National Park

Photographing Theodore Roosevelt National Park

I first came to Theodore Roosevelt National Park in November 2016. I had been on the road since September on an epic 6-month journey to photograph America. Being born and raised in Texas, I had never even heard of this wonderful piece of land. I first came across it in a National Geographic guidebook to the National Parks. The landscape immediately stood out to me. The colored layers of geological history etched into the hills were unlike anything I'd ever seen and made me eager to explore and photograph it. 

After my trip, it was clear that the park had left an impression on me. When people would ask me what my favorite places were, Theodore Roosevelt NP was always high on the list. It came as no surprise then when in November of last year I found myself applying for a job at the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation. I think for myself I wasn't finished shooting the park. I love photographing this wonderful place and wanted to share with you guys some of my favorite places to take my camera.

WIND CANYON OVERLOOK

Wind Canyon is very likely the most photographed spot in the park, and with good reason. In the evening, the short footpath leads viewers to a stunning display as the sun sets over the Little Missouri River. The river makes for natural leading lines that photograph well and help guide the viewers eye to the fiery sunsets that frequent the horizon. I try not to shoot at the same spot too often, but I can't help but find myself returning to Wind Canyon. 

Taking Photos at Wind Canyon Overlook - Photo by Park Ranger Kailyn Fitts

Wind Canyon Overlook - June 2018

The sun sets over the Little Missouri River at Wind Canyon Overlook

Wind Canyon Overlook - November 2016

Wind Canyon Overlook facing northwest

COTTONWOOD CAMPGROUND

The 36-mile loop and numerous trails offer plenty of great sights, but don't forget about the opportunities back at camp! On my first visit in 2016, I was often greeted back at camp by a bison wandering by. That same evening, I photographed wild horses on the southern end of the campground. Not to mention the great selfies you can get for your Facebook and Instagram Pages as you gaze out upon the badlands from camp!

Living the good life - 2016

Blue hour over Cottonwood Campground- 2016

Wild Horse at Cottonwood Campground - 2016

THE 36-MILE PARK LOOP

Bison graze during golden hour in the fall somewhere along the 36-mile loop - 2016

Many of the park's visitors only ever see it from the safety of their vehicle along the 36-miles loop. Fortunately, there are many great photo opportunities along the whole stretch. I recommend driving the loop in the early morning or late afternoon. Not only will the warm golden hour light make your photos look stunning but the cooler temperatures will also draw the wildlife out. When you feel like getting out and stretching your legs, check out some of the incredible overlooks along the loop such as Boicourt or Scoria Point. 

Buffalo grazing just north of Cottonwood Campground on the 36-mile loop

A bison grazes just north of Cottonwood Campground on the 36-mile loop

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The sun sets behind Scoria Point overlook on the 36-mile park loop

Boicourt Overlook provides a grand view of the park from the loop - 2016

THE PETRIFIED FOREST LOOP

Petrified Wood

The Petrified Forest Loop has quickly become my favorite trail in the park. Inaccessible via the 36-mile park loop, to reach the trailhead one must take exit 23 off of I-94w then continue up West River Road for roughly 6.5 miles. Don't let the bit of extra effort discourage you though, visitors to this trail are well rewarded. Besides being well maintained, the trail offers grand canyon views, peaceful sections of grassland, and of course the main attraction: petrified wood! The loop is about 10-miles long, but one only has to travel a short distance to find the fossilized remains of the ancient forest. 

The well-maintained trail leads you through golden grasslands on the Petrified Forest Loop

Post marking the beginning of the Petrified Forest Loop

Petrified Wood

A Bison blocks the way on the Petrified Forest Loop

Hiking along the Petrified Forest Loop

Sunset over the Petrified Forest Loop

BUCK HILL

Buck Hill is the highest point in the park and provides grand panoramic views of the badlands. Lone trees are scattered among the hilltop and make for great silhouette shots as well as interesting subjects against the grassy terrain. The well defined trail winding its way down the southern slope provides an exellent backdrop for portraits while also being an interesting subject on its own. 

The path leading up from the Parking Lot at Buck Hill

An elk seen from the parking lot at Buck Hill

The trail leading down the southern slope of Buck Hill

Buck Hill in black and white

A lone tree silhouetted against the sunset on Buck Hill

Shooting into the sunset from Buck Hill

THE LOWER TALKINGTON TRAIL

The Lower Talkington Trail will truly make you feel as if you've stumbled into another world. The painted hills seem to surround you as you descend into the eastern end of the park. Last time, I hiked it, I found myself caught between a cranky bison and a band of wild horses. I managed to get a some great shots while I waited them out from the safety of a hill top. 

Two wild horses and a young foal graze upon the Badlands near the Lower Talkington Trail

A herd of wild horses on the Lower Talkington Trail

The bones of a wild horse serve as a grim welcome to the prairie dog town on the Lower Talkinton Trail

THE NORTH UNIT

Don't forget to visit the North Unit of the park just south of Watford City. Not only is it just as stunning, but you'll deal with a fraction of the crowds that you get in the South Unit. While you won't find prairie dogs or wild horses in the North Unit, you will find smooth, rolling grasslands more akin to what you'd see in Badlands National Park. The buffalo are bountiful and the overlooks just as scenic. The in-and-out road, rightfully called 'Scenic Drive' offers many stunning views as it winds its way through the park.  

A buffalo wanders through my camp at Juniper Campground

Two buffalo square off near Oxbow Overlook in the North Unit

One of many incredible overlooks in the North Unit

Buffalo graze against the backdrop of the badlands in the North Unit

Sunset from River Bend Overlook in the North Unit

I hope this will help you as you venture into the park with your camera. Theodore Roosevelt National Park truly is one of a kind and is well deserving of its name. Just don't forget to put down the camera every once in a while to take in the beautiful landscape around you. If you'd like to see more photos or purchase a print, please follow the links at the top of this page. Come see me and lets talk photography at the Medora Campground where I'll be working all summer

Old Friends, New Friends, and the Smoky Mountains

What a great week! I apologize for the delay in getting these up, the past week has been incredibly good but also incredibly busy!

After departing Kitty Hawk, NC, I drove to Atlanta to meet up with my friends, Andy and Alexa. Originally, I was just going to meet them to go camping in South Carolina, but after promising a shower, a laundry machine, and a couch to sleep on, they convinced me to drive south and spend a night with them in the city first. 

Atlanta!

I had never been to Atlanta (unless you count spending the night in the airport while on a layover), but I found it to be a really neat place. Since I was only there one night, I only got to really see a small part of east Atlanta where Andy and Alexa live, but what I saw was very impressive. 

The next day, we drove to Devil's Fork State Park on Lake Jocassee to camp. It's stunning how different eastern and western South Carolina look. On the east, you have swamps and gators, and on the west, you have beautiful mountains and pristine lakes. I'm glad I got to see both sides of it. 

Our two days on Lake Jocassee were filled with kayking, swimming with their dogs, and beers around the campfire. 

Alexa and Lola

Andy and Finn

So glad I got to see these two awesome people

On Sunday (10/2), Andy and Alexa drove home and I continued on to Asheville, NC. Like Atlanta, Asheville is one of those places I've been hearing about a lot lately for all the right reasons. You always see it on those "Where is the next Austin/Portland?" lists online, so I knew I had to check it out. 

After getting there in the afternoon, I quickly parked my car and began exploring on foot. When in doubt, never underestimate the kindness of strangers. I randomly met a girl named Elizabeth who gave me very detailed directions to a hidden trail that would give me a great view of the city. 

She was right. After sneaking under a barbed wire fence and hiking a short, but very steep trail, I came upon this amazing overlook and snapped this great shot of the city.  

Asheville, North Carolina at Sunset

My tour guide in Asheville

Old church in Asheville

I had so many people tell me to go and visit this place called the Biltmore Estate while in Asheville, so I thought I'd go see what all the fuss was about. 

The Biltmore House

The Biltmore Estate was built by George Vanderbilt and has over 250 rooms, including 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and over four acres of floor space. I didn't do the proper tour, preferring to explore and shoot on my own, but the sheer size and scope of it was something to behold.

After leaving Asheville, I got back on the road and began to head towards Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This park is a place I've been wanting to see for so long and in fact planned the whole time frame of my trip around seeing the Smokies in the fall. 

Blue Ridge Parkway

If you're approaching from the southern end of the park, I recommend driving on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It's a scenic, winding, mountain road that takes you straight to the park and has the most beautiful scenic overlooks. 

View from the Blue Ridge Parkway

I arrived at the park around 5:00pm on Monday night and decided to have a nice relaxing night at my campsite. My plan was to stay at different campsites every night to help me really explore the park and tonight home was Smokemont Campground just a few miles north of Ocanaluftee Visitor's Center.

The next morning, I woke up before sunrise and drove about 15 miles up the mountains so that I could hopefully get a shot of the sun rising over the mountains. The overlook I decided to shoot from just happened to be the best possible choice. As the sun rose, it created these beautiful rays of lights shining down upon the peaks resulting in one my favorite shots of the trip so far. 

Probably my favorite shot of the trip - sunrise in the Smoky Mountains

They're called the Smoky Mountains because of the beautiful fog that often can be seen rolling over the hills in the early morning and on Tuesday I got to experience that first hand. After shooting the sunrise, I drove up to Clingman's Dome to see what photos opportunities I might find there. Clingman's Dome is the highest point in the park and provides a great vista to see the mountains from. however, the fog grew so thick up there on this morning, that I could barely see 10 feet in front of me!

Clingman's Dome - at 6,643 feet in elevation, it is the highest point in the park. This shot was taken on a clear day

Knowing I wouldn't be able to get any shots of the mountains with the fog, I decided to hike down to Andrew's Bald instead. Along the way, my trail intersected the famed Appalachian Trail, and I even came across some exhausted-looking thru hikers.  

View from Clingman's Dome with the intense fog

Hiking in the fog down to Andrew's Bald

These red berries really stood out again the foggy backdrop

epic selfie in the fog

From the top of Clingman's Dome on a clear day

The next two days were spent hiking, shooting, and exploring potential places to shoot from when the lighting was good. It was a lot of hard work, but I'd say it paid off. 

Sunset

Sunrise from Clingman's Dome

The Milky Way over the Great Smoky Mountains

Purple mountain majesty. Sunrise from Clingman's Dome

My last two days in the park I camped at Cade's Cove. Cade's Cove is the largest and most visited campground in the park and contains an 11-mile scenic loop with lush farmlands, rolling hills, and old wooden churches and barns. In the morning, the fog settles upon it all making for beautiful photos as the sun rises. 

Carter Shields Cabin on the Cade's Cove loop

Hyatt Lane on the Cade's Cove Loop

Hyatt Lane on the Cade's Cove Loop

Nope

One of the highlights of this section of the trip was the incredible people I met and got to know. I met so many fellow travels and photographers who were willing to share insights into their craft and their journeys. One such person was an ex-marine sniper turned wildlife photographer named John Hinderscheid. He and his wife travel to Great Smoky Mountains National Park multiple times a year to shoot the wildlife. They come so often they recognize and know many of the elk and bears by name. 

On my last morning in the park, he and his wife treated me to an amazing breakfast at their campsite and even sent me off with a waterproof camera cover that John designed himself! 

John Hinderscheid - look him up on Facebook to see some of this great shots

All I can say after spending four nights in this park is that every American should absolutely visit it at least once in their lifetime. 

At the moment, I'm in Nashville crashing with my good friend Paul. I'm about to go try some Tennessee BBQ with my cousin to see how it compares to our stuff in Texas. Tomorrow, I depart for Mammoth Caves National Park in Kentucky and after that will start heading back east towards Shenandoah. 

Hope you guys enjoy the shots