I was able to get out on a photo vacation back in October for a week. I spent a lot of time driving around, my plans changed and I ended up in South Dakota at the Badlands. It was great! I was tempted to keep driving west, since there was always something just a little bit down the road I wanted to see, but I had a business trip the next week. It was tough stopping though.
My initial plan was to drive the Great River Road, which runs along the Mississippi north from Clinton, Iowa. I was hoping to end up in Duluth and maybe some places along the north shore of Lake Superior before heading home. This was not to be.
I started in Clinton, and ended up in DeBuque Iowa on Monday morning. Sitting at a stop light, I got rear ended by another out of state driver. Great start to a vacation.
The Dubuque Museum of Art had advertised an exhibit of Edward Curtis's photography of Plains Indians. When I got there the museum was closed. Turns out it wasn't open on Monday's. The only thing I got to see was the statue on the lawn. Not really seeing much that I wanted to photograph on the road between Clinton and Dubuque, and deciding Iowa didn't like me, I decided to head elsewhere.
I had been wanting to go to the Badlands and spend some time, so I pointed the car west. Early Tuesday morning I was at the National Park. Of course I had planned on fall weather in Michigan and the weather was warm in South Dakota. That afternoon it hit 95 and I'm running around in blue jeans and long sleeve shirts.
I first drove the scenic drive. After stopping at park headquarters, I ended up coming across a Praire Dog colony. I parked the car, got out with my camera and sat in the shade. I ended up with what I thought was a pretty good photo.
Of course I had missed the signs on the way in the park about not getting too close to these critters. They carry a form of the plague that is transferrable to humans and is carried by fleas. Kind of glad I didn't bring my dog on the trip....
The first night, I spent some time in a turn off doing long exposures of the park. After thinking about this, if I go back, there are some changes I would make to make the moon not quite as bright.
It was refreshing standing out in the dark, effectively alone, having the praire wind wash by me. Every once in a while, a car would stop, a person or two would get out, take a quick look and then hop back in and drive away. There was another photographer who essentially did the same thing, but he stayed a whole five minutes. I'm really not sure how you can even start to get a feel for a place with such brief looks.
I spent some time driving off road in the park, there are approved areas for it. I did get a map marking such areas, but it was hard trying to figure out what was private land and what wasn't. During one such off road trip, I came upon this tree and spent some time trying to get a good photograph of it.
Of course, seeing something I want to photograph sometimes puts the blinders on me. It turns out, that I was on a railroad grade while I was chasing the tree. The bridge ahead of me was out, and I ended up backing up for a quarter mile before I could turn around.
There are abandoned cars and buildings in the area, as well as quaint and not so quaint small towns. One town I photographed in proudly had a sign on the town line proclaiming a population of 67. There is a great change in the geology of the area, the Badlands just seem to pop up out of mile after mile of grassland. Notice how flat the area is around the car, but it is only 5 miles or so from the photo above.
I had a great time and I would like to spend more time there. I did see more wildlife, Pronghorn Antelope, Mule Deer and a single Bison. I was hoping for a huge heard of Bison, but it was not to be. I also never made it to the southern area of the Badlands which is jointly managed by a local Indian tribe and the Parks service.
Fall was a perfect time to go, while it was warm, it was dry and the wind just constantly blew, a lot of times hard enough to push the car around. Another spot to put on the list to go back to.