South Dakota Prairies and The Badlands

The prairie land of South Dakota seems endless. Massive fields of green grass and rolling hills go on for miles and miles leading into the Badlands National Park. Driving through this area on my way to the Badlands made me think of what it must have been like 150 years ago. Massive expanses of knee deep grass cover the landscape along Highway 44 leading East into Scenic, South Dakota. After a brief stop in the small town of Scenic, I took Sage Creek Road North into the vastness of the prairie. This is a partially managed dirt road that leads into the North West corner of the Badlands. The views along this road are amazing with the sporadic farm house and barn along the way. Living so far out in the middle of nowhere was something that was hard for me to fathom – some serious solitude. The Badlands is roughly 242,000 acres of eroded buttes, mountains and prairie land. The landscape is a surreal creation, a combination of volcanic ashes and sediments. The ashes were carried on the winds from the west and deposited there over 30 million years ago. Water from the flood plains carried other sediment into the area leaving colorful deposits. Years of heavy rains and erosion have carved the landscape into an other worldly environment. The land is striped with color, showing the various periods of its evolution. While visiting, be sure to go out on foot and explore the landscape. It is an amazing experience to view all of the natural habitat. The spring and fall are the best times to visit. Summers out here can be brutal with temps in the 100’s. If you are planning a trip out west I highly recommend visiting this park for a day or two. Here are a few shots from the trip.

Prairies of South Dakota near Badlands National Park. © Rob Loughrey
Prairies of South Dakota near Badlands National Park. © Rob Loughrey
Highway 240, Badlands National Park, SD © Rob Loughrey
Highway 240, Badlands National Park, SD © Rob Loughrey
Pinnacles overlook, Badlands National Park, SD © Rob Loughrey
Pinnacles overlook, Badlands National Park, SD © Rob Loughrey
Twilight over the Badlands National Park, SD © Rob Loughrey
Twilight over the Badlands National Park, SD © Rob Loughrey

Western dark skies

The western portion of the US has long been on my list of places to explore. I have always been intrigued by the way of life that people describe about the west. It has a lure unto itself, often described as a simple life. A life uncluttered or disrupted with our normal day to day experiences on the east coast. I had the opportunity to attend some training in South Dakota over the summer. Once I confirmed the dates, I started checking the calendar and maps for places to explore during my visit. It just so happened that I was visiting during the peak of the Perseids Meteor Shower and as luck would have it, it was a new moon phase that same week. Each night of my stay brought clear skies, an astrophotographers dream! It had been a long while since I was in a place where the skies were as dark as what I experienced here. I scouted out some locations in the Black Hills National Forest during the evening and then waited for the sun to set. Being there with such good weather and clear skies made it easy to try out some different techniques. I was able to do some time lapse photography a few long exposures and sat out and watched an incredible meteor shower. The only thing I was a little nervous about is being in the middle of the mountains/woods in complete darkness knowing full well there are hungry animals out there. Thankfully I didn’t have to fight any off. Here are a few shots from the different shoots. For the last shot, I stood on the roof of my rental. This gave me a good silhouette against the night sky. Climbing up there in the dark wasn’t easy, but I got it done without damaging myself or the rental. Hope you enjoy…

Dark skies over Black Hills National Forest, Deadwood S.D. © Rob Loughrey
Dark skies over Black Hills National Forest, Deadwood S.D. © Rob Loughrey
Perseids Meteor Shower, Black Hills National Forest S.D. © Rob Loughrey
Perseids Meteor Shower, Black Hills National Forest S.D. © Rob Loughrey
Stargazing - Black Hills National Forest, S.D. © Rob Loughrey
Stargazing – Black Hills National Forest, S.D. © Rob Loughrey