To a coastal resident, voluntarily moving from the Boston area to South Dakota must seem like lunacy, but 10 years ago I made such a move. I had a decent-paying job in Massachusetts, but when my employer offered early retirement and even though I wasn't yet age 51, I decided to take it and move back to the Heartland. It's hard to make a "coastal" understand, and I'm not going to try. I don't want a bunch of people moving here and spoiling the solitude.
In commemoration of the 10 years, I decided to put together my 10 favorite South Dakota images in each of 10 categories. I'm proud that of the 100 images, none are what the typical tourist might get. You'll have to go elsewhere to find the Corn Palace, Reptile Gardens, the still-incomplete-after-all-these-years-but-still-charging-to-see-it Crazy Horse, or even Mt. Rushmore. The fact that there are two elk categories and two bighorn sheep categories shows where my head is at. I only have one eagle category, but that's because most of my favorite eagle pictures are from the Mississippi River on the border of Iowa and Illinois and aren't eligible for this tribute to my home state.
I consider myself a photographer of wildlife, not scenics. However, many of these images incorporate the landscape to show the wildlife in its natural setting. The final category is a catch-all for scenics and other images, and even there six of the 10 incorporate wildlife. Seven of the 10 if you count the T-Rex. Locations include Custer State Park (31 images), Wind Cave National Park (26), Badlands National Park (12), Newton Hills State Park (6), my yard in Sioux Falls (6), elsewhere in Sioux Falls/Brandon (6), Ft. Randall dam (5), Cleghorn Springs State Fish Hatchery (4), central South Dakota grasslands (3), and Hill City (1). No doubt there are other great photography locations in South Dakota, but for my subject matter, Custer, Wind Cave and the Badlands are the obvious destinations. For a day trip, Newton Hills can be hit-or-miss but sometimes offers up something interesting (oriole, sphinx moth).
Here are the 10 categories. Click on an image to start the slide show in that category. If you keep clicking, you will see all 100 images.
Trailcam images of elk. I've been playing around with trailcams since 2009, and most of that time I've had the cameras deployed in Wind Cave National Park in areas known to be frequented by elk. There are national parks where some of the elk are more tame (Yellowstone, Grand Canyon), but Black Hills elk have always been elusive when I've gone looking (as shown by the next category), so I resorted to trailcams to get closeups.
SLR images of elk. Most of these are distant shots of the hillsides near my trailcam location, but I got a few in 2016 in other parts of Wind Cave National Park.
Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep in the Black Hills. The first time I saw a flock of bighorns in Custer State Park in 2008, I nearly drove off the road. The snowfall pictures from later on 2008 and 2009 are some of my favorite. I also found out about a flock that hung around in and near Cleghorn Springs State Fish Hatchery in western Rapid City. However, in recent years I haven't come across the sheep as often in these locations. But I found another hot spot....
Bighorn in the Black Hills
Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep in the Badlands. Since 2012, I've found that Badlands National Park is a fairly reliable spot to find bighorns. This is a great place to incorporate the landscape into the images.
Bighorn in the Badlands
Bison and pronghorns. It is easy to find these big animals in Custer State Park and Wind Cave National Park and take the standard photo. I selected images that show the animals as part of the landscape, or interacting with each other as rivals or family members.
Eagles. I couldn't neglect eagles entirely. In addition to bald eagles in the Black Hills and near the Ft. Randall dam on the Missouri, I also found a golden eagle's nest near the tiny town of Quinn.
Other mammals. From various locations around the state, coyotes, deer, prairie dogs, bunny rabbits, a ground squirrel, a marmot, and a woodchuck.
Big Birds. Other than eagles, these include burrowing owls, various hawks, turkey, sandpiper, robins nesting under my desk, and some ducks.
Little Birds and Butterflies. The headliners are the Mountain Bluebirds in Custer State Park. But there also are orioles, woodpeckers and flying insects in Newton Hills State Park in the eastern part of the state.
Scenics and other. Mostly scenics incorporating wildlife, and a few other things.
Bison in Wind Cave National Park