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July 6, 2015

Sometimes You Eat the Bear, Sometimes the Bear Eats You- Joseph Fellows, Sculpture BFA 2016

by Joseph G. Fellows

For the last few weeks I’ve been working at the Great Sand Dunes Oasis in exchange for a campsite.  Most nights have been nice and cool, and I could fall asleep to the sound of fires crackling quietly in the distance.   One night in particular, at about four AM there was about an hour’s worth of grunting and groaning from east to west.  Without a doubt, I knew that there were two Black bear roaming either end of the campground as they’d been known to poke around from time to time.  It wasn’t something I was entirely concerned about until I reflected for a moment on the entirely potent canned fish that had been my dinner that evening.  My toothpaste didn’t stand a chance against the canned Mango Chutney Tilapia I had eaten with my rice that night.  As my pesca-paranoia began to settle in, I thought back to earlier that week when another long term resident in the campground kindly offered me eight rainbow trout as after realizing they might spoil before she’d be able to filet them properly.  At the time, I couldn’t exactly refrigerate them so I had to gut, wash, filet and cook all of them right away, while fending off a swarm of piñon flies that shared my enthusiasm for fresh trout.  My fear was that maybe I had gotten fish smell on something that I hadn’t noticed and that a bears keen sense of smell would.  Or perhaps, none of that would matter, they’d just be curious about the peculiar smells produced by the pile of un-showered human that I happened to be at that very moment.  In any case, they were’t interested in any that, just another camper’s garbage. In the grand scheme of things, it was nothing but a knock in the night. For better or for worse, fish has continued to make regular appearance in my diet in spite of my wary attitude towards the local population of hooligan Black Bears.  It seems the San Luis Valley intends to make sure that I don’t forget who’s really in the drivers seat.

Dust storm Moving on From the Northern Liberty Gate Access road

Fig 1:Dust storm Moving on From the Northern Liberty Gate Access road

Dark clouds moving South over the Dune Field

Fig 2: Dark clouds moving South over the Dune Field

Rain Drops start to speckle the Pristine sand, as a storm chases me down the dunes

Fig 3: Rain Drops start to speckle the Pristine sand, as a storm chases me down the dunes

Hail falling on my head as I make my retreat

Fig 4: Hail falling on my head as I make my retreat

Working everyday in a place where it seems like thunderstorms are constantly rolling through, and sand is the driving force behind most technological and mechanical issues. 3D Scanning, and even photography present as finicky undertakings. In the interest of my equipment, I’ve learned to plan my outings more precisely. Packing light to understand the conditions before I ferry a heavier pack I think has saved me some headaches.

Most mornings, I’ll stop into the visitors center to check the weather report.  Its been a great excuse to get to know the  Interpretive Rangers here who have been kind and welcoming to me.  They’ve kindly given me a workspace in the interpretive offices to scan objects in their collection. Thumbing through photographs from my outings with the Rangers has been a great way to learn more about the wildlife here.  For instance in this photograph (fig. 5) I was able to take an image of the Great Sand Dunes Tiger Beetle, but didn’t realize it was displaying a behavior known as stilting.  The beetles developed this behavior along with their unusually long legs to try to cope with the heat of the sand.  They use their long legs to hold their bodies up off the sand to keep cooler as it may exceed 140 degrees at times.  They will also dig holes to escape the surface conditions.  Some insects on the dunes avoid the issue of the surface temperature altogether by burying themselves during the daytime, and saving all of their shenanigans for the nighttime.

Fig. 1: Great Sand Dunes Tiger Beetle, endemic to Great Sand Dunes National Park

Fig. 5: Great Sand Dunes Tiger Beetle, endemic to Great Sand Dunes National Park

Red Shafted Northern Flicker unusually taking a perch, normally Northern Flickers are found pecking about the on the ground looking for food.

Fig. 6: Red Shafted Northern Flicker unusually taking a perch, normally Northern Flickers are found pecking about the on the ground looking for food.

Yellow-Headed Black Bird in Alamosa Wildlife Refuge.  Despite the arid climate of the valley, wetlands are a key feature of the area that attract a vast diversity of birds.

Fig. 7: Yellow-Headed Black Bird in Alamosa Wildlife Refuge. Despite the arid climate of the valley, wetlands are a key feature of the area that attract a vast diversity of birds.

Black Billed Magpie Fledgling

Fig 8: Black Billed Magpie Fledgling

Another day, I came across a rock that looked like it had been napped off, while walking along the southwestern base of the dunefield, and out of curiosity, it took a picture of the stone and showed it to one of the interpretive rangers, and he told me it was a shard that had been flaked off an arrowhead or a spear head as that particular mineral is not found in the park and was often brought in by Native Americans for tool making.

Mahogany Obsidian Knapping Shard

Fig. 8: Mahogany Obsidian Knapping Shard

Lately I’ve been scanning as many things as I can and have been able to create 3D models of each of the animal track castings they have collected in the visitors center.  From those I’ve been able to create a series of track samples, that will be 3D printed.  My next project will be animal skulls which I’ve found can be scanned with relative ease using an xbox kinect, and a program called Skanect. At the moment, I have the free software which only exports to broad faced polygonal nothings.  My hope is to add more detailed surfaces with my other scanners and use the Kinect model as a digital armature once I am able to get my hands on the pro version of the software.

Colombian Mammoth Tooth Scan Sample

Fig. 9:Colombian Mammoth Tooth Scan Sample

Black Bear Track test scan surfaces ready to print, adult front paw (left) Juvenile hindfoot(right)

Fig. 11: Black Bear Track test scan surfaces ready to print, adult front paw (left) Juvenile hindfoot(right)

Despite the fact my primary scanner was designed to scan surfaces and small objects, I wanted to see if it could do something more challenging.  Going through the interpretive objects, I sorted through boxes of minerals, looked through their collection of fulgurite, and finally came across something I felt would be the right object to try:  a Colombian Mammoth tooth.  It was challenging because it was larger than normally works for this particular scanner, and contained protruding forms which can be challenging for it to capture.  However, it’s redeeming qualities, being that it was highly textured, and had an acceptably dull color to it that wouldn’t confuse the software, I decided would allow for enough registration points for me to put all the pieces back together.

Spadefoot Tadpoles in a pond filled temporarily by rain water, from the wettest year in the San Luis Valley in 30 years.

Fig. 12: Spadefoot Tadpoles in a pond filled temporarily by rain water, from the wettest year in the San Luis Valley in 30 years.

My next focus is to push myself further into the field.  So far I have been hesitant to do anything that might damage my equipment.  I brought a submersible case for my DSLR and my first test produced cause for concern as there was water in the case towards the end of my session shooting at Zapata Falls.  Fortunately I was able to repair it.  Weather permitting, I’d like to try to hike up to Medano Lake above 11,000 feet.  There with any luck I might be able to photograph the newly reintroduced Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout.  As for my scanning efforts, the next order of business will be to scan the different types of patterning left in the sand by Medano Creek as it flows past the base of the dune field.  I’d like to capture as wide a continuous surface as I can, and will test different techniques towards that goal.

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