Posted by: kerryl29 | June 28, 2021

The Desert Southwest: Preliminaries

As I mentioned last time, the trip to Arizona and Utah was preceded by a two-day drive from Houston to Colorado Springs. On the first day, I drove from the Houston area to Amarillo, Texas, a drive of roughly 600 miles. (Yes, Texas is a big state. It’s possible to drive for a day and not even come close to hitting a state border.) I arrived in Amarillo late in the afternoon–a couple of hours before sunset. Had there been more time, I would have checked out Palo Duro Canyon State Park, but given the limited amount of daylight, I concentrated on something else.

A prairie dog colony on the property literally steps away from the hotel where I was staying caught my attention. I was able to get, at times, within 30-40 feet of some of the prairie dogs without apparently causing them distress. I stayed very close to the ground and, if they showed any signs of agitation, backed off. But as long as I stayed put, and quiet, they seemed unperturbed by my presence.

Prairie Dog, Potter County, Texas
Prairie Dog, Potter County, Texas

This was my first opportunity to see how the Z7ii would function for moving subjects using my F-mount 80-400 mm lens with the FTZ adapter, which allows F-mount lenses to be used on Z-mount cameras. I found the combination to be quite good, with autofocus quick to lock on to the chosen subject and highly accurate in its placement of the focal plane. There are far more available autofocus points on the Z7ii than was the case with the D800E, and that served me well on this shoot. While I’m still not a wildlife photographer in any meaningful sense of the term, I definitely procured a higher keeper ratio on this shoot than I traditionally have when photographing wildlife subjects.

Prairie Dog, Potter County, Texas
Prairie Dog, Potter County, Texas

It was an interesting experience to observe the prairie dogs engaging in a variety of different forms of behavior.

Prairie Dog, Potter County, Texas
Prairie Dog, Potter County, Texas
Prairie Dog, Potter County, Texas

I was particularly intrigued by a group of three prairie dogs, all of them were hanging out near the same colony warren access point.

Prairie Dogs, Potter County, Texas
Prairie Dogs, Potter County, Texas
Prairie Dogs, Potter County, Texas

Overall, I spent a bit more than an hour photographing the little guys, who were endlessly entertaining.

Prairie Dogs, Potter County, Texas
Prairie Dogs, Potter County, Texas

I arose early the following morning to begin the 7-hour drive to Colorado Springs. While driving on a rural road, early on during the route and not far from Amarillo, I spotted a pleasant scene, just after daybreak, that caused me to stop and produce a single image.

Early Morning, Potter County, Texas

The same thing happened much later on that day as I was driving through a barren stretch in northeast New Mexico. The Texas panhandle and the northeast corner of New Mexico are part of the Great Plains, and double as one of the windiest locations in North America. I witnessed countless tumbleweeds blowing across this little-traveled landscape. I turned the experience into a kind of game as I was driving along U.S. 87: Dodge the Tumbleweed.

But at one point, while driving through a barren stretch on this road, a scene caught my eye. The light was fairly harsh, and the wind was blowing a gale, but I pulled off on an abandoned unpaved drive, got out my equipment and produced this image with black and white firmly on my mind.

Prairie Afternoon Black & White, Union County, New Mexico

Preliminaries having now been dealt with, I’ll move on to the first part of the trip, proper, beginning with the next blog installment.



  1. Kerry, I haven’t yet had a chance to spend time with prairie dogs, but ground squirrels and marmots are also very entertaining and really ham it up for the camera. They are a favorite subject for that reason! They provide the “awww, so cute” factor in spades!

  2. […] The Desert Southwest: Preliminaries — Lightscapes Nature Photography Blog […]

  3. My goodness, these are most entertaining prairie dogs, and cute, too. Too bad they are such pests.Well seen, and well captured, Kerry!

    • Thanks, Jane.

      I wouldn’t categorize prairie dogs as pests. I think we tend to denigrate species that, as a function of having their natural habitat encroached upon by human beings and their associated activities, “get in our way.” By that definition, wolves, bears, geese and deer (among others) are pests. Personally, I think we have the equation exactly backwards.

      • Farmers don’t like them because animals can trip and hurt a leg in the holes and it it is hard to grow a crop in a field full of prairie dogs. I get what you mean about we humans being the real pests.

  4. Those prairie dogs are quite photogenic as well as an excellent opportunity to try out the autofocusing of the Z7ii.

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