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Dan Jordan’s Wild World: Utah Adventure Part II

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Tales from the road, great photography along the way

By Dan Jordan, Jordan Photography and Consulting

If you read my blog about Day One of my Utah Adventure, you know that Day One was all about bald eagles.  If you haven’t seen the Day One edition, you can find it on the Wellsville Sun older posts.  Day Two only presented one eagle sighting (plus a nest).  We had hoped to see eagles at Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge (CONWR), but did not, largely due to weather.  More on that later in this post.

Bruce Hawkes and I embarked on a 15-day journey to Utah and points west May 6 for an epic photography adventure.  Day Two was planned to be mostly driving, but I decided to take a 200-mile detour to stop by CONWR, which my daughter and I had visited in 2021, with much success in the wildlife department.

After we arrived, as I stood by a pool at CONWR, photographing egrets and kingfishers, the skies darkened.  Lightning began to flash all about us, so we hastily retreated to Eagle One (my Bronco) for safety’s sake.  As I bored Bruce with a lecture about lightning safety provided by the Faraday cage protection of an automobile (yes, I’m a scientist and I like science stuff), the storm worsened.  Hail began to fall, and the winds picked up to frightening levels.  I sought a parking place far away from trees, because I feared that they would start to break off or uproot.

Since we were in southern Illinois, an area not unfamiliar with tornadic activity, I was concerned, no, I was scared.  I estimate the wind hit 80-90 MPH, based on my experience with hurricanes when living in South Carolina.  The situation remained tense for about 15 minutes before things calmed down to a less concerning level.  That said, on the drive from CONWR to Interstate 57, we encountered lots of downed branches and drove through very high winds.

When we got to I-57, things turned ugly again.  On two different occasions, all the traffic in the six lanes of I-57 stopped in its tracks due to large hail and lots of it.  The hail was marble sized and built up to several inches in depth.  The highway was a mess and poor Eagle One was battered, the noise was deafening.  When the hail cleared, traffic was an ugly mess.  The visibility was still poor and no one knew how to start out safely, since vehicles had parked all over the roadway and on the berms.  As we started moving again (finally), another major hailstorm descended upon us, repeating the above process.  All told, we probably lost over 30-45 minutes due to the hailstorms.

Finally, the skies cleared, and we were able to drive on to our scheduled destination, west of St. Louis, MO.  Given the weather scenario(s) and the long distance traveled this day (507 miles give or take), photo ops were not numerous but some images from CONWR were obtained before all Hell broke loose.  The first is of a great egret which flew by me as I tried to photograph a belted kingfisher.

The next two photos show belted a kingfisher at a pool in CONWR.  Their massive heads and beaks show well in profile, but when the birds turned their heads toward the camera, their appearance was very different.  I suppose aerodynamics is the reason.

One last photo, not of a wildlife variety is of a water tower which I believe I photographed in Marion, IL.  I like old water towers and I stop to grab photos most any chance I get.  Since Day Two was mostly about driving distance, and not about photo ops, taking a time out for a water tower photo was a nice diversion from windshield time.  That the tower was old and grungy, made it even more special.

I’m a little surprised there isn’t lighting in the photo of the water tower, since the storm was still all around us.

Day Two terminated just west of St. Louis, MO in Chesterfield.  This was the original stop for Day One, before I added the extra day so we could stop at Magee Marsh.  After two days, we were only a bit more than 1/3 of the way to the Grand Canyon, which was to be our first major planned photo op.

For the record, I filled Eagle One in Indianapolis, IN at a PPG of $ 3.259 for 87-octane (lowest yet for the trip) and again in Carterville, IL at a price of $ 3.599.  Average price of gasoline to this point, not including the expensive price in Olean to top off the tank was $ 3.396.  (Don’t get me started on the taxes in NYS!)  MPG for Day Two was 21.49, bringing down the trip-to-date MPG to 23.45.  Interstate driving speeds will do that.

The photo tally fell off to only 304 images on Day Two, thanks in large measure to the inclement weather.  Crab Orchard NWR, which had been so spectacular on my previous visit, only yielded about 15 minutes of usable time.  Can’t win ‘em all!  Total of photos through Day Two was 1194.

The next blog will cover Day Three, which includes our first stops along Historic Route 66 and the iconic Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas.  Stay tuned!

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