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Author Topic: Badlands/South Dakota Tips  (Read 4632 times)
jecxz
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« on: June 03, 2006, 09:46:26 PM »
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I'll be in South Dakota, Badlands area for 3 weeks in July and would sincerely appreciate tips and advice on locations for wildlife and scenic landscape shots. I don't mind short/mid level hikes (2-4 miles). How is off-rpad driving in the area, is it mostly private property?

I will be staying in Hot Springs and plan to cover the surrounding region.

Thank you in advance.
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Geoff Wittig
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« Reply #1 on: June 04, 2006, 08:26:26 AM »
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Custer State Park and the adjacent Wind Cave National Park are just north of Hot Springs, and are a terrific location for photographing wildlife including bison and prairie dogs. To the east, Badlands National Park has 244,000 acres of spectacular landscape to shoot, so there's no need to trespass on private land. (Trespassing is a bad idea in a region where everyone seems to have guns and Native Americans are understandably sensitive about their sovereignty.) You could spend the whole 3 weeks exploring the park and still not see everything. The landscapes are amazing, and you can see pronghorn antelope or bison almost anywhere in the Park or along adjacent roads. I was there three years ago, and I'm going back this September for a week of photography. It's a magical place.

Some precautions are in order. Bring lots of water, and tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return. The Badlands are often brutally hot in July, and there is no-repeat-no water available anywhere in most of the park. Cell phone service is often spotty or absent in the back-country. 4-wheel drive is mandatory as most roads are gravel or dirt, and vary from decent to abysmal quality. When it rains, the bentonite soil instantly turns into clinging mud that is guaranteed to mire your vehicle, so pay attention to the weather. Finally, it is quite easy to get disoriented and lost in the endless canyons and gullies of the back-country, so a compass and map or GPS are essential if you're hiking any distance.
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Del
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« Reply #2 on: June 04, 2006, 07:10:28 PM »
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I have just returned from my second year of attendance at a Badlands photography workshop, that is headquarted each year at the Circle View Guest Ranch just outside of Interior South Dakota which is one of the gateways to the Bandlands and just North of the White River.  Doug Beasley of Minneapolis is the photographer who has been leading these outings for about 10 years.  Phil and Amy kruse who are actual ranchers as well as proprietors of a wonderful Bed and Breakfast could provide you with some directions to wonderful settings that are on both public and private lands.  Ansel Woodenknife is another good resource and anyone in Interior can direct you to his business (a thriving internet fry-bread business), and I'm sure he would offer advice and some history as well.

My suggestion would be to try to stay at least for a while closer to where the action is.  Interior, S.D. with a population of 67 is an experience unto itself.  Two bars-one of which makes  great pizza (Wagon Wheel Bar) in a town without a restaurant is worth a visit as well as having the only gas close by-my recommendation is to fill your gas tank at every opportunity as well as having plenty of ice, water and snacks-this is real "outback" country. Gas stations are frequently without fuel.  Real cowboys often ride their horses into the bar at night, and on most nights (before dark) a local brings a huge bull into the bar which patrons can sit atop if the mood moves them.  I drove about 350 miles during the week on dirt and gravel roads without problems, but if it even appears remotely that it is about to rain, get back to pavement ASAP, as the roads turn to a glassy slickness you will  want to avoid. A 4x4 is always a good idea, though on occasions some in our group drove sedans (with varying results).  I've never met anyone in this area who wasn't very friendly, willing to visit and offer advice.)

If you want the postcard type of panorama, stay on the paved loop through the park, and if you are there early or late, or the light is good because of some of the amazing clouds that pass through you will rewarded, though I find photographing the badlands something of a challenge even with my panoramic camera.

Some of the various tables, (Wolf Table, Sheep Table, etc.,) provide incredible views and the Native Americans with whom we interacted were always very friendly and often stopped to chat.  The area to the South and West of Scenic, S.D., takes you to some amazing grasslands on the way to a very far-reaching tabletop view of some beautiful country.  You might find offerings left by Native Americans which are sometimes tied to trees and one should be very respectful of these.

Good luck, take more water than you think you might ever need, and you'll be grateful if it is kept very cold.
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wolfnowl
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« Reply #3 on: June 05, 2006, 01:58:01 PM »
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I think this has been answered pretty well already but I'll add another couple of cents worth:

1) Keep in mind that the soil in the badlands area is fine clay, not rock.  You can get pretty close to the edge of a rock face without it crumbling on you, but in that area the soil can give loose easily and climbing back up (assuming you're still physically capable of doing so) isn't fun.

2) The gullies and channels look pretty from above but can be really disorienting once you're actually in them.  It's quite literally like being in a labyrinth.  Very easy to get lost, even if you know the area.  Even GPS won't be a lot of help if you're only choice is to follow one narrow canyon or another.  An old grandfather I knew who lived at the edge of the badlands got lost one day and came across a dinosaur skeleton while finding his way out.  In all his years of living there he was never able to find it again.

3) If you're driving at night, stay alert and watch for wildlife on the road.  This includes things like bison, which are very black, and wild horses.  I still remember the night I navigated my way through 5 white horses that were standing on the highway on my way south from Rapid City.

4) Wind Cave has already been mentioned... There are some beautiful sights in the Black Hills just to the west, and Bear Butte is just to the north of Rapid City.  If you're in the area in August, stop in at Sturgis and find out what it's like to have a quarter million motorcycles descend on a small town every year.

5) Depending what you're looking for, you can find quite a variety to shoot.  Everything from the mountainous statue of Crazy Horse and Mount Rushmore to the world's biggest drug store in a little town called Wall.  There's Wounded Knee just east of Pine Ridge Reserve.  You can see evidence of third-world existence in the middle of the richest country in the world.  If you're up on Red Shirt Table there's a restaurant of sorts made up of a bunch of trailers cobbled together.  The food's good and for such an out of the way place they have currency from quite a few different countries.

Mike
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John Camp
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« Reply #4 on: June 05, 2006, 07:17:50 PM »
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Just to emphasize the above: take water and watch the heat. The heat can be as brutal as in any desert. I was out there two years ago in early June and we had a day that was 103 -- that wasn't in the shade, because there was no shade. Wear a hat and long pants and take suntan lotion. Wear decent hiking shoes or boots. Watch out for prickly pear.

On the GPS: take a GPS and learn how to use it. It won't really do you much good when it comes to using a map, because there are lots of times when you can't get from A to B in any kind of line. The function that is really helpful, and it's on all portable units now, I think, is the backtrack function. That will at least get you back out, if you take care to push the backtrack button at critical junctions.

There are some prairie rattlesnakes occasionally (you'll be lucky to see one.) If you're climbing, though, watch where you put your hands.

There's a loop road off I-90 with trailheads, and a visitors center. Start there -- it has some interesting terrain. There are more badlands up in North Dakota, by the way.

You'll be fairly close to the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Indian Reservations. Most of the Sioux I've dealt with over the years are pretty mellow, but some are unfriendly toward strangers, particularly strangers who take pictures without asking. Be polite. The reservations are worth a look, though, and most of the people you'll meet are pretty cool.

TAKE WATER. Get a couple of gallon jugs and throw them in the trunk of your car as an emergency supply, and then don't touch it until you leave.

JC
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jecxz
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« Reply #5 on: June 05, 2006, 07:45:24 PM »
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Thank you all for your guidance and advice. Definately know about the water; I keep many gallons in the car as well.

Even though I wanted to be closer to the Badlands, I chose the town of Hot Springs because it was sort of central to other places that I want to visit, like the Black Hills and Custer. Also important was an Internet connection at the motel. It was also considerably cheaper than Rapid City (about $50 per night cheaper!).

Again, thank you and I hope I capture some good photos!
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