grand and recognizable it is a challenge to make the shot your own. Sometimes it’s the lighting, sometimes it’s the angle, sometimes it’s taking another tool from the kit like a fisheye to bend history to your own vision. Shooting monuments and historical displays makes me feel wonder at being so close to things we all share. It makes me want to show what they mean to me. They are common images of places that have touched me in uncommon ways.

 

 

This summer – go out and see America! Be sure to take your camera with you!

 

Shutterbug Notes: I shoot mirrorless. I got into this format in about 2009 when the Olympus Pen first came out. I liked that it was compact and that I could easily use my old OM lenses with an adaptor. Mirrorless camera lenses are much smaller than standard cameras. I can get two cameras and 6-8 lenses in a backpack although I typically carry only 4-5 at a time. This kit has made it possible for me to have all the flexibility I like when I travel. It has allowed me the most possible creative freedoms when I shoot. No matter what you shoot, try to cover the bases. You need something long for wildlife, something wide for landscapes, something close focussing for details and something unique for shooting common scenes – this can be four lenses or maybe just one or two depending on what you have in your kit. Get to know your lenses capabilities and stretch yourself. 

 

 

 

Why do Birds Suddenly Appear…

…Every time – I am near?

OK – I stole that from my friend Honie. It was in her comment on my recent post about seeing a Northern Flicker for the first time. She’s clever like that.

Anyway, I don’t think they appear when I am near, I think I have just learned to notice them. I lived at the Stone House for 9 years before I really paid attention. I only took note because I bought a bird identifying app for my iPhone. It plays the birds calls and I wanted to see if I could call birds with my phone. I took an old crate out into the woods and played the cardinal call and was thrilled when they started talking back to me. I tried taking their photos, but I just didn’t have the patience or focus to catch them. A little over a year ago I decided to really work on shooting birds with the thought that it would improve my ability to make quick decisions behind the lens. I thought I would try it for the remainder of the calendar year, but I was hooked. I find shooting birds to be the most relaxing thing and I do it several times a week. I have come to know some of them personally and I think it has made me a better photog in ways I never imagined it would. I have learned to shoot better in weather and low light situations, I do a better job of getting a sharp focus, I’m more patient about getting the best shot.

I notice birds absolutely everywhere now and I use that same app to identify and learn about them all along my way. On my recent trip to the Pacific Northwest I got a chance to see some amazing birds, and some ordinary ones too – as if any bird is really ordinary…

The Raven

Although ravens have an amazing ability to fly and soar with the eagles, they often seemed content to walk around on the roadsides. Watching them I can see where the Looney Tunes got that silly bird walk from.

Although I can soar with eagles, I prefer to stalk park visitors and con them out of Apricots

I loved seeing so many ravens, I had no idea that they were such characters and that they could be so playful. I recently read that they can fly upside down for great distances – why, well because they seem to like to show off.

The American Robin

Don't even think of letting your dog out of the car...

Don’t even think of letting your dog out of the car…

I see robins everywhere – I almost don’t think of them as birds who really live in the wild away from people, but this was shot in the Hoh rainforest.

Barn Swallows

I picked out this stick just for you honey - do you love it? It'll look great right above the mantle...

I picked out this stick just for you honey – do you love it? It’ll look great right above the mantle…

...sigh

…sigh

Do you like this stick better?

Do you like this stick better?

I felt for this guy – he showed her several sticks and even tried to put them into the nest to please her – she never gave him the time of day.

Rufus Hummingbird

Against the wind

Against the wind…and the ocean, and the barn swallows with sticks…

This hummer was perched on a limb overlooking the Pacific Ocean – he was singing his heart out as barn swallows swooped by – the wind was howling, the waves were crashing, still he sang.

Stellar’s Jay

Nothing more natural in a National Park than a plumbing vent.

Nothing more natural in a National Park than a plumbing vent.

These remind me a lot of blue jays here in the Ozarks but they are not nearly so shy and skittish. This park office in the rainforest has a little path that is meant for them to feed on, when they have had enough of the tourists they hop up on the roof.

Cliff Swallows

No Vacancy!

No Vacancy!

There were probably over a thousand cliff swallows swirling around the facade of this building making nests – it looked like birds had to stake their claim or face eviction – their mates continuously added to the complex as they sat and watched.

Brewer’s Blackbird

Pants off - dance off!

Pants off – dance off!

Eek!

Eek!

Mating dance? War dance? Rut? I have no idea – but these birds are posers. I recently spotted some of them near my home, sometimes you gotta travel to appreciate what’s in your own backyard.

Tree Swallows

I've found the perfect apartment!

I’ve found the perfect apartment!

Talking to her is like talking to a rock...

Talking to her is like talking to a rock…

This female made dozens of trips to that barrel with twigs as her man sat by on the rail above her talking to that rock instead of helping. That’s what you get when you fall for a pretty boy.

An aside – I think the swallows were confused. I saw barn swallows gathering mud and sticks off ocean cliffs, cliff swallows nesting on the facade of an old building, and tree swallows nesting in a barrel – no one knows their place these days.

Red Bellied Sapsucker

Time to get to work...

Time to get to work…

...always remember to punch in.

…always remember to punch in.

I saw red and had to shoot. Such an adorable bird, my favorite of the trip. He actually checked each hole to see if there was more sap or insects. A bird watcher told me that they check these holes every day or so instead of drilling new ones constantly.

Killdeer

Doing the deception dance...

Doing the deception dance…

...maybe she'll think these rocks are my eggs.

…I’ll lead her over this way…

...maybe she'll believe these rocks are my eggs.

…maybe she’ll believe these rocks are my eggs.

Such amazing camouflage – killdeer can blend into a pile of rocks or leaves or roadside gravel like this. The male actually walked away from the nest and stopped to lure me away. When I looked back the female put on this show to try to convince me her nest was a few feet from its actual location. I respected her show and never approached the real nest.

Osprey

I'm so blindingly handsome...

I’m so blindingly handsome…

...I bet she doesn't even notice my nest.

…I bet she doesn’t even notice my nest.

I got to see a bald eagle pull a fish out of the ocean when we were crossing a narrow bridge – it was an amazing moment I will always remember, but was unable to photograph. I hoped I might see another bird of prey and this Osprey almost went unnoticed. The nest is high in the air – they place these platforms for them atop power poles. It wasn’t until I got home and checked this shot on my computer that I noticed the bird’s mate is in the nest. I was shooting this at midday and the glare was awful so I struggled to get something besides a silhouette. I tried to walk past the pole and get the light behind me and he flew – he was stunning and huge. He flew to another pole to divert our attention from the nest. I didn’t understand that at the time, but clearly he was keeping us away from his family.

I read a post a while back about birds and their “like ability factor” and the author made the case that birds of prey are more desirable. Now I disagreed at the time because I love my cardinals and hummingbirds or even my titmice — but having seen and photographed that osprey, I think Lyle is onto something – it was amazing. I was unable to get a great shot of it in flight, but that is something I plan on working on this year.

I’m sure that just like I ignored the birds in my backyard for years, that people visit these places and never notice these birds too. Maybe someday they will wake up and feel like birds are suddenly appearing in their path too.

An Even Wider View

Recently I posted about the challenges of landscape photography and the thought and planning it takes in A Wider View. Today I thought I would share something a bit more touristy – no thought of the light being right, no aperture settings, no shutter speeds – just me and my iPhone.

I love to play with the panorama feature. I can shoot panos with my good camera, but it requires stitching them together in another program, so there’s no instant gratification. With the iPhone you just get a good footing and rotate. Sometimes the bumps show up and the exposure settings are based on that first frame, but it can give you a sense of the vastness of a place. Go ahead and click on the images so you get a better sense of the panorama.

20130527-125037.jpgThis is the first panorama I took, it’s in the observation car as we traveled along the Columbia River towards the Portland station. There is a bump in the middle – trains experience bumps, but it does give you a sense of what that car is like in the morning.

20130527-125055.jpgThis is Klaloch, in my earlier post I shot the two sides of the beach as separate images – the panorama really compresses the scene when you are up high like this. The scene was much more open than this, but it does give a good sense of the height. A stunning place.

20130527-125114.jpgWe took a ferry from Port Townsend to Coupeville to cut a few hours off our trip to Northern Cascades and Mount Rainier. I shot this on the deck. The process is pretty cool, it’s basically a floating parking lot. The air on the sound was wonderful as it blew across the decks, like the ocean without the waves.

20130527-125131.jpgDeception Pass, this was another spot that was elevated – again, it compresses the space. It does give a sense of all that’s going on at this spot, rocks, cliffs, bridge, island, water – you really can’t get this all in one traditional shot.

20130527-125718.jpgMount Rainier above the Nisqualy River. This spot was amazing for more than the mountain and the river – the sound was wonderful too. So I took the opportunity to record a bit of it, using my iPhone again, so that I could experience it any time I like.

20130527-125301.jpgAhhhhh, Crater Lake. I shot this right next to the lodge. I had to climb up on a short rock fence to get a view over the snow bank. No photos capture the full beauty of this spot, but I’ve looked at this one over and over reliving the details.

20130527-125504.jpgOne last look at Crater Lake, I shot this at the vantage point above Wizard Island – it was as far as the rim drive had been plowed. This has the distortion created by the pivot, bit it does shot the lake surface like glass, the clouds in both the sky and the lake, the snow, the pines – pretty much everything but the cold air.

Sometimes it’s good to put the kit down and just be a tourist.

The Azure Blue Waters and White Sandy Beaches of…Indiana?

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A couple of weeks ago I had to make a business trip to Grand Rapids, Michigan. Airfares are crazy right now so the only economical options was for my to fly into Midway Chicago and drive the three hours to Grand Rapids. It’s an easy drive once you leave the city. At the conclusion of my meetings I headed back to Chicago for a flight the following morning. On the way I stopped at Indiana Dunes National Shoreline to pick up a passport stamp.

For you who are uninitiated the National Parks system in the US offers cancellation stamps at hundreds of locations – you stamp your “Passport” with an actual rubber stamp. The sell different types of passports and lots of stickers you can decorate up your passer with at most of these locations. I try to see if any are nearby when I travel and the Indiana Dunes is in a pretty remote location if you are making a road trip to several parks. I actually stopped by on a similar trip back in June, picked up my stamp and braved 50 mile an hour winds to look get to a spot to see the lake. Grey skies and whitecaps, but not much to see that day. Since I had the time I thought I would stop in and get a Stamp for my Sister-in-law’s mother, Kathy – she sends me tons of stamps so I thought I would return the favor, plus if she logs onto Facebook and sees that I was there and didn’t get her a stamp in a remote location, I’ll feel like a heel.

On this day the weather could not have been better. it was about 85 and sunny with just a slight breeze. I picked up a stamp and a map at the ranger station and stopped at the edge of the parking lot to see this guy perched near a stream that ran through the grounds.

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As I left the parking lot I headed down highway 12 towards the Beverly Shores Post Office to mail Kathy her stamps on postcards. The Post Office was closed for lunch so I turned towards the shore drive and came upon this beauty. It’s a functional depot for the South Shore Line. Go out the back door and press a button near the tracks and the train will stop right here for you.

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If I had known this was here I might have caught a train to Grand Rapids:)

Anyway, I dropped off my postcards and headed for the shore, expecting something akin to a large lake. When I saw the color of the water, my jaw dropped!

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This stretch of shoreline is a part of the National Parks System and has lots of shower and changing locations within walking distance. I was unfortunately in business attire with only dress shoes so I walked in as little sand as possible. Further east there were private sections of the shore (I almost typed “beach” because that’s what it felt like – a beach) that I could photograph from my rental car, since no parking was allowed.

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Beverly Shores and the surrounding area is pretty spectacular. Marshes and field grasses with a mix of wildflowers. Just stunning.

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I traveled further east to Mount Baldy. The ranger said that it was a “must-see” and said nothing else about it. Mount Baldy is an enormous moving sand dune – the park is trying desperately to stop its movement, it’s about to engulf a changing station so they have erected fences and are preventing all hiking on the face of the dune since that causes it to slide further. Imagine the height of these trees if they were not being consumed by sand.

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On my way out of the park I headed back I that spot that was all grey and whitecaps in June. The city of Gary, Indiana fills the horizon – I think this is probably a pretty attractive view of the city of smokestacks.

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Not a bad way to kill some time before heading back to Chicago.

Next time I’m packing flip-flops.

The Rock Tour

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As we crossed from Colorado to Nebraska to South Dakota and Wyoming it became clear. Karen and I were on a mission to look at a bunch of rocks. Before we hit the “rock-free” monument at Carhenge, we saw our first National Park Passport Stamp spot in the panhandle of Nebraska – Scott’s Bluff.

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The Park has conveniently placed these 3 styles of covered wagons in front of the monument so each visitor can attempt to recreate the painting in the lobby of the visitors center. Pretty darned authentic if you ignore the plastic oxen.

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This spot is littered with markings of the Oregon Trail. Unfortunately it is impossible to get a shot of the bluff without wagons in view. We arrived right at closing and talked the rangers into letting us get stamps and then we hit the trails to take these two images and several hundred shots of bunnies.

Day 2 of our drive was a rock bonanza – we got to Wind Cave where there were no rocks or formations above ground, but apparently there is a rather large hole in the rocks below. We got our stamp, checked the cave schedule and decided we needed to head to Jewel Cave because they were closing soon. We nearly ended up with a bison inside our car on the way out of the park and got to Jewel Cave in time for stamps and an elevator ride down 200 feet to the second largest cave in the US. We went inside the rock!

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The elevator was a tight fit – about 25 of us in one small box.

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This cave was discovered by a fellow who foolishly thought these were diamonds…

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The ranger made a big deal of letting us know that you had to fit into a hole only 7 1/2 inches tall to explore the deepest recesses of the cave. Apparently he could fit in the space. He also let us know that the rangers don’t get paid to explore. He also told us that there was a mineral in the cave that could make your dryer explode if you got it on your clothes – this was a very effective strategy for getting us to keep our hands off the cave. I also decided to just throw the clothes I was wearing away, just in case.

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This is a surveyors pin that was used to map the cave – apparently your GPS won’t work down here.

We knew we wanted to get to Rushmore, but I told Karen that I had seen a special on TV about Crazy Horse – it was on the way so we went there next.

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Apparently Crazy Horses Head is so large that Mount Rushmore’s heads could fit into the section that will contain his face and war bonnet. This project has been in the works for over 60 years and has been spearheaded by one family – 10 drillers are working on it now. Could be another 60 years before it’s done.

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This is a scale model of how the finished mountain will look – they are working on the finger now.

As we headed towards Rushmore, we saw a lot of cars pulled off – we thought we might finally see the elusive mountain goat – but no, it was just the side of George’s face…

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We got to the park in time to get our stamps and take a seat for the flag ceremony. A ranger came out and talked about integrity. He told stories of unsung signers of the Declaration of Independence. One gave his entire fortune of 2 million dollars to the cause and eventually died in debtors prison with no regrets. Amazing! Another hid in the woods while the British searched his house. His sick wife died and his children were scattered – but he was safe in the woods ready to fight for the cause. He came home and died of a broken heart. Sad story, but I didn’t get the connection. Anyway, they showed a movie about the monument and got us in a really patriotic mood and then….

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They light up that big rock!

We knew we would have to come back in the morning to get the stamp at the sculptors studio in the daylight.

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In the studio you can see an early model – I think Jefferson looks a bit clingy. I’m kinda glad the rock wouldn’t support the extra appendages.

On the way back up I stopped at an open vantage point to get shots of the fab four.

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George

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Tom

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Ted

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Abe

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Karen was nearly busted for leaving the trail – I snapped this in case I had to bail her out. The ranger was the only one we saw who was armed on our entire trip. Karen was risking her freedom to shoot this flower…

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This is Nick Clifford – an original driller on the mountain. He started working at 17 on the mountain. He was recruited for the baseball team. I got his autograph in my Parks Passport as well as a baseball card – probably the coolest souvenir from the trip.

As we left Rushmore we headed west – towards another huge rock with some stops along the way…

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Not much to look at when there are no bikers there.

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Sundance, Wyoming – where the “Kid” got his name, and apparently the Jail is always open.

After a good nights sleep in a hotel with actual room keys we headed to Devil’s Tower – one HUGE rock.

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Climbers

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I’m relived that the passport station was not up there.

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More climbers

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From the western side.

After this there was only one rock left to see…Rocky Mountain National Park!

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One off-duty ranger was taking his 1916 Model T around the summit loop – this car was 3 years older than the park.

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Overlooking Forest Park Summit

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Looking down on the top of the world Image

Frozen lake at over 12,000 feet

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The Continental Divide 2000 feet below the summit

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A frozen lake thaws at the Divide.

I think we managed to visit every large rock in 4 states, and we have the stamps to prove it!