Thursday Writing Prompt No. 138

My "explorer" photo added to a virtual bus stop.

My “explorer” photo added to a virtual bus stop thanks to PhotoFunia.

My husband calls this picture of me my “Richard Attenborough” photo. Not the bus stop — just the picture of me in the window. It’s from Yellowstone, when we visited back in 2010. The cloud behind my shoulder is steam from a volcanic vent and my hair is tousled by the wind. It’s probably the wildest place that we’ve visited and the closest to being an explorer that I’ve been. What can I say? I’m an urban/suburban child. I might manage to do a short survival trek, but I like my coffee, hot water, and soap, thank you very much. And — the mosquitoes like me just too much.

This week’s Thursday Writing Prompt is about travel. Pick a location and write a paragraph or two for a travel brochure that describes the place in glowing detail. Now here’s the twist: the place is somewhere you’d never want to visit. Whether it’s just rough country or an urban area infested with traffic jams, identify that place and put your fiction-writing talents to work selling that locale to some unsuspecting would-be tourist. Have fun, and don’t forget to inject some humor into this. It shouldn’t be all doom-and-gloom.

But see those white posts next to the road? I bet you think they’re some kind of traffic bollards, don’t you? Well, they’re not. They are the spiky teeth of some gigantic monster that’s about to devou….

Thursday Writing Prompt No. 8

dead tree

This dead tree at Yellowstone National Park is coated with minerals.

What should we write about this week? I found myself at a loss for writing prompt ideas, so I’m resorting to the photo prompt. Actually, that makes it sound a bit desperate, but it isn’t. Photographs — and for that matter, any kind of artwork — can be excellent inspiration for writers (and other artists, too).

I work in downtown Washington, D.C., and there’s a small gallery that opened last year about a block away from my office. I’ve gone into it a couple of times just to browse. Sometimes I really like what’s on display, and the artwork gives me ideas. And sometimes I just don’t get it. But that’s okay.

But you don’t have to go to a gallery for ideas, so don’t feel sorry for yourself if you don’t happen to live somewhere that’s close to a gallery. Just look around. No matter where you live, you’ll find architecture, lawn ornaments, signage, and any number of other man-made things to give you inspiration. For that matter, just go to any store and take a look at the in-store displays. Graphic artists spend a lot of time coming up with effective point-of-purchase displays. Those are the cardboard boxes that display anything from cigarette lighters to DVDs to canned goods in the grocery store. Take a good look at them, because some of them are very artistic.

Of course, nature can be inspirational, too. This photo I took of a dead tree may strike you as a bit weird. If so, you’re already on the way to writing about it. Write about the weirdness. If you’re thinking “So what?” and finding that you don’t care about the tree or are wondering why anyone in their right mind would bother to take a picture of it, then you’re also in good company. Write about the photographer.

You see, it doesn’t matter how the photo strikes you: it only matters that you have some kind of reaction to it, whether you’re intrigued or bored. Because that’s what writers do: they react to things by writing about them. Sometimes they react to real-world events and things, sometimes they make up stuff and react to it. While this tree is a real-world item, it can just as easily be from a scene in a fantasy or science fiction story.

I’m not going to tell you what to write about this week. The image above is your inspiration. To me, the eeriness of this tree covered with minerals tells a story. Now you just need to write it down.



A fumarole vents hot water and shows traces of mineral deposits (the red and white colors).

I don’t remember the name of this fumarole, but I think it looks like the mouth of some bizarre prehistoric sea creature. I took several shots of it, some with the puffs of smoke at more or less interesting angles, and some shots with wispy smoke while in others it was heavy and cloudlike. The afternoon was overcast and raining slightly, so there wasn’t much opportunity to catch any highlights in the little puddles of water. The fumarole was too far away for my flash to be effective.

Yellowstone vista

One of the vistas from Yellowstone National Park, with fumaroles steaming away.

Yellowstone is filled with strange landscapes and features like this one. It really does look like something out of the geologic past, doesn’t it? I half expected dinosaurs to come sauntering (thundering?) out of the mist. It’s almost creepy in a way. I can’t imagine what the first people who saw this thought.

Today we understand a lot of the geological forces that shape the Earth’s landscape, but it’s hard not to look at this and come up with alternative explanations that have nothing to do with science.

As I recall, I hand-held the camera for some of these shots but used my tripod for others. The overcast sky has enough cloud detail to be interesting and create some reflections in the water. The “mist” at ground level is actually steam coming out of the ground at various fumaroles. This area had a walkway, too — which we were glad to stay on.

Fearless Geyser and other Gushers

Fearless Geyser sign

These funky retro signs were used to identify geysers at Yellowstone National Park.

Some of the geyser names that we saw at Yellowstone National Park struck me as a bit odd. I guess I just associate strong names with rocks and anything geology related. Rocks are interesting, but they’re not cute and cuddly. So the name Fearless Geyser definitely fits; it has a ferocious-sounding name that goes well with the idea of boiling-hot water erupting out of the Earth.

As we walked around the Norris Geyser Basin, I decided to photograph the signs to help identify what geysers I was taking pictures of. Sooner or later they all kind of look the same (especially if you wait nearly a year to start inventorying your images of them). I thought the signs were kind of cute, too. I try to take pictures of the kinds of things that most other people ignore. But I also think that sometimes it’s those behind-the-scenes kind of pictures that give you the most vivid impression of actually being there.

As far as the names for the geysers and other water features, Fearless Geyser and Black Growler Steam Vent both sound pretty impressive. And some of these geysers and springs do make noises; either a bubbling or hissing or growling sound. Green Dragon Spring doesn’t sound as fearful to me; it conjures up images of a lazy dragon sleeping on the lawn. But the name Porkchop Geyser made me laugh.

pathway in Yellowstone National Park

A view from the pathway around the Norris Geyser Basin.

When we got to the Norris Geyser Basin parking lot, the geyser area was hidden behind trees. In fact, it looked like many other parks I’ve gone to. Well, I suppose parking lots do all look the same, to some extent. It was fairly cold that day, probably in the fifties.

We started our tour of Norris Geyser Basin with the Back Basin area. Steamboat Geyser was the first one we came to. The geysers are ringed with a wooden boardwalk so that you don’t actually walk on the ground, which is scalding hot in places. Despite the posted warnings about the dangers of hot springs, we did see a few footprints in the dirt. I had no intention of melting my shoes, so I stayed comfortably on the boardwalk. It’s actually quite nice, and you can lean on the railing or even take a seat at some places.

We walked around the path awhile longer and then it started to rain a little, so we headed back to the main path and took shelter in the Norris Museum and looked at some of the exhibits. Although it never actually downpoured, it was cold enough to be uncomfortable.

On the way back to the parking lot I took some pictures just for the atmosphere. I like the way the path curves off to the right. Doesn’t it make you wonder what’s around that corner?

In this image, I took the raw photo and did some manipulation with the Topaz Adjust plug-in for Photoshop. I downloaded the trial some time ago and really liked it, but I just got around to purchasing it and I’m having a lot of fun working with my images. However, I still have Photoshop CS, which is four versions behind the latest software, so some of the newer plug-ins don’t work for me. I finally decided to spring for Photoshop CS5 Extended, and I’m waiting for it to arrive. I expect to be spending a lot of quality time with my computer.