Out of the blue

Long before the sunrise photographers arrive, the world is beautiful. The details are subdued, the air is still, and I like to imagine how the light will fall on the landscape and reveal the scene. For me, it’s a time of wonder and anticipation, especially when the place is new to me.

At the end of the day, when others have watched the sun sink below the horizon…when the brilliant red and orange have faded from the sky…when you can hear the car doors shut, the engines start and the vehicles drive slowly away…I linger.

When the orange shifts to blue, there is a magic time just before it moves to black. The last light of day clings to the sky before it surrenders to the night. That’s my favorite time to be outside.

The sun has set on our South Dakota road trip, though in my mind, part of me is still there. New adventures are just around the corner, but until then, here are a few entertaining and enlightening details in case you decide to head that way yourself. And remember…if you are planning a trip, you can always ask a question in the comment section. I will reply.

The prairie is a subtle landscape. The first hour and the last hour of daylight are stunning. Don’t miss them.

If you want to photograph Mount Rushmore in the daylight, go in the morning. By afternoon the sun falls behind the carving and it is backlit. Come back for the evening lighting ceremony.

The motorcycle rally in Sturgis changes the character of the Black Hills for a week or so mid to late summer. Frankly, I’ve always wanted to go. But whether it is your cup of tea or not, do your research and plan accordingly so you aren’t surprised by what you find. And just like I don’t want to head for the beaches the week after college spring break to find tired, worn inn keepers…I don’t want to go to the Black Hills the week after a Sturgis rally.

If you can hike, hike. If you are less inclined or unable, be certain to drive the Needles Highway and Wildlife Loop Road in Custer State Park to see the most beautiful and varied landscapes.

Be sure to heed the vehicle height and width restrictions for some of the roads around Custer State Park, or you will stand beside your RV with a quizzical look on your face and a tape measure in your hand like the poor fellow we saw blocking traffic on our route. Seemed to me he was going to have to back up a LONG way before he could turn that rig around. There was NO WAY he was fitting through the tunnel. Roads are marked clearly…pay attention.

If you want to tour the Minuteman Missile site, wake up early. They give out free tickets on a first come first served basis. I arrived before the office opened and was number 8 in line. There aren’t a lot of tickets available and they run out many days.

The Badlands, like most places, are prettiest at the ends of the days. Mid-day, the details are lost and the colors washed out. Plus even on the hottest days, there is some cool(er) air to be found at dawn and dusk.

Study the history. Learn about Custer. Get familiar with Crazy Horse. Read Laura Ingalls Wilder. Understand the good and the bad of American Westward Expansion and you’ll have a richer experience. We like books on tape for the drives and I devour roadside signs along the route.

Talk to the locals. Ask questions. Engage. I’m surprised at how many people just want their Slurpie and their change. If you reach out…just a little bit…you will be rewarded.

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