Stars Over Wickahoney

21 August 2014

These last two weeks have seen me focusing on three things: my Vardo, my writing, and my astrophotography.


After much thought, I jumped at the chance to get a utility trailer, 6 feet by 12 feet, for a really good price. My original base, seen here, would have given me a 6 foot by 8 foot Vardo. The new trailer will let me have an 8 foot by 12 foot vardo plus a drop-down porch if I work it right. The extra room is very welcome and more appealing to my wife as well.

Factoring in the cost of paint, steel wool, a new trailer light system, new wheel bearings, sandpaper, new tongue, and sheet metal just to get that old base rebuilt into a foundation for the Vardo, getting this new trailer was actually cheaper. And the plan is to be able to remove the Vardo if I need to use the trailer for hauling stuff.

Image of a 6 foot by 12 foot utility trailer with one pair of wheels. Sides are an open framework of angled metal. Tail gate is about 4 feet tall when up and contains a metal mesh. Parked next to a blue-green 1992 Chevy Blazer in front of the garage in the driveway.

This is the new utility trailer that will become the base for the Vardo. I’m especially happy to get the all metal bed.

That tailgate will make a very nice sized porch with the addition of some drop-down or other legs if I do it right. I’ve already got some ideas how to work it and still be able to use it as a ramp if needed. It’ll be good for scraping off mud or stamping off dirt and sand before going inside, all that stuff will just fall through the grating.

Construction should be starting after the middle of September due to vacation plans and other such interruptions. The goal is to have it ready by 4 July 2015, when we go to Haines, Oregon, to my wife’s brother’s place. All her cousins and his friends get together then and have these huge motormansions (her term, not mine) or behemoth trailers. She’s tickled pink with the idea of seeing our cute little Vardo tucked in the field with all those. She’s even been coming up with ideas and suggestions for stuff in it. She’s apparently been talking about it so much so that even the oldest granddaughter made me agree that “it won’t just be a box on a trailer, but it’ll be a cute trailer.” I showed the granddaughter the pictures of Paleotool’s Vardo that I’m using as my guide and said, “it’s going to be like that.” She approves of that design, just like my wife. Clearly, I’m going to be spending a lot of time this winter in the garage and driveway.

And in trouble if I don’t get it done!

Besides, I’ve been dreaming of all the places to go camping around here. Farewell Bend. Cascade Reservoir. Bruneau Sand Dunes. Steck Recreation Site. Leslie Gulch. Those are just off the top of my head, there’s so many more.


Lately, I’ve been trying to go swimming every Tuesday and Thursday. I don’t always make it, but when I do I just swim laps. That has been very conductive to my writing process as it lets me just swim along and think about the storylines, back stories, future stories, or just mentally write. I don’t always remember those exactly (I need a waterproof laptop!) but I do remember enough to get a lot of it written down.

Recently, I’ve been trying to focus on the next short story, Scarle’s back story, as decided in my last blog posting. The last two times I went swimming, though, my mind drifted away from that and instead focused on another part of the overall story. It was something that I’d been wondering how to tell without revealing any secrets. Throughout the Tales of Pa’adhe I’m scattering little subtle clues that I don’t amplify or even, usually, reference again in the tale they appear in. They’re usually presented in passing and should be easily found in hindsight, but they all point to one thing and I had no idea how to present that to my readers.

I now have a solution to that conundrum and have written half of it. Unfortunately for my readers, this can only be told in The Final Voyage. But at least I clear everything up with it. As soon as I finish writing that section up, it’s back to Scarle’s back story and what’s supposed to be the current Work In Progress.


Strictly speaking, I probably should just say “photography” since I’ve been busy with more than just astrophotography planning, photography-wise.

The last several days I’ve been planning for the trip back to Wickahoney this Saturday, 23 August 2014. We’ll be heading out Saturday, I’ll be shooting all night, and we’ll head back Sunday.

My main project is a time lapse of the Milky Way. It’s something that I’ve wanted to do for some time now, and I think the Wickahoney ruins are a perfect foreground for it. I want to start shooting around civil twilight when the stars are just coming out and shoot until 3 AM Sunday or my batteries run out. I’m hoping for some additional foreground “action” in the time lapse, but it depends on the timing of when everyone gets there, where we set up, and all that good stuff. We’ll see how that works out. I’ll definitely get the Milky Way time lapse, which may or may not be all that great. I’m still learning to shoot good Milky Way images.

I also want to shoot a 360 degree panorama for incorporating into Stellarium as one of my three personal landscapes. That’s simple enough and just needs decent light. High noon Sunday should be good for that to minimize shadows. I need to re-do the other two to get a sharper division between the distant land and the sky, but that’s a project for another time. Each new 360 pano that I do teaches me something and each gets better.

Finally, I want to shoot some video for another project. Originally this was going to be another time lapse, but I ran into problems there: I only have two batteries for my main camera, and I need those intact for the Milky Way time lapse. I could shoot this with my second camera, but I plan to use that for other astrophotography shots and can’t guarantee the battery capacity of that, either. I’ve decided, then, that I will shoot this as a video and try to achieve the desired result post-production. As a time lapse it would have made it easy to do certain scenes, but my homework last week seems to indicate I can do the same with a video file anyway. We’ll see.

It does indicate I need to do something about my camera battery situation. I’ve several ideas for that, one of which is just get another battery for both cameras. I’ll need to address this soon so I will be good to go next time I head out for an all-night time lapse like this.

UPDATE: Here it is Thursday and now they’re predicting Saturday as partially cloudy and Sunday as clear. Hopefully, the night will still be clear!

Pa’adhe Returns

6 August 2014

It has been a while since I’ve posted any new Tales of the Pa’adhe. As previous blogging has indicated, there’s been a reason for the break in the short stories. What’s worse, in my eyes, is that I’ve had this latest short story available for a while, I just haven’t posted it.

Part of that, I think, is because once I posted it, I felt that it would be imperative I get going on the next one. Indeed, I have plots and notes for three more short stories.

Sitting in the parking lot of a store recently while my wife was inside shopping, I was contemplating those three stories and wondering which I would like to write next. I wasn’t thinking about “do I want to write this one next” but rather, “which of these three shall I write next?” There’s a difference between those two phrases, which I’ll leave up to you to discover.

Unable to decide, I gave up and just looked around the parking lot. The glare of the sun off the rear windows of three cars parked side by side caught my eye. For a while I just sat there, bemused by the glare, then out of the blue I decided that I would alphabetically assign each story, which already had working titles, one to each glare. Whichever left first was the one I would write.

That decision made, I was able to relax and just enjoy the view, such as it was. White clouds moving overhead, the flag flapping, trees dancing gently. Eventually, the middle car of the three backed out and left.

So be it. That is the next story to be written. Scarle’s back story will be revealed next, hopefully this Fall.

Ah, well, since that has been decided, clearly it’s time to post the latest Tale of the Pa’adhe.

I give you, dear readers, the ninth tale: Ghost Ship.


16 July 2014

Continuing my explorations of the weekend of the 4th of July…

Friday night I got home about 12:30 AM after shooting the Treasure Valley panorama. By 8 AM I was up and getting ready to head over to Boise to pick up my friend and head for Wickahoney, Idaho.

I had come across WIckahoney while exploring Owyhee county online. I’d been looking at maps (I’m fascinated with them) and saw some ruins marked with linked pictures that looked awesome. One of the pictures was even a night shot with the interior of the ruins lit up. None, though, brought out the stars that had to be visible from that dark sky site. I immediately wanted to go do some astrophotogaphy there, but first and foremost, I had to figure out how to get there. None of the websites I looked at had any details on how to get there.

Happily, Wickahoney is still on the map and Google is your friend. Surprisingly, even though it’s way out there in the middle of nowhere, it’s actually also in the National Registry of Historical Places. Using several sources, and collaborating with my friend, we worked out the directions and distances for the drive out to Wickahoney and back. Then we made a plan and set a date for a run to the ruins. That date was Saturday, 5 July 2014.

Trust me when I say it’s out in the middle of nowhere. You need a vehicle with clearance to get to it. I’m not nervous or scared to be out there, but I am very respectful of the Qwyhees and try to always err on the side of caution. It’s a wild place, a lonely place, and it can be dangerous, even fatal. I’ve been out there many times now, and have explored only a very small part of the county. I know what I need to bring when I go so that if I am forced to stay out there overnight or a few days waiting for help, I have the necessary supplies to survive. I’m aware of the symptoms of hypothermia and heat stroke and watch for them, both in myself and anyone with me. I almost always take a friend with me so that if something happens to me (for example twisted ankle, heat stroke, snake bite) then I have someone there to provide aid and help get me out. I also leave information with someone about where I’m going, what route I’m taking, and when I expect to be back. Then I stick to that plan. I can’t plan for everything, but I can prepare the best I can, use common sense, and be careful. I don’t go out there for thrills, I go out there to explore and take pictures.

It took us an hour to get to the turn-off to the dirt road, and another hour and half to get to Wickahoney. It was hot all day, as well…99F to 110F, somewhere around there. Your vehicle had best be in good shape and you better know how to read a map.

View out the windshield of the distant horizon, a dirt road, more a track, extending off forever under a blue sky with white clouds.

Typical road on the way to Wickahoney in Owyhee County, Idaho.

Even with our directions worked out, we still had quesions identifying where we were in the field. Both of us were experienced with maps, so we never needed to break out the GPS and the topo maps on my laptop. Some of our measurements found online were wrong, but the visual image of the map tended to help us properly identify each turn we needed to make to ensure we were on the right track.

We saw no other traffic once we left the highway and there’s no cell service out there.

A two wheel dirt track out the windshield of the vehicle, with the ruins of Wickahoney visible in the lonely distance.

The final drive to the ruins. The “road” peters out when you arrive at the ruins proper and resumes on the other side of the creek.

Finally, the ruins came into view. You could see them from a mile off. The pictures I saw online were nothing compared to the reality. I thought they looked cool when I saw the pictures, but when I actually saw the ruins of this old home, stage stop and post office it was just like seeing the ruins of old cathedrals or castles (sorta) you can find in England. I had expectations of what I would see, but the reality exceeded all such imaginings.

Image of the ruined building seen from off one corner as described later in the text.

The ruins of the old Wickahoney home, stage stop, and post office.

Plus there’s no shade at all at Wickahoney, other than that from your vehicle or the ruins.

Image of ruined building with 1992 Chevy Silverado Blazer in front and freind with bright red shirt standing at rear of open vehicle.

View of the Wickahoney ruins with my Blazer and friend for scale. We’re parked some 40 or 50 feet away from the ruins.

That’s not quite right. There is a creek that runs nearby, and there are some low trees and the remains of an orchard near the creek, but in general you might not want to hang out there too much, given all the cowpies laying around.

A friend overseas asked what I feel in places like this. Obviously I feel the heat but interestingly enough the 100 degree heat out there is more tolerable than the 100 degree heat in Nampa or Boise. It’s a different type of heat. The ruins impressed me both visually and emotionally. It was simply awesome to see them, standing out there alone in the middle of the high desert. There’s a loneliness to the ruins, but it also gives me a lot of respect for the people with the courage to settle there. I’ve read about the life of people in places like this and I like to try to imagine what the building was like and the fun the kids had growing up and the tough, but in its own way good, life the family had. I see the fruit orchard they planted and think of the work watering it from the nearby creek, picking the fruit, making pies and jams, and enjoying them. I think about the work rounding up their cattle for branding, slaughtering one or two for food, driving the rest a hundred or more miles to sell them. I admire the way they tried to care for each other and strangers passing through. For example, one of the sons that inherited the place from his father eventually built a 6 foot tall cairn on top of a ridge some 1,000 yards away from the house just so people on the other side that might be lost or trying to find Wickahoney would see it, recognize it’s not natural, and hopefully know that it’s a cairn with perhaps food and water that they might desperately need. From the cairn a person could see Wickahoney and find their way to safety. The idea that people then would do something like that just because it might maybe help someone…I admire that since it would be a lot of work and they had a lot to do just to keep that place going. I also wonder if perhaps he was creating a landmark in a place of no landmarks for his own family so they could more easily find their way, too. I try to imagine Indians, cowboys, city slickers passing through and how eager the people living there might be for news. I imagine them coming out to greet the stagecoach or approaching riders. I think about how the people died of things that could so easily be treated now and try to imagine what it must have been like for the mother there when she lost her son to a bleeding ulcer on a cattle drive to Elko and then a few months later the husband hung himself because he couldn’t get a loan to buy hay for his cattle at the start of a hard winter, and how that drove her to take rat poison herself because she had nothing else to live for. I think about the agony of losing a baby during childbirth there because the nearest doctor was 100 miles away and the nearest other mother easily 15 or more miles away. I think about the family sitting around in the evening laughing, talking, relaxing from a hard day’s work. I wonder what the Indians thought when they saw the family building the house there. I wonder what it was like before anyone came through there to settle…did the Indians camp by the stream as they passed through? Did they continue to do so after the Dunning family settled there and began raising cattle?

There’s a lot of history and a lot of unknowns. And a lot of respect from me for everyone that lived out there, whether Indian or white man.

Rusty, corroded metal marker listing Joshua Dunning, Margaret A. Dunning, Baby Dunning, and an unknown miner along with their dates.

The only remaining trace visible of the graves at Wickahoney.

One of the neat photography things about places like this is that you learn where the best photo shots can be found. Looking at my pictures of Wickahoney, it dawned on me that the best images of the ruins I had were all off-center, almost but not quite directly off the corner. It may be me, but I think those images reveal more of the personality of the old building than the pictures that are taken 90 degrees to a wall. Every time I go on one of these adventures, I learn something new.

While we were there, we found the skeleton of a cow. Picked clean and sun-bleached, it was scattered over an area some 20 feet by 50 feet or so. Finds like that are fascinating to me, not so much for what they represent (a dead cow) as the beauty of the bones themselves, the brilliant white against the brown ground, the symmetry of the bones on the ground, the complexity of the spine and ribs…the visual beauty. The pictures I take of such finds are as they are when I find them. I amuse myself trying to find the best image of the bones to present their artistic properties, but I also do not re-arrange them. That makes it fun as well as teaching me to try and see things from various angles. I also enjoy, sometimes, playing forensic detective and trying to determine how the bones got to where they are. I’ll never truly know, of course, but it’s fun trying to imagine what happened. I do understand not eveyone sees bones in the wild that way, and I respect their various perspectives.

Two white cow femurs on the brown ground in a T shape to each other with my khaki colored hat nearby for scale.

Two cow femurs with my hat for scale. The picture doesn’t do justice to how starkly white they were under the overhead sun.

We were sitting there thinking of getting ready to head back when we noticed a herd of wild horses making their way down the steep hillside behind the trees. There were several colts from this year and a surprising number of white horses. Naturally we both grabbed our cameras and started taking pictures.

A herd of 20 or so horses making their way down the steep brown hillside behind Wickahoney. Three white horses are visible along with several other brown and dark brown horses.

It amazes some people how many herds of wild horses roam Owyhee County.

Eventually they disappeared behind the trees and we wondered if they were going to make their way down the creek near us. They didn’t. Instead, after a whle they made their way back into view heading up to where they came from. Later on, re-examining the maps and online images I discovered that behind the trees where the herd had gone is a small reservoir, so they had no need to come to the creek proper, just to the spring. The next time I go out there I’m going to have to check that out.

By then it was getting on towards late afternoon so we packed up and headed back.

Already, I have images in mind that I want to create, some landscape astrophotography using the ruins as the foreground object. Due to the location, this won’t be an instance where I head out in the late afternoon and back in the early morning hours. The road is easy enough to travel, and you do have to be careful in some spots, but the long 2.5 hour drive isn’t one I want to make while short on sleep. Any kind of accident or poor driving, for example, could be not only dangerous but also lethal. This will be an overnighter, going out one arfternoon and coming back the next day. It is also a chance to automate the entire night, a chance to try for my first Milky Way time lapse, a chance to experiment with astrophotography landscapes, and above all, a chance to learn.

And a chance to live high on my friend’s Dutch Oven cooking.


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