Winter is slowly crawling on its hands and knees into the tiny town of Atomic City.
For a handful of days we woke to overcast skies, drizzle, snow flurries, and the chilly dampness of a desert city that doesn't feel like a desert city at this time of year.
And then one day I woke up, and was greeted by a sky that was unendingly blue and an air temperature that was nothing short of cold.
It was going to be beautiful for a couple of days, before reverting back to the now familiar overcast.
During the few days of cold sunshine I managed to take some nice pictures of our area as Kory and I walked, as Kory, LC and I wandered together on BLM land, and as something wholly unexpected happened in a town where little usually happens...........................
It is dark by 5:30 now and evening walks have turned into late afternoon walks for me and a puppy whose love of running knows no bounds.
Together Kory and I wandered to the far right back corner of town.
Picking up a trail that leads onto BLM land, I unleashed my pup and let her go to joyously run and investigate whatever caught her fancy at the moment.
Slowly walking that first trail it quickly ended and I had to make a decision - should I go right (wandering further away frown town) or go left (picking up a trail that runs the length of the back of town).
Deciding on neither I stayed straight and picked my way through a huge field of tall, thick and rapidly fading desert grasses.
I would walk straight for a while, and then veer across the field to my left to pick up the trail that would lead me eventually back towards town.
It wasn't far. Maybe a mile and a half in total, but it would give me longer to enjoy the beautiful evening while still keeping town in sight, and it would give Kory the chance to explore countless small rock and sage brush gardens that were scattered throughout the huge field.
Bunnies hid in rock gardens, under the sage brush......................
We wandered together, in that slow and easy and comfortable way that only comes when woman and dog have roamed in each others company every day for two years.
It really WAS a beautiful evening.
No bunnies. But still plenty to keep an energetic dog busy and occupied.
As usual, it was also enough time to keep a woman occupied in deep thought.
After crossing the field we picked up the trail and started slowly heading back towards town.
A few minutes from the trail head and the back of town I heard a plane flying overhead and looked up, curious to find it, and perhaps take a picture of it before it disappeared from view.................
I was carrying a camera with me that gives me a "lens error" message when I try to zoom in too far.
This dusty and windy environment is tough on cameras. I seem to go through them quickly these days.
I knew that I would not be able to zoom in far to get close ups of the plane, and with that in mind decided to try and take pictures of the plane, against the blue sky background, with (hopefully) town or mountains or buttes in the background..................
Briefly I looked away from the circling plane, suddenly realizing that I had been watching it for a long time, and had not been keeping track of my dog.
She is fast. And distractible. And excitable. And can be in view one minute and completely disappear in the next.
Kory was happily dancing from one sage bush to another in the field immediately off the trail, still eagerly in search of rabbits to chase.
Satisfied that my pup was still with me I turned my attention back to the plane.
It had circled above me a number of times.
Had circled around the town a number of times.
And as it flew by me in yet one more pass, I wondered exactly what the pilot was doing.
We occasionally have small planes flying overhead.
Sometimes they are BLM planes which invariably land on a small landing strip at the far edge of town before quickly taking off again.
Sometimes they are simply site seers that quickly move on.
But THIS plane circled again and again, and I continued to snap pictures before he also moved on to wherever he was from or wherever he was going....................
After completing multiple circles of town the small plane eventually disappeared from site and I quickly forgot about it.
I snapped this one last picture of the Lost River Valley before calling for my dog, putting her back on leash and stepping across the downed fence that leads back to the gravel road..........................
As Kory and I slowly meandered our way down the road, intending to head back to the house, I looked up ahead of me.
In the rapidly fading daylight I was surprised to see "something" outside the now abandoned-for-the-year BLM fire station.
From this distance it looked like a number of vehicles, but as I continued to move in that direction I began to realize that the plane was parked on the road.
The plane had landed in the middle of the road.
Immediately picking up the pace I was concerned that it had mechanical difficulties. And I was eager to take pictures of the plane up close..................
Close ups of the plane never happened.
I was still a few hundred yards away when the plane began to speed down the road, alongside a motorcycle.
Quickly the plane took to the air, banked to the right and headed in the direction of Blackfoot..............
With the plane disappearing on the horizon, and with the motorcycle continuing down the mile long straight-away and headed towards the highway, one of our neighbors four wheeled back in my direction.
The neighbor had talked to the pilot when the pilot landed the plane on the road that he was using as a runway.
Neither the bike rider nor the plane pilot wanted their picture taken.
Neighbor had taken a few pictures anyway, but both strangers had turned their faces away from the camera.
The bike rider had a lever action rifle strapped to his back.
As I looked at the pictures and heard of my neighbors' experience with these two strange individuals I found the entire incident unfathomable.
As we continued to look at pictures I noticed that the motorcycle rider was headed back our way.
I continued to watch the biker as he rode close to us, pulled a U-turn and then again headed back down the road.
As he U-turned I noticed the gun. The full length leather coat. And the full face skull mask that he was wearing.
And I was completely creeped out. What the hell was THAT?..................
Neighbor and I talked for a few more minutes and I asked him to ride his four wheeler over to my house.
I knew that LC would want to see the pictures.
LC had heard something about these guys..........the bar owner had met them............they had been out this way before..............they were trying to take aerial pictures of the bike rider speeding down the straight-away..............
For what reason? Why didn't they use a drone? Why were they having so many problems getting aerial pictures of the biker? LC did not know.
Dowloading the pictures that night I was both disappointed that I had not gotten better pictures than I had, and bemused by this unexpected encounter in our isolated and usually quiet small town.................
The next morning we were greeted by one more cold and completely beautiful day, and with a puppy again restless and needing to run, we all three loaded into the Suburban (which we have decided to keep) and headed out onto BLM land.
There is snow on the Twin Buttes, on Big Butte, in the mountains of the Lost River Valley, and as Kory explored (again in search of bunnies) LC and I picked our way through sage brush and rock gardens, enjoying the solitude of the moment and the place...................
As the weather has begun to cool down the deer in town (who were traveling through town in ones, twos and threes throughout the summer) have begun to band together and travel as one larger herd.
Of the 12 or so in town now, about five of them are fawns who were born in the spring and who are now healthy and growing beautiful things.
There is one momma with an injured front leg. She has two growing and increasingly independent fawns with her, and I find myself worrying about this beautiful creature and (even though she works hard to stay with the herd) wondering whether she will make it through an upcoming tough winter.
As with a couple of years ago, I feel as though I know these guys.................
As with a couple of years ago, I feel as though I know these guys.................
Pictures all taken from that same evening as I wandered yet again with my puppy in and around town.
At the end of a very beautiful, still and cold day we walked in a very beautiful, still and cold evening.
The light was wonderful. The night was silent................
We had seen the small plane and the masked bike rider one night, and around the same time the next evening I was standing outside in the back yard watching my dog give grief to rabbits that roam in the grass, when I saw the same plane fly overhead.
Calling Kory to me we rushed into the house and I told LC that I had seen the plane again.
Scrambling to get out to the Suburban as quickly as we could, we all three drove down to the fire station in search of the plane.
As we turned the corner we saw the plane take off from the middle of the long straight-away road that leads down to the highway, circle around and fly over town again.
Far down the straight road we could see the motorcycle heading towards us.
Meeting the bike on the road we waved the rider down, and surprisingly he stopped.
As LC and bike-rider-dude talked with each other I looked the rider over. He was dressed exactly the same as he had been the evening before.
Only the mask was different.
Same black garb, same black leather coat, same rifle, and a full face black almost gas-mask-like mask.
As he talked with LC he did not take the mask off.
Who DOES that????
Reaching into my pocket I pulled out my camera, and asked the bike rider if I could take his picture.
I had expected him to say no, but surprisingly he said yes.
Excited, I climbed out of the Suburban, walked around to the opposite side of the vehicle, and he posed for me.
What the hell was he all about???
LC asked him. Bike rider responded that he and the plane pilot were just "f'ing around"
They had been out to Atomic City two consecutive nights in a row that we knew about. They had been out at least one more time that we knew about.
It was an expensive way to f around.
I didn't believe him....................
After a few minutes of friendly conversation and evasive answers, and a bike rider who continued to wear his mask during the entire conversation..............we said goodbye.
As we stood and watched the plane land, cruise and then take off one last time, I snapped this one last picture of the motorcycle speed down our road.
The next day we visited the bar to see if the bar owner knew any more about these folks.
He did not.
The neighbor from the previous night (who had taken pictures with his camera phone) lives with the town mayor.
Yes...............even a town of 25 people has a mayor.
We gave the mayor a copy of the photos I had taken. The neighbor gave the mayor copies of the photos HE had taken. She called the incident into the local sheriff department.
The plane did not land at any regional airport.
So what's the deal with these guys??
We don't know yet. But hope to find out.......................