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Into the Woods
May 14, 2012
Just under a year ago, I was given the opportunity to be a contributor to South Dakota Magazine’s website. It is hard to believe that this column will be my twentieth offering. I’m grateful for the experience. I have learned to be more focused on what I’m doing with the camera as well as working on better writing skills. The previous nineteen columns have been reactionary in the sense that I shared what I was currently interested in or images of the last place I visited in the state. This winter I decided to try something new. I decided to dedicate the warm months of 2012 to visiting and photographing a selection of our state parks. The plan is to take at least a full weekend to discover what each particular park has to offer a wandering photographer like myself. What follows is the first of my series featuring Adams Homestead and Nature Preserve in extreme southeast South Dakota.
Growing up in Ziebach County, my only experience of a forest was a wooded creek bottom. The dark, brooding forests of fairytales and children’s literature had to be something totally imagined. I remember being fascinated by stories and photos of the Amazon rain forest as well as any movie scene that featured majestic forests. Scenes from Return of the Jedi come to mind immediately. (Yes, I was a Star Wars addict as a kid.) I remember my best friend and I pretending to fight storm troopers in their family’s tree belt out beyond the barns just like Luke, Leia and Han Solo did on the forest planet of Endor. I’ve been to real forests since then, but my sense of awe and appreciation for the woods have not diminished. I can only imagine how I would have felt experiencing one of South Dakota’s largest stand of cottonwood trees (nearly 450 acres) at Adams Homestead and Nature Preserve as a kid. It is impressive even as an adult.
The preserve is located in the most southeasterly corner of South Dakota along the mighty Missouri River. There are 13 miles of trails through cottonwoods, open areas of tall grass and along the river itself. The park also features Mud Lake, which is an oxbow lake created by an older channel of the Missouri. This lake is a magnet for waterfowl and all sorts of other birds and wildlife. I photographed my first Orioles and Blue Jay while there. I also saw Cardinals, Red-headed Woodpeckers, wild turkey and a variety of ducks, geese and other waterfowl. There are three blinds set up along Mud Lake which allow you to watch the action if you are patient enough to sit and wait for the wildlife to come by. It was also the start of butterfly season when I was there in early May. Often I’d be riding along on my bike accompanied by momentary blurs of orange and yellow colors.
The preserve also has historical significance. The granddaughters of the original homesteader donated the land to the park system in the 1980s. There are restored buildings on site that take you back to an earlier time. What interested me the most was a narrow lane cut through the cottonwood forest called Mary’s Avenue. According to the plaque on site, this lane was cut by Mary Adams’s father in celebration of her birth and used by the family in years to come to enjoy the forest from a new perspective. This clearing was done by hand and was made wide enough to fit a car through. What a labor of love!
Although I’m past imagining storm troopers emerging from the trees, I did witness countless deer do so as I rode on the trails. To be honest, much of my time at the preserve was spent simply riding my bike through the cottonwoods feeling young at heart again. There is just something special about the woods for a kid who grew up on the windswept prairie. Something I’ll go back and enjoy again when I get the chance. Hopefully you can too.
Christian Begeman grew up in Isabel and now lives in Sioux Falls. When he's not working at Midcontinent Communications he is often on the road photographing our prettiest spots around the state. Follow Begeman on his blog. To view Christian's columns on other South Dakota state parks and recreation areas, visit his state parks page.