The arctic blast that sent temperatures plunging well below zero in January made it difficult to transport crews to and from trains in the Powder River Basin coal mining district. That’s how Union Pacific locomotive engineer Alan Nash found himself temporarily stranded on the tracks north of Shawnee, bored yet awestruck by the winter scene.
“We weren’t going anywhere,” said Nash, who has run trains on the same 150-mile route here for nearly 28 years. “We sat there for probably seven hours.”
Nash is also a photographer who uses his iPhone — as well as a drone camera — to capture images of a sprawling, high plains landscape dotted with pronghorn, the occasional oil rig, a growing crop of wind turbines and the world’s largest surface coal mines.
Despite the technical difficulties that come with extreme cold — temperatures dipped to negative 14 degrees Fahrenheit the day Nash was waylaid — he sent his drone skyward for an aerial view and found an eerily beautiful snowscape blurred with patches of fog.
“It’d been so long since we’d had that much snow, and it stayed on the ground instead of blowing to Iowa,” Nash joked. “It was just like a sea of snow everywhere you looked.”
Nash had to make his drone flights short so he could retrieve the contraption before it froze up. But he was delighted with the images he captured. It’s the reward earned from appreciating how the same landscape can reveal itself a million different ways, depending on the season and the light, said Nash, a self-described “sunrise and sunset chaser.
“It’s the same landscape, but it’s always different,” Nash said.
Nash shares his “#WyoBraska” images on Twitter under the handle @VernChronicles, typically with inspirational reminders to “#LookUp.” He also frequently shares his photography with news outlets and magazines, eager to offer his unique view from the Powder River Basin’s rails.
His photography is now on exhibit at the Rockpile Museum in Gillette. “My Corner Office: Views and Reflections from the Powder River Basin,” is an “eclectic mix” of photography featuring “grasslands, industry, wildlife, weather and, of course, railroads,” the museum said in a press statement.
“I’ve been following Alan on social media for a while,” Rockpile Museum Director Robert Henning told WyoFile. “He really is an historian in a lot of ways. He’s documenting our culture and our history.”
For more information about the exhibit, call the Rockpile Museum at (307) 682-5723 or visit rockpilemuseum.com.