This is how you can see Mt. Rushmore without paying the $11 parking charge. Lest you think I am an unreasonable cheapskate, and some would argue that I am, let me say in my defense I have been to Mt. Rushmore before and I sprang for the full treatment, including parking, at that time. To my way of thinking, this is one of those things that, if you’ve already seen it once up close, that is really all you need.
These hills southeast of Rapid City still have remnants of the blizzard of two weeks ago that killed thousands of cattle, as well as horses and even a few bison. A good number of ranchers have years of recovery ahead of them. Carcasses were visible from the interstate and in some places they had been dragged to the side of the road to be picked up for disposal. It was a sad and terrible thing to see.
On my two previous trips to western South Dakota I had purposely avoided the Badlands. I did so because I assumed, based on the photographs I had seen, that it was nothing but an uninteresting wasteland. I couldn’t have been more wrong. On my way home this time I decided to take Hwy 240, also known as the Badlands Scenic Loop; a road that follows the contour of the Badlands plateau for about 40 miles.
All I can say about it now is – Wow! One minute I’m driving across the vast grasslands of the northern Great Plains, the next minute I’m in a landscape so stark and so foreign that the closest thing I could think of for comparison was the surface of the moon.
For a novice photographer like me the Badlands presents serious creative challenges. To begin with, there is not much variation in the color of the landscape, especially not this time of year, when most of the vegetation has already died back. There are subtle shades of yellow and red in some of the geologic formations, but the predominate color almost everywhere is a grayish-white. The trees were wearing their yellow fall leaves, but they were so few and far between they were of little photographic value.
In my study of photography I have learned that most landscape photographs should have an object in the foreground to serve as a focal point. The challenge of photographing the Badlands is that there are few, if any, foreground focal points. So I took a number of pictures trying to capture the expanse of it all, but despite what I was seeing with my eyes, they were some of the most uninteresting photographs I have ever taken. I included here three landscapes that I didn’t absolutely hate, just to serve as a record of my trip if nothing else.