Highpointing: White Butte, North Dakota

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White Butte, North Dakota is one of the few places where it feels like you could really disappear off the face of the earth. This rural, sparsely populated landscape can be harsh, unforgiving, wild and wonderful, oftentimes all on the same day! When I first started checking the weather about ten days prior the weather was forecasted to be sunny but cool. As the days got closer the weather started to go downhill. By the morning of our visit it had become overcast and windy, with rain threatening to dump on us at any moment.

Joining me on this adventure were Dave Dechant and Laurie Gibson. Dave had helped film Timms Hill way back in the beginning of this series and Laurie was an friend and colleague of mine from my contractor days. The fact that I managed to convince both of them to go with me to the Dakotas is still a mystery. At the start of the day we were able to get fairly decent footage at Painted Canyon but by the time we got half way finished at Theodore Roosevelt National Park the weather was working against us. You can hear the rain in a few scenes as we worked our way through the park.

Conditions had deteriorated even further by the time we arrived at the White Butte trailhead. At this point we were getting cold, wet, and miserable which led to rushing and just trying to get anything that was half usable. The hike across the field was wet and the wind seemed to cut through our layers of clothes. There was a bit of respite when we reached the base of the butte with it providing shelter from the wind.

It is at this point we had reached what would be the hardest part of the hike. Slopping through the mud at bottom of the butte was a quite an experience. When that dirt gets wet it becomes incredibly slick. Unfortunately the first 25 yards of the trail heading up the butte proper was exposed dirt and impossible to get traction on. With no purchase to be found on the trail Laurie opted to remain at the bottom and take photos and footage of the surrounding area. Dave and I managed to find away up the side passed the mud and then rejoined the trail and continued onward.

The remaining part of the hike was uneventful, the trail was easy to follow and nary a rattlesnake to be seen.(Come to think about it I don’t remember seeing any wildlife including birds on this hike. They all had much more sense than us to hunker down.) The weather seemed to back off a bit as we ascended until we neared the summit. Then everything changed again. Once at the top it was windy, perhaps the windiest highpoint we have yet filmed at. The summit shot you see involved a bit of camera “trickery.” Instead of the normal set up, Dave had to duck behind a small lean, set the tripod up low, and angle the camera up. The end result was a bit darker than we would have liked, and doesn’t show the surrounding area of the summit but at least we got a working shot. Expect to see the other version in the Season 5 recap.

Despite the adverse conditions I really enjoyed this highpoint. The badlands of North Dakota are austere but strikingly beautiful. The highpoint provided more than enough challenges making for some excellent memories. This was an episode that when I first started sketching it out I had concerns about having enough material though once I hooked in Theodore Roosevelt that became a non-issue.

Equipment-wise I really should have had a lav mic for this episode. That would have solved some of the sound issues we had due to the elements. We did the best we could with the shotgun mic, but even with a dead cat the wind was blowing it out.  The ever-reliable Nikon D7200 continued to be ever-reliable handling the elements with aplomb. At some point I will figure out how to shoot in the rain but until then you will just have to bear with me.

Music for this episode came from the YouTube Audio Library by Chris Haugen. There were two objectives that needed to be met. One was to find music that supported the Old West vibe of the story and the other was for something I kept thinking of while on the hike, particularly when heading up the butte itself, on how much it reminded me of Scotland. The three pieces chosen support those two elements nicely.

If you are ever in that part of North Dakota do yourselves a favor and check out both the state highpoint at White Butte and the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The North Dakota badlands are one of the hidden treasures of this country and are worth your time.  If you enjoyed this episode please consider subscribing on YouTube to the Rooftops of America channel. Click the bell icon while you are there for all the latest updates.  Also consider donating to the Rooftops of America GoFundMe Campaign so we can continue bringing you these episodes as we go highpointing across the USA. Thanks for watching!


10 State Highpoints for People Who Are Scared of Heights

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I like to say that highpointing is for everyone, but this list was inspired by my friend Brooke who asked, “What about people who don’t like high places?”

That’s a good question! US state highpoints aren’t all purple mountain majesties, in fact quite a few are low elevation wonders! So I compiled a list of the top ten state highpoints for people who just don’t have the head for heights

Before we dive in to the list, here is an honorable mention.

Taum Sauk Mountain, Missouri (Elevation – 1772 ft./ Prominence – 512 ft.)

While the walk to the highpoint from the parking lot is almost as flat as a pancake there are a few spots on the drive up that could give pause for those who don’t care for elevation, and for that reason it didn’t quite make the list. Click to check out the Taum Sauk episode!

Now on with the list!

10. Campbell Hill, Ohio (Elevation – 1549 ft./ Prominence – 639 ft.)

It may be the most “manicured” highpoint in the country. It is also the most prominent highpoint on this list. But never fear, the climb into thick air on the front side is across a well-cared for lawn. If that’s too much, then just drive up to the back and walk down a short side walk to the benchmark. Click to check out the Campbell Hill episode!

9. Driskill Mountain, Louisiana (Elevation – 535 ft./ Prominence – 225 ft.)

It’s the lowest state highpoint in the country that calls itself a mountain and it stretches the definition of the word mountain. You know you are going up something on the hike to the top, but don’t expect any scenic views at the summit other than Louisiana forest. Click to check out the Driskill Mountain episode!

8. Charles Mound, Illinois (Elevation – 1235 ft./ Prominence – 95 ft.)

Pastoral is the word that comes to mind here and this highpoint delights in its relaxed atmosphere. Check before you go though, access is exclusive with the highpoint open only the first full weekends from June to September, and one weekend in the middle of February. Click to check out the Charles Mound episode!

7. Jerimoth Hill, Rhode Island (Elevation – 812 ft./ Prominence – 192 ft.)

You won’t notice the elevation gain because almost all it is done in a vehicle on a highway. Once you park, the highpoint is just a short, low-key walk through the woods in what used to be one of the most restricted highpoints in the country.

6. Ebright Azimuth, Delaware (Elevation – 448 ft./ Prominence – 32 ft.)

It’s not the height you need to worry about here as much as the cars. The highpoint sits right next to a well-trafficked road. Take care when visiting and look both ways when you cross the street. Click to check out the Ebright Azimuth episode!

5. Hawkeye Point, Iowa (Elevation – 1670 ft./ Prominence – 40 ft.)

Surrounded by corn and soybeans, this place is a slight rise on the northwest Iowa Plains. In fact, if you visit in the late summer and the corn is standing tall, you may not get much of a view at all, though for the height challenged you may wish to avoid the observation deck by the silo

4. Hoosier Hill, Indiana (Elevation – 1257 ft./ Prominence – 297 ft.)

Follow in the footsteps of a highpointing legend. Arthur Harmon Marshall, the first person to ever complete all the state highpoints (48 at the time) finished here, but just to make sure he visited a couple other places in the immediate area as well.

3. Mount Sunflower, Kansas (Elevation – 4039 ft./ Prominence – 19 ft.)

The name is actually in jest, as this is the least prominent highpoint on our list. If you start your drive from the west you will be going down in elevation. The highpoint sits very near the border of Colorado, in fact not too far away from the Kansas highpoint is the lowest point in Colorado. Click to check out the Mt. Sunflower episode!

2. Britton Hill, Florida (Elevation – 345 ft./ Prominence – 65 ft.)

It’s the lowest state highpoint in the United States. In fact the Panorama Tower in Miami, the tallest building in the state, is over 2.5 times higher. Most of the vertical you’ll gain here is when you pull into the parking lot.

Before we get to our number one, here is a bonus, while it’s not a state highpoint many highpointers like to visit it.

Point Reno, District of Columbia (Elevation – 409 ft./ Prominence – 75 ft.)

The ride up the 161 foot escalator in the Tenlytown metro station maybe the biggest challenge when it comes to “summiting” the Federal District’s highest point. Once you are out the metro station the highpoint is just a short walk away. Click to check out the Point Reno episode!

Finally our number one state highpoint for people who are scared of heights.

1. Panorama Point, Nebraska (Elevation – 5424 ft./ Prominence – 26 ft.)

There is a reason the high plains are named as such, this highpoint is over a mile high and is the 20th highest state highpoint in the country but you would never be able to tell by looking at it. With a prominence of only 26 feet Panorama Point is all about wide-open spaces as the plains stretch out before you. Click to check out the Panorama Point episode!

There you have it, if you just aren’t a fan of heights but still want a highpointing adventure then these ten state highpoints are right up your alley.

Did we miss any? Let us know in the comments below! Also make sure to check out Rooftops of America on YouTube!

Highpointing: Black Mesa, Oklahoma

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Black Mesa, the highpoint of Oklahoma, is located in the driest, coldest, and harshest place in the state, though just not when we stopped by. No, when we visited the rain never let up until the final scene and it was greener than I had ever expected. So far in this highpointing journey these are the wettest conditions I have yet had to film in. Needless to say I learned a few things, the first was that a bounce card serves as a great hasty umbrella for your equipment even if it is a bit noisy, second, my Nikon D7200 continues to perform well in adverse conditions, third keeping that lens clean can become a real challenge as everything gets more and more soaked.

Here is a fun little fact about Cimarron County; it is the only county in the United States to border four different states. It has a real life Wild West feel to it. The whole time I was there I kept thinking how fun it would be to film a western in that environment. The region remains true to its history.

The crew for this highpoint adventure was Brett Evenstad and Eric Krause. This was Brett’s second time behind the camera and he rose to the challenge filming in this wet weather. This was Eric’s first time out with us though I have known him for years. He drove us from Denver to Black Mesa and back which was a huge plus. That wasn’t his only contribution to this episode. It would have been a whole lot more difficult to produce if Eric hadn’t been there to keep things dry and protected.

As for the filming itself, we played it pretty straight using the same technique we have for other summits with longer hikes. Get to the summit first and shoot everything in reverse order. You will notice there are no real technical shots in this episode. That can be chalked up to the incessant rain. By the end of the shoot the rain was becoming a real frustration for me. Sound proved to be a real challenge as well. You can hear raindrops in almost every shot. I tried to minimize some of this in post but I’m not sure my efforts yielded any results.

The episode used three pieces of music. The two in the background section are by Kevin MacLeod of incompetech.com, the other in the ascent section is from freepd.com. The first is “Firesong,” and the other is “Pale Rider.” They do a pretty good job of bringing out the wild west feeling I was going for.

For the ascent though I wanted something different. There is some comedy in that Black Mesa, the driest place in the state, was a soaking wet hike for the team. The piece chosen is “Waltzing Marvin,” sort of a parody of the Australian standard, “Waltzing Mathilda.” It had the more humorous yet still western vibe I wanted to bring out.

If you get to Cimarron County then the Black Mesa hike is worth a stop. There is a lot of interesting history, geology, and culture to be found out there if you take the time to look for it. If you enjoyed this episode please consider subscribing on YouTube to the Rooftops of America channel. Also consider donating to the Rooftops of America GoFundMe Campaign so we can continue bringing you these episodes as we go highpointing across the USA. Thanks for watching!

Highpointing: Mount Sunflower, Kansas

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Mount Sunflower sits out in the high plains of Kansas just a few yards away from the Colorado border. It is austere but picturesque in it’s way. Production-wise this was the first highpoint episode shot for season 3. Back when I was originally planning the series I had this idea of doing all the Great Plains at one go. Start at North Dakota and head south. Shoot them all over six crazy days and do a season finale at Texas. With the clarity of hindsight and 18 months of shooting I now know that would have been a recipe for disaster. Fortunately other events happened that temporarily drove me away from that foolhardy plan.

I knew I would have a chance to grab a couple of highpoints due to having a training class in Denver during May. I planned to maximize my opportunities by going after Kansas on the Sunday I arrived and then Nebraska before I flew home but that changed to Oklahoma in the latter part of the week with the logic being to go for the further distant ones while I had the chance and grab Nebraska the next time I was in Colorado.

From a production standpoint the question was always how to make Kansas and Nebraska more appealing to people. Both highpoints have a reputation of being quick stops with their own charm but not much else. I wanted to prove that wasn’t the case, a sort of “don’t judge a book by its cover,” thing.

When I started the series I always knew there would be easy episodes to write and hard ones as well. When I first started hammering out the script Kansas was a challenge until I hit upon the idea of a more robust seasonal theme and expanded on something that started emerging late in Season 2. This was the genesis of the whole “hidden history” theme of the season. Once that was in place Kansas became a straightforward episode. The Dust Bowl provided plenty of material, to the point I had to narrow the focus.

This was Jessica Kyander Johnson’s first time behind the camera. She is does photography in her free time and it shows in how this episode was framed. The sun was fairly blazing that day and we both got a bit red before the end. We didn’t really do anything overly ambitious shooting-wise. It was a long drive and we didn’t start shooting till the afternoon so quick efficient filming was key, hence static shots through it all.

As for the location, there really isn’t much to Mount Sunflower; you can drive up that road all the way if you want though I preferred the walk. We did the old trick of turning the camera around in a few spots to make it look like we had more location than we actually did. Overall I enjoyed shooting this episode; it took me back to my agricultural roots, growing up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin.

The episode used two pieces of music, both by Kevin MacLeod of incompetech.com. The first, lighter piece is “When the Wind Blows,” rather fitting for this part of Kansas. The other, more oppressive piece, “Breath,” is one of a seven part series entitled Shadowlands. I wanted a piece that could reflect some of the seriousness and horror of the Dust Bowl and it helped create the mood I wanted.

If you enjoyed this episode please consider subscribing on YouTube to the Rooftops of America channel.  Also consider donating to the Rooftops of America GoFundMe Campaign so we can continue bringing you these episodes as we go highpointing across the USA. Thanks for watching!

Highpointing: Panorama Point, Nebraska

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Welcome to the Panorama Point episode with special guest, “High Winds.” They show up early in the episode and stay pretty much the whole time. The weather report said to expect winds of 10-15mph, which is pretty standard for that area. Instead we got 30-35 mph winds with gusts up to 45 mph. I knew the high plains of Nebraska would be windy; it’s why I  had chosen a piece of music named “Windswept” even before I started writing the episode. I just did not expect it to be this windy. It shows in all the live shots – the cameras bobble, the talking over the winds, and sand everywhere; it’s even more prevalent in the footage that wasn’t used. This was easily the windiest conditions I have ever filmed in. It was relentless, with dust and sand whipping around to the point I was actually worried about damaging my lenses.

From an equipment standpoint this was the first episode I wish I had a bigger, heavier tripod with me. With only the lightweight, aluminum Sunpak available it got pushed around quite a bit. A heavier set up would have reduced the bounce you see in the live shots as well. I stabilized it in post but you can only do so much. Such is the joy of shooting onsite with minimal budget.

The other equipment option was using a lavalier microphone in addition to the mic set up on the camera. Unfortunately I didn’t bring it. The good news is the Rode shotgun mic with the dead cat on it has once again proved itself to be a valuable asset. There was a few moments though during the filming day were I thought the trip was a bust. Listening to the footage out of the camera I thought we were hosed. Fortunately it wasn’t as bad as I thought, once I started editing I was able to isolate the vocals a bit and reduce the wind noise.

This shoot was done in a daylong road trip of 500 miles. We drove a giant loop, leaving Denver early in the morning heading first to the border tripoint. When we got there it was completely fogged in, so we snapped a few shots and then went for coffee. An hour later when we reached the Panorama Point the fog was long gone, replaced by blue skies and the ever-present wind. There were no bison sightings for us while at the highpoint, but we did get to meet the owners who were very pleasant to chat with. Once we wrapped there we stopped at Kimball rest area off I-80 and spoke with Ms. Jo Caskey, the director of the Kimball-Banner County Chamber of Commerce about our Panorama Point adventure. She’ll send you a certificate of your feat in the mail of you provide your name to her.

We shot the scenes around Kimball then departed for Bridgeport and the Platte River valley to film the remaining scenes. This part of Nebraska is very striking and worth checking out. I got to channel my inner grade-schooler dreams with a stop at Chimney Rock. Fortunately no one in the party died of dysentery while we ventured on the remains of the Oregon Trail. Upon wrapping at Scotts Bluff National Monument  it was back to Denver for beer and food.

My compatriot on this journey was my friend Jessica Kyander Johnson. This was her second time behind the camera, (her first episode is the Kansas one that comes out January 1,) and her photographer background comes through in being able to frame up and get good material out of bad conditions. With the wind as fierce as it was we ended up shooting things closer and a bit tighter. The only real extravagance we made while filming was we did mount the camera on the car for a driving sequence. Since you can’t hike up to the summit that seemed like a good trade-off.

I enjoyed writing this episode. It was cool to be able to find a relatively engaging hook for the area that had a significant impact on American history. This episode in particular really highlights the theme of the season. Being able to take what most may label a boring area and make it entertaining and interesting was the goal. Panorama Point and Nebraska accomplished it in spades.

The music used in the episode is from Kevin MacLeod at incompetech.com. As mentioned earlier, the piece used throughout the episode is entitled “Windswept.”  If you ever need a wide selection of music for your project needs go check out his musical archives, he is bound to have something and best of all it is royalty-free.

If you enjoyed this episode please consider subscribing on YouTube to the Rooftops of America channel
Also consider donating to the Rooftops of America GoFundMe Campaign so we can continue bringing you these episodes as we go highpointing across the USA. Thanks for watching!