Photography is so often hit and miss, a combination of planning and luck and timing and equipment that works and … well, you get the point. So often, previsualized images do not happen because of light or weather or who knows what else. Once in a while though, and this is why you keep going out again and again, things happen the way you hoped and better. But, before I tell the story of my fantastic evening on Sheep Mountain Table, let me backtrack just a little.
After a cloudy morning (and no photos), I went out in the afternoon for a hike up the Saddle Trail. This hike is a must-do if you want to get a different perspective on the area near Cedar Pass. Once on top, it connects with the Castle Trail. I took that trail to the west to take a look at possible morning light photo locations. My real objective was to find a rattlesnake I could photograph, but no joy. But I did find what will be a spectacular first light photo subject, as well as the surrounding areas for other morning light. To get to that point, however, the shorter route will be to park at the Fossil Trail area and take the Castle Trail east from there.
But the mostly clear and scattered cloud skies told me that I had to get out to Sheep Mountain Table for the evening. This would be my best opportunity in who knows how long to get up there, so, after having a late lunch at the Wagon Wheel Bar in Interior, I grabbed the rest of my gear and started the roughly one-hour drive to the table via Highway 44 and the town of (Not-So) Scenic. I wanted to get there plenty early to photograph the ground below the table because of the many strange rock formations in the area. Once on the top of the table, I detoured on a little unmaintained road to the east, exploring the vistas there. I eventually parked at the pullout near mile 5 on the road, the last point you can go unless you have a 4WD vehicle with high clearance. The Oglala Sioux Tribe, which manages the South Unit of the park, does not maintain the road beyond that point – and there is, arguably, a road.
There was a rather thick band of clouds, spreading out like smoke from a fire, adding some drama to the skies. But the sun eventually went below it, just in time to wash the land with that warm, reddish pink light that makes the margins of the day so magical. I captured several images just featuring the clouds and the colors that remained after sun down. On may way back down the road off the table, I spy some odd, tall plants (I need to find out what these are) silhoutted against the fading colors of the day. The moon peeks out from in between cloud fragments, and I flatten my Gitzo tripod as low as it will go, aiming up and using the strange plants as foreground detail. I spend about twenty minutes here, then get back on the road, down off the table and back toward the highway. As I am almost to pavement, my peripheral vision captures a pond reflecting the colors of dusk. I am serenaded by hundreds of chorus frogs as I capture the scene.