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#220 The Black Hills and Badlands

#220 The Black Hills and Badlands, South Dakota USA

My love for this area goes back to early childhood. Starting at age four, I remember visiting relatives in the Black Hills and the Badlands and seeing my first mountain stream and hiking forest trails unlike anyplace in my home in Iowa. I shot there as recently as last summer, and I always find something new, along with very few other photographers to compete with.

Fresh snow in Spearfish Canyon Photographed by Tom Till

The Black Hills, sacred to the Sioux and other Plains Native Americans are famous for their rock formations and Mount Rushmore, both carved from beautiful granite by nature and man. Mount Rushmore is pretty straight forward, it faces Southeast, so if you want the best light, morning in winter is the time to visit, but the famous busts also were situated to look great on summer afternoons when most people see them. Some of my best shots have come from airplanes and helicopters, which can almost always be chartered in the area.

Aerial View of Mount Rushmore at Dawn Photographed by Tom Till

In Custer State Park, which covers a great deal of the Black Hills area, the Needles rock formations are great with sidelight on summer mornings, and the amazing Eye of the Needle Arch is also beautiful at that time of the year and day. Following the road toward Custer, a large pull out provides great summer side light of the Needles in the morning, and once again aerial shots of these pinnacles are recommended. Drones are not allowed in Custer State Park.

Cathedral Spires and Needles, Custer State Park Photographed by Tom Till

Eye of the Needle Arch, Custer Sate Park Photographed by Tom Till

Badlands National Park never seems to change much. Compared to the huge crowds of Arches, Badlands doesn’t seem to be a constant traffic jam, and can be almost deserted at sunrise and sunset. Nearby Wall, South Dakota has not changed one iota since 1980. There are so many good viewpoints and photo spots that it’s hard to pick the best, but in summer late day, it’s hard to beat the view and the photo at Sheep Mountain Table, a place especially sacred to the Sioux, and only reachable by a rough gravel road.

Summer View from Sheep Mountain Table Photographed by Tom Till

Farther west in the Black Hills you will come to the town of Spearfish and lovely Spearfish Canyon just outside the town. The Canyon is home to three waterfalls. Bridalveil is high on the cliffs towards the beginning of the Canyon, while further up there is the very interesting Roughlock Falls which flows in a little canyon of its own, and finally Spearfish Falls. None of these falls are big, but they are unique to the Plains where waterfalls are few, and very much worth photographing. I did a lot of drone shooting in the canyon itself at sunrise when no one was around and the results were excellent.

Spearfish Falls Photographed by Tom Till

The first national monument, Devils Tower, of Close Encounters fame, is an amazing geologic phenomenon. My images from here include fields of wildflowers and snowy trees as foregrounds, and amazing skies that seem to only come from the east side of the divide. One road leads to a small parking area west of the monument and really is the best place to shoot sunset. Also, the small view area is usually free of rattlesnakes and ticks, common denizens of the area.

Devils Tower at Winter Sunset Photographed by Tom Till


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