No One Talks About These Places in Wind Cave National Park

Updated: Feb 15

Every month I like to take a full day, from sunrise to sunset, and drive wherever the road takes me with my camera in hand. Believe it or not, even though I have lived in the Black Hills pretty much my entire life, I always stumble upon places I have never seen before.


I began my journey heading to the southern Black Hills as I was on a mission to hike off trail to a spot that would give me arguably one of the most incredible views of Black Elk Peak (Harney Peak) horizon line and it's vast wilderness. I'm working on something super special that involves this unique horizon line so stay tuned for that in the next week or so!



Anyways, after my first mission was accomplished, it was time to head deeper into the hills and find cool and unexpected things to capture!





THE WILDLIFE LOOP, CUSTER STATE PARK

 

For whatever reason I am always drawn to the Wildlife loop in Custer State Park. I low-key hope for some epic opportunity to capture the stunning wildlife each time I am in this area. However, this time around the prairie dogs were the only ones out to play. Further down the road was a good sized heard of bison, but they were a little too far away to really get the shots I was after.

Now the adventure really started to get good. I found a dirt road that I had never been on about halfway through the wildlife loop and decided to full send. I had no clue where it would lead or what I would find, but as usual, I am glad I went for it.

The foothills of the southern Black Hills were stunning. It was also starting to get to be that part of the day where the light was becoming prime to shoot in. As the fluffy clouds quickly moved over the land, it made for vibrant colors and deeper tones. I stepped out of my car multiple times and took all the time I wanted to photograph everything I was seeing. These are truly some of my favorite days.



WIND CAVE NATIONAL PARK

 

This dirt road I cruised on eventually went straight into Wind Cave National Park. Now when I think of Wind Cave NP, I only really think of the cave itself.

What I didn't realize was the

vast and colorful landscape it contained. I rolled up and down the wavy hills for quite some time. I even got out and took my first advanced selfie with my "daddy" lens, the Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 . Let me tell you, that was quite the task as I do not have the tripod to uphold that behemoth of a lens. So I propped it up inside my car and leaned it on the window. Really wish I took some behind the scenes of this because wow, it was quite the mess and a complicated set up haha! Here is the result though! I adore the compression that this lens creates! I think next time I plan to have the proper gear and really see what I can accomplish compositionally with it.



The wind began to pick up and I noticed all the tumbleweeds accumulating long the barb-wired fences that lines the ranch property lines. This gave me an idea! Yes, this involved another advanced selfie. I got out and found a nice tumbleweed that would act as a fun prop for a more fashion oriented portrait. I wanted to put more emphasis on the outfit I was wearing by covering my face with the tumbleweed. It ended up being a little bigger than I what I anticipated and covered up the shirt and hat I was wearing, but I still really liked how the results turned out. Pretty cool how the trees along the road complement the organic shape of the tumbleweed. A lot about this scene really ended up tying together nicely even though my initial idea kinda fell through. That's typically what happens though when I photograph myself.


BEAVER CREEK BRIDGE

 

After coming to the end of this dirt road I pulled off onto Hwy 385 and ventured in deeper to Wind Cave National Park. The grasslands I hung out on were suddenly a distant memory because I was back in the thick of the hills. I began climbing up a winding road and as I drove around a corner, this insanely massive bridge graced me with it presence! So unexpected in all the best ways! I immediately pulled over and began capturing it through the trees and landscape that so perfectly framed it.

Beaver Creek Bridge, 225 feet long and 115 feet tall. How on earth this landmark is not talked about more, I do not know but I was pretty enthralled with it and spent about an hour capturing it in all its glory.

I felt incredibly lucky too as there was not a single soul out there the entire time I was.

I have some friends who hardcore high-line and I know they have spent some time balancing between the cliffs that this bridge erects from. But I never knew where it was or realized the magnitude of its size and structure. According to nps.gov it is the only bridge of its particular arch type in the State of South Dakota and is only one of three "most significant bridges" in the Rocky Mountain region of the National Park System. Shout out to Peter Norbeck, a U.S. Senator from SD for making this one possible!



VIEWS OLD AND NEW

 

At this point, I still didn't really know exactly where I was or where the road I was currently on was going to lead me. However, I naturally kept going and discovered some really cool backroads that provided unique perspectives of the Black Hills. Views that I don't know if I have ever seen before. I plan to go back and dive deeper onto those as the sun was setting while discovering them.

WAS LOST BUT NOW FOUND

 

Suddenly, scenes were beginning to seem a bit more familiar as I began working my way back home. Out of nowhere, I found myself back at a place where I hadn't been to since 2013.

Nine years ago, I was out on a solo adventure like the one I was on this very day. I captured a group of aspen trees with a strange lens called "a lens baby." This is a lens that you can physically bend to create strange warping and effects on the images in camera. Well I lost the original RAW file of this image on an old external hard drive that corrupted on me years ago. My parents have the only printed version of this image and it hangs in their home in a large old barn wood window frame. The only digital file I have of this is too small to print from and resides in the depths of my phone's photo album. Plus, I was really cool back then and slapped my tacky watermark/logo at the bottom right hand corner on all my images.

Either way, I was really happy to have stumbled upon this grouping of trees again because many people that come through my parents home ask about that image hoping they can purchase one too.

It has been almost a decade and the tiny pines that sit in front of the aspens from the image I captured back then, have grown significantly since. I still captured these trees in the same spot I did all those years ago and below I showcased not only the image I took nine years ago, but I also provided the image I took present day and the edited version that is now available for print.


From 9 years ago shot with a lens baby on a Nikon D7000

The present day image captured. Notice the difference of the two pines growing in the foreground!

If you are interested in purchasing a print of this image or any of the other landscape images featured in this blog post, Click here to enter my print gallery or Contact me directly to create a new piece to hang in your space.


LAST THING

 

All the images I captured and featured in this blog from my solo adventure to the southern Black Hills were edited with my custom Lightroom presets that are now available for you to use too! I just launched my first collection of Lightroom Presets and I call them "The Moody Preset Bundle"


This Lightroom preset pack consists of 5 very carefully curated presets that are perfect for adventure, landscape, and lifestyle imagery. These are the presets that I most frequently use to create a clean, natural and dramatic effect to my images. I've spent years developing a consistent tonal range across all platforms and these continue to deliver that foundational color scheme I strive to consistently achieve. So now I share my creation with you!

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