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Sun sets on Chimney Rock photo project
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Sun sets on Chimney Rock photo project

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She didn’t expect Chimney Rock to teach her so much.

She didn’t expect to become so connected to the 325-foot landmark, almost possessive of it, that she’d bristle slightly when she saw others taking its photo, too.

Or that she’d be this sad that the project to photograph the monument every day during 2016 is over in a few days.

“It’s bittersweet,” Sharon Henderson said this week. “I got really attached to Chimney Rock. Really attached to it.”

The Panhandle photographer and a friend, Rod Russell, really didn't know what to expect when they decided to capture a year's worth of sunsets at Chimney Rock, a milepost for pioneers who had traveled the Oregon, Mormon and California trails.

They planned to take turns traveling to the tower, and to post new photos on a Facebook page and, when the year was over, publish a book.

Not all of their plans held up. Though it was a 40-mile round trip for each of them, they often double-teamed the sunset, staking out the spire from different directions. They had to suspend the book idea when it became clear it would be too costly. So they’re selling calendars instead, each month a different picture of Chimney Rock.

But their Facebook page, CR365, became a popular place. Nearly 4,000 people follow it, and some shots of the rock get hundreds of likes. “There are a lot of people that love Chimney Rock,” she said. “I think it reminds so many people of home, if they don’t live here anymore.”

On good nights, when the clouds danced with the light, they would take up to 400 photos. Even on stagnant nights, they would still shoot dozens. Then they would edit them down and post the best six or so.

“It taught me a lot about a lot of things,” Henderson said. “It taught me about seeing a very long project through from beginning to end, it taught me that it’s not always an easy thing to do but it can be done.”

It taught her the light surrounding Chimney Rock is never the same, the color combinations changing from moment to moment. Even though they took thousands of photos -- her cameras took a beating in the last year, she said -- they never took the same picture twice.

And that taught them both to be better photographers, she said.

They watched the land around the monument change, too. They started in winter and will end in winter, but in the months in between, the land was plowed, planted and harvested. Wheat and corn and sunflowers and hay.

“We let the different seasons play with the way we framed the photos,” Henderson said.

And the commitment they made taught her something about time. About how fast it can fly. She was surprised to realize they were 100 days in, then 200, then 300.

“I don’t think it made time go faster, but it made me aware of how fast it goes. If I had hated the project, it probably would have dragged out.”

There were only a couple of nights in the past 12 months when she felt she was weighing her options: Take a trip out of town, for instance, or go shoot Chimney Rock.

“That’s about as bad as it got, and I still did it. It’s still the most peaceful time of my day, still the most tranquil part of my day.”

The photographer's not sure what she’ll do Jan. 1. She might make the 21-mile drive to Chimney Rock out of habit. But she's also planning a new project for 2017 -- photographing a year’s worth of sunsets at Scotts Bluff National Monument.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7254 or psalter@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSPeterSalter.

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