When we got up in the morning we were happy to find horses not far from camp. There were several bachelor groups in the area. The closest group to us was Jackson, Mandan, and Nodin. Further down the road we could see Baja’s band. There were other bachelors in the area too. Inali, Naolin, and Orlando were off to the left and London, Missoula, Mica, Miocene, and Nickel were off to the right.
I didn’t really get to spend any up close time with Baja’s band this trip, so I will mention it here. Later in the summer Washakie gave birth to a beautiful filly named Quahneah. She is the most recent in a long line of Baja x Washakie babies. Their first baby was a filly born in 2005 named Flax. Washakie is basically a fertility goddess and foals every year. Three of those foals died of natural causes and the rest were removed. We are all determined to fight for Quahneah to remain on the range. Baja and Washakie have been a power couple for more than 10 years and deserve to have that legacy represented.
After standing quietly for awhile Jackson’s group decided to start moving around. Jackson is the 1998 son of the mare Broken Bow and the stallion Two Boots. He has retired from his band stallion days and now spends his time teaching the younger boys. When he had his band he was at the top of the hierarchy. He has handled his retirement gracefully and seems content. The other two younger boys in this group are Mandan and Nodin. Mandan is the 2012 son of the mare Demure and the stallion Santa Fe. Nodin is the 2013 son of the mare Fiasco and the stallion Custer. Nodin is a new bachelor, having only become a bachelor earlier that spring (2016.)
The boys headed off into an area called “cat’s cradle.” Many years ago there was a mountain lion that made this area his home. The horses used to avoid going into the thick of the trees in this area. It’s been a long time since that mountain lion lived there though. It was before these younger boys were even born, so they don’t know. Jackson is old enough to remember though. Bands with horses who were alive during that time still avoid this area. The bachelors however do as they please, they also don’t have anyone to protect though.
One of the other groups started moving in this direction too.
This group consists of London, Missoula, Mica, Miocene, and Nickel. London is the 2011 son of the mare Gold Rush and the stallion Doc. Through a series of several unfortunate events London ended up becoming a bachelor when he was only a yearling. He was taken in first by Jupiter’s bachelor group at the time and then he was taken in by the Forest Service boys bachelor group. The FS boys took young Knight in too. London and Knight were lucky to have good friends and protectors at such a young age. Because of this London matured faster than most his age. He is absolutely gorgeous and one of my favorites. I think we will see him put together a band in 2017. Missoula is the 2012 son of the mare Half Moon and the stallion Diamond. He had just become a bachelor this spring (2016.) Another gorgeous boy, and he is super unique. He’s flaxen chestnut or “sorrel.” He was this first foal born of this color in quite awhile. He’s now one of two with this color on the mountain. Mica is the 2012 son of the mare Feldspar and the stallion Cloud. So gorgeous as well! He became a bachelor when he was two so he’s been at it for awhile. He’s got a great personality, everyone fell in love with him from the time he was a foal. He actually won a mare this spring of 2017. He now has Aurora, who was formerly with Duke. Miocene is the 2012 son of the mare Halcyon and the stallion Flint. He just became a bachelor this this spring like Missoula. Nickel is the 2013 son of the mare Fools Gold and the stallion Red Raven/Coronado. He also just became a bachelor that spring. Missoula, Mica, and Nickel’s dads are are brothers making them cousins. And then also Missoula’s dam Half Moon and Mica’s dam Feldspar are full sisters, so they are related that way too. Double cousins, if that’s a thing.
Sometime this group is all together and sometimes they split into smaller groups. When they split up it’s usually London and Missoula in one group, then Mica, Miocene, and Nickel in the other.
This group headed into cat’s cradle too. None of these boys are old enough to remember the mountain lion that lived here either. They were all born well after the “mountain lion years.”
Something got Mandan stirred up and he started running around. Nodin quickly followed.
I was able to get some really great shots of Mandan! He’s gorgeous and has really matured. He’s the only remaining offspring of both of his parents, Demure and Santa Fe. They had other surviving offspring both with each other and with other partners but unfortunately most were removed. Mandan did have a full sister named Kindra born in 2010 that wasn’t removed, but unfortunately she disappeared during winter in early 2013. Even though his father is Santa Fe, Mandan was actually raised by Doc. Doc stole Santa Fe’s band shortly before Mandan was born.
Inali and his group was a bit of a distance away. Jackson decided he wanted to head over that way and took off at a brisk trot.
Then the large group of boys decided to stir things up and go for a run. They ran right across the top of the ridge line and I was able to get some fun pictures.
These boys were headed back through cat’s cradle and down into the area where we had first seen them. I turned my attention back to Jackson who was getting closer to Inali. Unfortunately I was on the wrong side of the sun for these photos.
This meeting was nothing serious. Mostly noise, pawing, and posturing. Trying to intimidate each other without much physical force. They broke up, walked away, and then came back several times.
Then Jackson decided to move on and investigate other things.
I realized what had set Mica off running. Knight and Encore/Nimbus had come into the area. Knight and Mica had a short, non serious scuffle before Mica resumed running. I think Knight was just a little nervous at how quick Mica was coming at him and just wanted to remind him who was in charge.
Mica and London’s group kept running around and were all riled up. They grouped back together and headed out of the area.
And then just like that the boys were all suddenly gone and we were left with just Knight and Encore/Nimbus grazing quietly. The bachelors often come in and go out like a whirlwind.
Knight is the 2010 son of the mare Guinevere and the stallion Cappuccino. He is built like a tank like his father. If it weren’t for Knight being roan they would be a matching pair. When roan’s scar the hair grows back in the solid color. Knight has more battle scars than most stallions his age, and he has earned every one. He claimed Encore at just four years old. This year (2016) he is six. In 2017 he won the three year old filly Outlaw Lady. She has been a nice addition.
And then just as suddenly as they disappeared, the boys were back! They like to keep everyone guessing.
Then Mica headed out at a determined pace. He seemed to be headed toward Mystic Pond. Everyone quickly fell in behind him and just like that, they were off again.
The horses were spread out in one of the open meadows. The one that’s sort of behind Mystic Pond and between Burnt Timber Road. The horses were nearer to the BT side so that’s where we started. There was a nice rock outcropping we were able to sit on. There were a lot of bands in the area: Mescalero, Knight, Hamlet, Custer, Flint, Hernando, Inali and his boys, Duke, Indigo/Irial, Garcia, Morning Star, and Jupiter.
Grijala brought his band over soon after we got there. Petra wasn’t with them this time. We weren’t surprised to see Gringo and Tecumseh’s bands following close behind.
The horses were all moving across the area toward the other road. We got back in the truck and headed that way too so that they were coming towards us instead of moving away .
I was excited to finally see Hamlet’s band. We hadn’t seen them at all this trip yet. This was my first time seeing little Penn too. Last year I visited in July, but Audubon didn’t give birth to Penn until September. Being a late born foal, that’s why she is smaller than the other 2015 foals. She looks just like her daddy. She’s his first offspring. Being that he is one of the only remaining former forest service horses, it’s important for him to reproduce and pass on his genes. He’s also made a great father.
Looking at Audubon Sandy and I were pretty sure she was pregnant. When she’s pregnant she’s usually very thin across her topline, especially in the spring. Knowing she’d likely foal in September again this year, I was hopeful she would put on more weight before that like she did last year.
She did foal again in September, like we expected. This time she had a beautiful little grullo colt that was named Quicksilver. These photos were taken by Pryor Wild, as I did not get to see him since he was born after my trip.
Unfortunately Quicksilver disappeared in October. He was very healthy and doing well prior to suddenly not being with his band one day. Audubon is an experienced and attentive mom and Hamlet is a great father. Niobrara has the same maternal instincts as her mother, Firestorm and is a great addition for helping to look after foals. Quicksilver is one of four foals that have disappeared this summer and speculation has turned towards predation. 2016 has had the smallest foal crop in years (probably ever- due to the implementation of a new pzp program) and has had the highest foal mortality rate in years. Of eleven foals born this year, only seven remain. In the early 2000’s there was heavy predation with only a handful of foals surviving out of more than 30 born. In the later 2000’s predation has waned, likely due in large part to hunting of mountain lions in the mid-2000’s.
Quicksilver was a gorgeous little colt with some great primitive markings. I think he would have roaned out like older half sisters, Hera and Niyaha. He will certainly be missed. But we can be happy with the fact that Hamlet and Audubon still have Penn. She is a gorgeous little girl. Unfortunately I was on the wrong side of the light when taking these pictures so it was particularly hard to get pictures of Penn and Hamlet being that they’re black. I tried to edit the lighting different ways to show you how delicate and pretty she is. I also included some other better photos from friends.
Hamlet’s band has had some changes since the last time I saw them. When I saw them in June of 2015 the band consisted of Hamlet, Audubon, and Audubon’s 2013 filly Niyaha. Niyaha is the daughter of Morning Star and Hamlet stole them when Niyaha was a yearling. Audubon and Niyaha were very close and I expected them to stay together like Washakie and Bacardi have. Last summer Niobrara was with Hernando, but within days of Penn being born she left Hernando’s band for Hamlet’s. Audubon and Niyaha did not exactly welcome her. She was very drawn to Penn, but Audubon and Niyaha were very protective of the new baby. However, they eventually warmed up to her presence and she is now a close member of the family. Then in spring 2016 Niyaha joined Jupiter’s band.
This summer Niobrara has displayed an interesting relationship with Hamlet. She seems to enjoy his company and is often seeing mutually grooming with him, however she rejects all of his attempts to breed with her. Not only does she reject him, but then she actively seeks out other stallions to breed her. My friend Abbie wrote a blog post about some of her observations on this a couple weeks after I was there. You can read her post Fickle is as Fickle Does by clicking the link. The only thing we’ve really been able to think of is that Hamlet is a very large stallion, much larger than the average Pryor stallion. And perhaps that makes her uncomfortable. Personally I think her decision to join Hamlet’s band was more based on wanting to be around a foal, then having taken a particular liking to Hamlet (although he is a great stallion!) I thought that maybe if she was still with the band when Audubon foaled again, that she might settle down again. Now, with the loss of Quicksilver I’m not sure what her next move will be.
And now begins the “play date” portion of our evening. Jupiter’s band was near Hamlet’s and two year old colt Oro decided to walk over and say hello to Hamlet.
After being sure that Hamlet was going to be nice to Oro, Jupiter returned to his band and Hamlet and Oro began to play. Prepare for a lot of photos because I had such a good time watching them play. Again, sorry about the lighting as I was still on the wrong side of the light. They began by nibbling on each other.
Then they were running alongside each other and in circles. They lean their weight on each other while they’re doing this. Hamlet was doing most of the leaning, but making sure not to put too much of his weight on the younger colt.
Then they broke out into some more sparring. Hamlet let Oro do most of the rearing, playfully teaching him and having a good time.
Next they started nipping at each other’s legs. When stallions are in a serious fight they will try to bite and slash the tendons and ligaments in the other stallion’s legs. A leg injury can serious impact a stallion’s ability to fight and protect his band. Many times a leg injury incurred during fighting has been the cause of a band stallion losing his band.
Hamlet’s three year old mare Niobrara came over to to investigate. Oro was very unsure about this and started to move away. Niobrara is still young enough to be playful but old enough that Oro isn’t sure her stallion would allow it. Hamlet was very relaxed with the situation and knew Oro wasn’t posing any threat. Oro relaxed once he realized Hamlet was ok with the situation.
Duke’s band had also moved into the area. Jupiter’s band was between Duke’s and Hamlet’s. Duke decided he didn’t like Jupiter’s band being close to his and charged them. Jupiter and the mares went running to get out of the way.
Oro stopped and decided to graze before making it all the way back to his band. Duke was interested in him and decided that he wanted to play too. Hamlet stayed nearby keeping an eye on the situation too, making sure that Duke was going to be nice to his new young friend.
Suddenly there was movement to my left, from across the road. It was Maia, Oro’s mom. Maia had apparently decided that Duke was absolutely not allowed to play with her son. She galloped over like an angry mama bear and sent a very surprised Duke running. She moved so suddenly that her stallion Jupiter was caught of guard and went scrambling after her to be her back up.
Maia left a group of confused stallions in her wake. Neither Duke, Hamlet, or Jupiter had any idea what just happened. I don’t think Oro did either. Oro’s reaction was more of an oops, sorry mom, you’re mad so I’ll just do whatever you want. Jupiter and Hamlet had both been keeping an eye on Duke, making sure he was respectful and friendly to Oro. Personally watching, I didn’t think Duke was being rough, but Maia apparently disagreed. The only thing I can think of is that because Duke had just aggressively chased Jupiter, Maia, and Niyaha out of the area that she then didn’t want him anywhere near her son.
Oracle is the two year old son of Hataalii and Morning Star. He really looks so much like his mother. We were all very excited when he was born because Hataalii’s only other foal, 2011 filly Lenape was removed in 2012. Morning Star also only has a small number of offspring remaining. In 2016 Hataalii gave birth to a colt named Quest. He was certainly a cute little guy. Unfortunately a few weeks later he went missing. He is one of the four 2016 foals that went missing.
The horses were all starting to move around again. They were likely heading towards Kruger Pond for their evening drink. And now begins the dinner date portion of our evening as several bands decided to join us in camp for dinner. The first to join us was Flint’s band.
When Morning Star’s band was moving through the area, his mare Hailstorm had urinated. Morning Star responded with the flemen behavior as he could smell she was in heat. We were disappointed because it confirmed she wasn’t pregnant. As a demonstration of claiming the breeding rights to Hailstorm and to dissuade other stallions Morning Star urinated over the same area. However, when Flint came along he could still detect the smell of a mare in heat.
This is a very close knit band. They have some new additions since I saw them in 2015. Ingrid/Innocentes and her two year old daughter Orielle have since joined the band. Ingrid was previously with Cloud for several years and Orielle is Cloud’s daughter. The lower Sykes stallion Inniq stole them from Cloud in April of 2015. He held onto them until the fall so I never got to see them on my trip since I was there in July. In the fall Ingrid and Orielle returned to the mountain top, surprisingly accompanied by Dryhead stallion Jemez. Within a week Flint had stolen the girls from Jemez and Jemez returned to the Dryhead. I do hope to see Jemez with some mares again soon. Ingrid and Orielle fit seamlessly into Flint’s band as if they had been there all along. They quickly developed close relationships with their new band members. It makes me happy to see them happy and bonded with their new family. And I find it fitting that in Cloud’s retirement they end up with the son he raised. I really love these two and was so happy to finally get to see them. Orielle was a long anticipated foal for me. Ingrid and Cloud had such a close relationship and I eagerly anticipated a foal for them for years. They didn’t disappoint with Orielle.
The other mares in Flint’s band are Sequoyah, Texas/Amethyst, and Halcyon. Halcyon left her natal band (Red Raven’s) and joined Flint’s band in 2010 along with her yearling daughter Adelina/Judith. Flint and her have had several foals together and all of them are matching grullo/a roans. Their first was 2012 colt Miocene followed by 2013 filly Nirvana, 2014 filly Olivia, and 2016 colt Quanah. In 2010 Flint stole Sequoyah and her 2010 colt Uno/Kane in the fall of 2010. Sequoyah is Flint’s faithful and trusted lead mare. Texas left Bolder’s band during the winter of 2010-2011 and joined Flint. Her and Sequoyah have become very bonded.
As for Flint’s story, I wrote these couple paragraphs about him a little while back when I shared a photo of him on facebook. I’ll post it here again too.
“Flint. Born in 2001 to the mare Sitka and the stallion Shaman. Sitka and Shaman were quite the power couple. Flint has four full siblings on the range. The mare Adona (born 2000), the mare Washakie (born 1994), the stallion Custer (born 1996), and the stallion Mescalero (born 1999.) Of the three brothers, Flint has been the most dominant. Sitka foaled just about every year so there were other fullsiblings born that are no longer on the range.
Cloud stole Sitka from Shaman before Flint was born so Flint was born into Cloud’s band. Interestingly enough Shaman stole one of Cloud’s mares and then raised Cloud’s son, Bolder, also born in 2001. I think of Bolder and Flint as step brothers. They were both born in 2001 and were raised by each other’s fathers. Cloud and Shaman’s bands were very often near each other while these boys were growing up. Both “brother’s” spent a lot of time together as well as with their biological fathers. Both of them were allowed to stay in their stepfather’s bands until they were four.
Flint currently leads a band of four mares, a two year old filly, and a 2016 colt. Interestingly enough, he has a former mare of Cloud’s and a former mare of Shaman’s. His four mares are Sequoyah, Texas (former Shaman mare), Halycon, and Ingrid (former Cloud mare.) He didn’t steal either Texas or Ingrid directly from either father. He stole Texas from Bolder several years after Bolder had stolen her from Shaman. He stole Ingrid from another stallion a year after she was stolen from Cloud. Along with Ingrid came her and Cloud’s daughter Orielle, who turned two this year. Halycon and Fliint have been a successful couple. They’ve had several nearly identical grullo/a roan offspring: 2012 colt Miocene, 2013 filly Nirvana, 2014 filly Olivia, and 2016 colt Quanah. Olivia was removed but the other three remain on the range. Flint allowed Miocene to remain in the band until he was four, just as Cloud had allowed him to do. Flint also has two offspring with the mare Feldspar (before she was stolen by Cloud.) Their 2009 son Jupiter is still on the range and has been a band stallion for the past 3 years. Their 2010 daughter Agate/Krystal was removed and now has a great home with Lisa Friday. After being adopted she was renamed River. Olivia also found a great home as well.”
Flint then decided he wanted to come over for a closer introduction. We moved away and he followed, we moved again, he followed again. There was nothing aggressive in his approach, he was relaxed and friendly. I really think he just wanted to say hello. But he is a wild horse and a stallion. Stallions frequently greet each other by striking out. We wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of that. We moved far enough away that he stopped pursuing us. He almost seemed to sigh in defeat. Flint and I had a similar experience on my trip last year where he wanted to come say a close up hello to me. Even though I can’t actually let it happen, I find it as quite the compliment that he felt comfortable enough with me that he wanted to greet me.
The next band to join us for dinner was Flint’s son Jupiter.
Jupiter’s two mares look very much alike. Both are dun roans of similar build and age. They are actually related to each other too. Maia is the 2012 daughter of Hera and Prince. Niyaha is the 2013 daughter of Audubon and Morning Star. Niyaha and Hera are full sisters making Niyaha technically Maia’s aunt. There are a few tricks to helping tell them apart.
Both mares have a brown counter-shading stripe down the bridge of their nose. However, Niyaha’s is darker. Niyaha also has a more narrow face than Maia. Both mares have manes split in both directions with the top half going left, a spike in the middle, and the bottom half going right. The difference is that Maia has a thinner layer of mane falling to the left and also has more of the two-tone blonde in her mane.
Both mares have some differences in their roaning patters, but their roan patterns change yearly and seasonally. In the winter they grow in thick winter coats of their solid color and then when they shed out in the spring/summer their pattern becomes light again, but the patter is often different. This year Maia was lighter on her hind end and also had a couple solid dots on her flank.
Maia seemed to be posing for me this evening so I have a lot of pictures of her.
I don’t have a photo from this evening to show it, but Niyaha’s primitive markings are darker than Maia’s. They both are somewhat faded from the roan gene, but Niyaha’s leg stripes, shoulder bars, and dorsal stripe are darker and bolder.
Next to join is was Knight and Encore/Nimbus. They actually surprised me. Sandy had walked to the truck to make a call and I was over by our camp kitchen. I have a habit of looking down when I walk so I was looking down as I was walking back to my chair. I looked up and there was Encore standing in the road watching me. I was happy to get some close up time with them.
Then Encore decided to give us a little show. She seems to enjoy giving young Knight a run for his money. She’ll decide she either wants to go somewhere or doesn’t want to go and will take off running with Knight in hot pursuit. Knight goes in full on band stallion mode, running after her with his head low and ears back in the snaking position. She chooses to ignore Knights “suggestions” and runs around in circles. And she looks like she’s happily leading him around like it’s a game. She runs with her ears forward and a care free expression on her face.
Shortly after that more bands started to pass by our camp. They were probably on their way to water at Krueger pond. Gringo and Tecumseh’s bands were the first to come by.
They were followed by Hernando and his two mares Pheonix and Warbonnet. Pheonix’s golden coat always shines in the evening light making for some nice photos of her.
Bolder’s band was in the vicinity and seemed to be heading towards us. I was excited because I will admit I’m a little obsessed with Bolder. I love him! I eagerly awaited them joining us at camp. However more and more time was passing and I started to doubt that they were in fact going to join us. These photos I have of him are cropped, he was still a good distance away.
We could hear horses calling from the direction of Krueger pond and I was curious if something might be happening. I became restless and impatient waiting on Bolder and was becoming more convinced he wasn’t going to come our way. I decided to head down the road and see if I could find out what was going on. Sandy stayed at camp to wait on Bolder’s arrival. I ran into Linda Hannick a little ways down the road and ended up stopping to talk with her. I enjoyed getting to meet Linda in person and we had a nice conversation. I never ended up seeing any horses, because Linda and I talked for awhile and then it was starting to get darker and cold so I went on my way back to camp. Sandy said that within minutes of me leaving Bolder led his band into camp and she got some really great photos! I have learned my lesson, never doubt Sandy!!
However, our evening of horses wasn’t over yet. Indigo/Irial led his band through our camp shortly after I got back.
Then from an area farther to the right appeared Pride and Quintana. Mescalero’s band!!! Finally I was going to get some close up time with them that I had so badly been wanting!
Indigo’s band quickly moved through but Mescalero’s band settled down and stayed for awhile.
Cappuccino’s band moved in across the road. Quintana says them and galloped over to say hello. She’s a very social little filly, wanting to make friends with everyone.
Pride started feeling a little playful and started messing with Polaris. She has been drawn to him from the time he was born, really all the mares in this band have, and have all contributed to raising him. Polaris especially likes him. He is often able to entice her into his playful antics.
Cappuccino’s band has settled down to graze in an area across the road from us and a little further back from Mescalero’s band. Suddenly there were pounding hooves, whinying, and commotion that made us turn our attention back to them.
Looking further to the left we saw Doc’s band standing in the road. They had come up the hill and when Heritage saw Jasmine she called out to her and the other mares in Doc’s band joined in. Cappuccino got Jasmine and Aztec quickly moving away from Doc’s band before they could make a run towards their other friends.
After getting Aztec and Jasmine grouped back together with the rest of the band and sending the whole group off in the other direction Cappuccino turned back and charged at Doc who was already on his way to accept the challenge.
Their meeting was mostly posturing, pawing, and trying to intimidate each other. No serious fighting broke out.
After the conflict with Cappuccino settled, Doc’s band continued down the road and settled down for awhile in our camp.
As you can see, Doc’s mare Firestorm is very pregnant. Firestorm and she is one of my favorite mares. She is the 2005 daughter of the mare Velvet/Scarlett and the stallion Cloud. She is an interesting color. She’s a red roan, but many of us call her a “sandy roan” because of the way her color has changed over the years. She started out bright orange as a foal and even though she roaned out, she kept that red/orange color. But as the years passed she became less red and more of this sandy grey color with hints of red. Even her mane and tail are a mixture of grey and silver hairs with just a little bit of the copper color left over. She is an amazing mother and has raised many foals. I always look forward to seeing her foals. After she left her natal band (Cloud’s) she chose to join the stallion Jackson. She was with Jackson for several years before Doc stole his band in the spring of 2014. Jackson is the sire to five of her total seven foals including her 2014 colt Okomi who is still with the band. Doc is the sire of her latest foal, 2016 filly Quietstorm. The group of mares in her band are very bonded to each other and were very bonded to Jackson while he was the band stallion. However, they are not as fond of Doc.
I hoped she might foal while I was there but she held out for a few more weeks. She had a beautiful seal bay roan filly born in July named Quietstorm. As with all of Firestorm’s foals, Quietstorm was a beautiful little foal. She looked a lot like her older half sister Lady Jane/Kalahari who was also a seal bay roan.
I fell in love with this little filly and hoped for her to remain on the range. Firestorm is an amazing mother and nurtures all of her foals. In my opinion Firestorm deserves more representation on the range. Quietstorm’s sire Doc is also a rare bloodline and doesn’t have many offspring. Unfortunately this beautiful, feisty, sweet, and healthy filly disappeared suddenly in the fall. With the band one day and gone the next. She is one of four foals to disappear this year and as with the others predation is expected. We were all saddened by the loss of this filly. Firestorm is now on pzp but perhaps in the future she will give us a surprise and foal again.
The two young horses in the band were curious about us. Okomi is Firestorm’s 2014 colt sired by former band stallion Jackson. Doc stole Jackson’s band shortly before Okomi was born so Okomi was raised by Doc. He reminds me so much of his older brother Maelstrom who was born in 2012 and unfortunately removed in 2015. Petra is Galena and Doc’s 2015 filly. She is beautiful and practically the spitting image of her mother. The soft setting sun made for a great background to these photos.