Photographing the South Dakota Black Hills

2023 Summer Photography Field Trip – Part 1

Our Photography Field Trip this year was curtailed due to issues with the RV.   Our original plan was to travel as far northwest as Montana to photograph Glacier National Park while photographing other places like The Badlands, Tetons, Yellowstone, etc. along the way.  However, we discovered an issue with the roof during our photography field trip to Orlando FL to Photograph Boc Tower and Gardens and Leu Gardens. As we were preparing to leave and come home on the 27th of February, we noticed a tear on the side of the roof.  We had already had an appointment to bring the RV in to have solar panels installed in April, so we called and had this added to the work order.  Little did we know the extent of the damage.  It was a straight line cut, just as if it had been done with a knife. After an assessment from the dealer, we knew we would not be leaving in May.  The whole roof had to be replaced. Now the fix involved insurance negotiations, repair time, etc.  To make a long story short, it took two (2) months to get the RV back with a new roof and new solar panels.  So, our original plan to leave at the beginning of May went by the wayside.  Instead, we did not get started until the end of July. So, for this year our Summer Photography Field Trip was going to be to travel to South Dakota to photograph the Black Hills and the Badlands.

We left home on Wednesday, July the 26th and traveled to Forsyth, GA for our first night’s stop (396 miles).  It took us about 8 hours to reach the KOA Forsyth GA Georgia Campground.  The campground was an easy off/on to I-75. The hosts were very friendly and accommodating. We had a pull through site that was fairly level. Great for our overnight stay.  We were greeted with warm chocolate cookies delivered to our door and hot food could be ordered from the campground restaurant for delivery to the RV.  This worked out well after 8 hours on the road.  By the way, the cookies and the pizza were scrumptious.

On Thursday, July 27th we continue our journey.  We got an early morning start.  Being only about 60 miles south of Atlanta, we wanted to insure we could be through Atlanta before the peak rush hours. We decided to take the belt around Atlanta which worked out well.  Traveling through Nashville though was another story.  We were detoured around an accident which took us a bit out of our way and through the center of Nashville, fortunately still on a major interstate.  We were about 390 miles from Cadiz, Kentucky, our next overnight where we stayed at the Cadiz RV Park.  We had a pull through site that was fairly level.  This campground was also an easy off/on to the to I-24.  Campground was clean, restrooms were clean, and the host were super friendly.

On Friday July 28th we arrived at our halfway point.  This was in O’Fallon MO, where we stayed at the Cherokee Lakes Campground.  The hosts were very friendly and accommodating and the campground and restrooms were very clean, which was good as we were staying here for four (4) nights. We were given a site on the lake close to the restrooms and the office, which turned out to be a great blessing as during our stay there was a vicious thunder and windstorm that rolled through the area, uprooting several trees in the campground. Some of which fell on RV’s and did quite a bit of damage.  We, ourselves, were unharmed.  Loss of power for about 24 hours was our worst inconvenience.  But the hosts and their crew were quite efficient. Within two days they had everything cleaned up and you wouldn’t have known a storm had just rolled through. But it was scary while it lasted since that was the firs major storm we had weathered in the RV.

We have a son and grandchildren living in O’Fallon, so this is always a good place to stop, recuperate and spend some quality time with our family.   

After spending four days in O’Fallon we continued our journey to South Dakota.  Tuesday, August 1st, we traveled to Iowa and spent the night at the I-29 Highway 34 Campground. It too was an easy off/on to I- 29. We had a pull through site that was nice and level. The hosts were very friendly and helpful but there was no office staff or camp store.  However, it was only $25 a night and well worth it.  Restrooms were sparse but clean and the campground area was clean, just off the highway and close to a Loves truck stop.

On Wednesday, the 2nd, we traveled to the New Frontier RV Park and Campground in Presho, South Dakota. We were fortunate in being assigned another level pull-through site. The hosts were very friendly at this easy on/off to I-90 location.  A great place for an overnight stay! On Thursday, August 3rd, we traveled to our final destination at the Heartland RV Park and Cabins in Hermosa, South Dakota on Route 79.


2023 Summer Photography Field Trip – Part 2

Photographing The Black Hills Custer State Park, The Badlands, Spearfish, and Devils Tower

Our Original plan was to do some boondocking in the Badlands just outside of Wall, SD. However, our generators carbonator stopped working just days before we left for the trip and we decided to pass on the boondocking without the generator. I believe the carburetor got gummed up from the ethanol additive used in today’s gas. I tried to fix it myself, but I found it impossible to remove the carburetor. My neighbor came over and after several tries, he said, “maybe we should take it and have it fixed before we really break it”. Which I thought was good advice. The repair shop Cycle Springs Power Sports, could not have it repaired before we left. If I had taken it in right away, they may have been able to meet our departure date, but I had to give it a try. I might add that it was waiting for us when we returned ( my neighbor picked it up for us, and it is back in fine working order. Thank You Cycle Springs.

Thursday August 3rd, we arrived at Heartland RV Park and Cabins Campgrounds. We were put in a temporary site for four (4) days. After that we were moved to the site we would be at for the rest of our stay. We were moved because we are going to meet up with our Campers For Christ group for a week long rally at the end of the month. It was our first rally with the group and we were looking forward to it…

Over the years I have had several issues with my legs, so I am not able to hike very far, especially on rocky or uneven ground. So, a lot of what I shoot is a short walk off the road. Usually within a mile or so. Although my wife and I have been known to hike several miles if we know there is a great photographic opportunity waiting for us at the end of the hike.

The Heartland RV Park and Cabins campground is ideally located a few miles outside of Custer State Park and about 15 miles south of Rapid City, SD which provided other photographic opportunities within an hour or two drive. The little town of Hermosa, SD (about 2 miles down the road from our campsite) gave us rhe advantage of a small grocery store, a few churches and a few gas stations located on RT 79. 79 is also the main road to the campground from Rapid City and access to I-90.

Bank in Hermosa SD

During our stay the Custer County Fair was held in Hermosa. We attended the fair and were amazed at the horseback riding abilities of the local residents. We also worshipped at Our Saviors Lutheran Church in Hermosa which is only a few blocks away from where Calvin Coolidge and his wife worshipped when they spent the summer vacationing in Custer State Park in 1927,

Church Attended by President Coolidge – Hermosa SD

Rapid City is the closest large city. The trip from Hermosa is approximately 20 miles and only takes about 30 minutes. The city has all the major big box stores. We did most of our shopping in Rapid City. If we needed to grab odds and ends we did that in Her-mosa. While we were in the area we needed to get an oil change and make a trip to the vets. Rapid city was where we went to have those services completed. Main street in Rapid City has bronze statues of most of the U.S. presidents on the street corners of the “main drag”. There are a lot of opportunities for photographs around the city.


We were pleased to find that the campground has a restaurant. So, the first night in we had them wait on us. They have a limited menu but what they have is very good. We really en-joyed their breakfasts. They are closed for lunch. At dinner they also have live music from local artists.

Heartland Campground

The second day it was raining, and we needed to resupply. We drove into Rapid City, drove around, got the lay of the land and did shopping at the Safeway Supermarket.

Over the next 4 weeks we traveled extensively through Custer State Park, with side trips to the Badlands, Spearfish, and Devils Tower. The first week presented a few challenges be-cause we were sharing the roads with approximately 500,000 motorcycles that were there attending the Sturgis, SD motorcycle rally. We met a lot of great people attending the rally. It’s just that there were people and motorcycles everywhere. So, for the first 2 weeks we were there, in some cases it became difficult, and in some cases impossible for me to set up and take photos.

So, knowing that now, I would not have chosen the Sturgis, SD bike week as one of the weeks to do landscape photography. However, due to some unexpected RV Repairs, plan B put us in the middle of the rally but, plan A would have probably not included our own rally with CFC. Decisions, decisions….

Custer State Park

Custer State Park, has varied regions of prairies and rugged mountains in the Black Hills of southwestern SD. With an area of 114 square miles it is among the largest state parks in the continental US. Located about 20 miles south of Rapid City and headquartered in Custer, SD, it is bordered to the north and west by Black Hills National Forest and to the south by Wind Cave National Park. It was named for George Armstrong Custer, who, in addition to his well-known battle with the Sioux, led an expedition that discovered gold along French Creek in 1874. The park was designated a game preserve in 1913 and was made a state park in 1919, primarily through the work of Governor Peter Norbeck.

MT Rushmore

Custer State Park is one of the few places in the world to see an abundance of wildlife in their natural habitat. Visitors may encounter a variety of wildlife throughout the park’s 71,000 acres, including along trails, in the campgrounds, and beside the road. Wildlife Loop Road is particu-larly known for its common sightings of buffalo, pronghorn, and prairie dogs, but keep an eye out for white-tailed and mule deer, elk, bighorn sheep, and a host of birds and smaller wildlife as well. For the best results, travel the loop during the early morning or later in the evening when wildlife are most active.

Custer State Park is an amazing place to photograph. Some of you may know my focus is black and white photography and, over the years, I have come to start seeing things in black and white. What looks like a normal scene to some may look dynamic to me. To me, Custer State Park is a very rich environment for black and white photography. The Needles Highway, Iron Mountain Road, and all the back roads we took had great opportunities. Often when I am taking a photograph people will ask me, “just what are you photographing?”. I try to explain it to them but because I am viewing things in black and white they don’t see what I am seeing. It takes practice but over time it just happens. Several photographers I know use their cameras live view to get an idea of what a scene will look like in black and white. Some photographers

The Needles

think that if they get a color photograph they like but its not quite right they can just convert it into black and white and they can save it. Not so. A bad photo is a bad photo. Or at least it was until AI was created. Now anything is possible and believe me I need all the help I can get in post processing. .

While in the park the rangers caution not to depend on GPS because it can be wrong, and sometimes downright non-existent. We stopped in at the US Forrest Ranger Station on RTE 16 to pick up one of their detailed, free maps . Using these and Google Maps worked out well for us to find our way around.

Bison in Custer State Park

Custer State Park is known for its free-ranging bison herd. With some 1,500 animals, it is one of the largest bison herds in the world. Pronghorns, deer, elk, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, mountain lions, burros, prairie dogs, coyotes, eagles, and wild turkeys are other res-idents of the park’s variety of habitats. The 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road offers views of the animals, and bison often stop traffic as they cross. The Needles Highway is a twisting 14-mile route through narrow tunnels and past needlelike rock formations, including the Needles Eye, a granite spire some 30 to 40 feet high with a small slit 3 to 4 feet wide. The park offers hiking, biking, rock climbing, and horseback riding and has several resorts. Several hiking trails in the park lead to Black Elk Peak, which rises to 7,242 feet and is the highest point in North America east of the Rocky Mountains. The Black Hills Play-house, affiliated with the University of South Dakota, presents theatrical productions dur-ing the summer. The annual Buffalo Roundup, held at the beginning of October, manages the bison population by herding the animals into corrals, where a number are chosen for sale at auction. Nearby are Badlands National Park, Buffalo Gap National Grass-

land, Jewel Cave National Monument, Mount Rushmore National Memorial, and Crazy Horse Memorial.

Buffalo Custer State Park

Bison in Custer State Park (cont.)

Since no one told us about the buffalo before out trip, we were pleasantly surprised to come upon a large herd of buffalo during one of our jaunts down a back road. Some were lying about, and others were grazing. We were not about to get out of the truck to get good photos. Especially since there are signs everywhere warning about the dangers of approaching buffalo.

The “gentleman” above was lying right outside our truck window right next to the road.

The Badlands

The Badlands National Park

Our conveniently located campground made it easy to venture to other attractions in the ar-ea such as The Badlands National Park. But of course, a visit to that area would not be complete without stopping by the world famous Wall Drug. We just had to stop and get our free cup of water and eat one of their scrumptious donuts. They are HUGE!! The main road that traverses the park (state road 240) starts and ends at I-90. Because we were com-ing from Hermosa we entered SR-240 from the town of Wall. There a several pullovers and overlooks, a few picnic areas, and a couple of two rut tracks turnoffs on this road. We basically stayed on the main road and did some walking into the areas we found interesting. .

Badlands National Park

The Badlands were created by two natural occurrences:

Deposition is the process of rocks gradually building up. Over the course of millions of years, the layered rocks of the Badlands were slowly stacked on top of each other like a layer cake. These rocks were deposited by a number of natural forces which range from shallow inland seas, rivers or wind. Deposition began about 75 million years ago with the formation of the Pierre Shale, the base of the geologic formations in the park. Deposition ended about 28 million years ago with the Sharps Formation, the uppermost unit of Badlands stratigraphy

Erosion is the process of rocks gradually wearing away. The Badlands began eroding about 500,000 years ago as the Cheyenne and White Rivers carved their way through the landscape. They are the reason for the narrow channels, canyons, and rugged peaks of the Badlands seen today. And the Badlands are still eroding – it is estimated that the Badlands erode at the rate of one inch per year, which is a rapid rate for rocks. In con-trast, the granite of the Black Hills, to the west of Badlands National Park, erodes at a rate of one inch per 10,000 years. Scientists estimate that in the next 500,000 years, the Badlands will have eroded completely , so you better get out there and get your photos before they are all gone.

The colors are made up from the various layers made by deposits of what was occurring on earth during those millennium.

Lighting is a key factor in how the badlands are presented to a photographer. The same subject can look quite different in the early morning light versus the light later in the day. So when photographing the Badlands make sure you have time to visit over several days at various times. We also found that the terrain can be quite challenging without wander-ing very far off of a road or a trail. So remember to wear a pair of hiking boots and carry lightweight camera gear in your back pack which will leave your hands free to use walk-ing sticks if necessary.

Pronghorn Sheep and over 200 species of birds are reported to make the home in the park. So bring you long lenses and you too may capture one of these magnificent crea-tures on film.

Badlands National Park


Spearfish SD is a gem. We found out about this town after we arrived at the campground.

Before we actually head out on our photographic safaris, Jim does extensive research and tries to pick the areas we want to photograph. But once on the road more times that not, after folks find out that we are photographers, they recommend areas that we were not aware of from our research.. Spearfish, SD was such a place. We met some folks in the campground restaurant who told us that Spearfish was a very beautiful area and we should check it out. So we did some research and decided to give it a go. We were not disappoint-ed. The town of Spearfish was very quaint. We were headed for the tourist bureau to get local maps and information on our destination which was Spearfish Canyon Road (US 14A). While there we found a very interesting gallery. The Termesphere Gallery. You can find more information about the Termesphere Gallery at

After spending a few hours in Spearfish we headed for Spearfish Canyon Road. What a wonderful experience! The road parallels Spearfish Creek. Numerous pullovers as well as many back roads and two rut tracks afforded great photographic opportunities on both sides of the road. We captured some lovely waterfalls and beautiful ponds.

We found there were several areas with easy access to Spearfish Creek. We also found a lot of areas were there was not so easy access to what we wanted to photograph. When ex-ploring some of the back roads we would encounter a gaggle of off road rental vehicles kicking up a lot of dust. I would quickly cover my camera, wait for the dust to settle then go back to what I was doing. There are few areas along Spearfish Creek I would have liked to photograph and would have attempted the decent in my younger days. After sev-eral knee operations however I have come to know my limitations and don’t tempt the fates especially when we are in remote or semi remote areas. Spearfish Canyon Road is approximately 22 miles long. One of the problems I have when we are on a photographic journey is that I become very sensitive to the landscape and I begin to see opportunities everywhere. Therefore between Mary Lou and I wondering around and photographing what each of us sees as a potential photographic opportunity it would take us a month to completely photograph Spearfish Canyon.


In our exploration of the area we came across the area with a sign designating that it was a “Dances with Wolves” film site. It is interesting because if the sign were not there I would have never imagined that a movie was filmed there. It is pretty remote and other than the sign there is no indication of anything other than a beautiful landscape. The Spearfish Pond image on the previous page was taken in that area.



















Homestake on The Spearfish Creek



But no trip to this area would be complete without a trip to Devils Tower National Mon-ument What a great photographic icon. Not only was Devils Tower beautiful but the area surrounding the Tower was also full of photographic opportunities We even got some shots of a couple of climbers on the Tower.


Devils Tower

Mary Lou and I believe this is a great area to photograph. There is something here for everyone. We found landscapes, cityscapes, wildlife and absolutely fascinating people. At the Custer Fair we met a lovely young lady that recently moved there from California and was selling very beautiful very intricate hand made leather goods. We met an award winning photographer from the local news paper that had some very funny stories. We also met a group of lovely people at Our Saviors Lutheran Church in Hermosa, SD. We were invited to have coffee and snacks with them after Sunday services. We are signing off with a photo from the Fair.

Custer Fair, Hermosa, SD

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