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Nov 28, 2011
I am not a morning person. I hate rolling out of bed before I’m ready. The snooze button was invented for people like me. I blame cows. Yes, you read that right. I blame Holstein cows to be exact. Growing up on a small, west river dairy farm will do that to you. Getting up with (or before) the sun is not much fun when it involves hard work. Ornery cows, grouchy brothers and chilly barns didn’t help much either.
Bleary eyed, thoughts of missed sleep and milking cows jumbled through my mind as I got on I-90 at Kadoka and headed west just after 5 a.m. this Thanksgiving morning. Why, you may ask? Good question. Well, I’ve noticed a lot of really beautiful sunsets this November, but with the time change, I have been routinely frustrated because I couldn’t get out and shoot them. Working until 5 p.m. puts a real damper on scouting and shooting scenes when the sun sets at 4:52 p.m.
After pondering this dilemma, a thought occurred to me. If there are wonderful sunsets then there should be equally wonderful sunrises to capture as well, plus the time change would allow me time to get up, shoot, and get to work on time. However, with my aforementioned affinity for the pillow, testing the theory eluded me. That is, until this holiday weekend. I formed a plan to drive to Kadoka after work on Wednesday, then get up before the sun and drive to the Badlands to capture a genuine South Dakota sunrise at one of the state’s most unique settings.
As the alarm went off that morning, I steeled my will and told myself that the Thanksgiving meal that awaited me would taste even better if I followed through on my plan. I was right about the food (thanks mom), but the fact that I witnessed some of the most amazing pre-dawn clouds filled with color and wonder made every minute of lost sleep worth it.
Being in the park on a holiday means there is little to no traffic. Typically I like this, however walking out alone on the Door Trail in utter darkness takes a bit of starch. The eeriness of the badlands is markedly pronounced in the faint twilight. Thankfully, it wasn’t long until I saw light in the east. Nearly as soon as the first light painted the clouds purple and red, I heard a group of coyotes serenade the morning light somewhere behind me. It was magical. I took a few shots on the Door Trail then moved to the Big Badlands Overlook for my next set of shots. The eastern sky was ablaze with color and the view to the north was also amazing. The view to the south was equally stunning. A photographer’s dream was spread out before me. Missing this would have been tragic.
Later I made my way to Cedar Pass as the sun appeared over the horizon and saw a nice group of Bighorn sheep with one of the biggest rams I had ever seen in the Badlands. I also met and talked to another photographer from Minnesota who was also out shooting the morning light. Who knew that mornings would be so rewarding? I still love my morning sleep, but after witnessing this Thanksgiving’s sunrise over the Badlands, I will make sure to make South Dakota sunrises a larger part of my photography.
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.