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The Enchanting Black Hills
Jun 29, 2016
This spring I was able to do something I had been wanting to for some time. From Memorial Day weekend to mid-June, the fine folks of Sylvan Lake Lodge of Custer State Park allowed me to sit in as an artist in residence. I got to meet folks from all over the county in the afternoons and evenings. Then was free to roam the area with my camera at night and morning. Two full weeks wandering the Black Hills area is a great gig for a guy and his camera. Believe me.
I love to visit this part of the state in spring. There are wildflowers on the prairie hillsides and newborn wildlife to be seen in prairie dog towns and bison herds. This spring was a little on the dry side so the flowers were a bit harder to find. Even so, there was still plenty of color flying through the air with brilliant mountain bluebirds, red-headed woodpeckers and so much more. It also seemed to be butterfly season. I hiked Hell Canyon near Jewel Cave and was rewarded by seeing one of the largest concentrations of Eastern swallowtail butterflies as well as the all-black American swallowtail.
The real treat for me, however, was hanging out at Sylvan Lake and watching the sky change over one of South Dakota’s prettiest bodies of water. From storm clouds in the afternoon to vivid sunsets in the evening, the view never gets old. Towards the end of my stay, I witnessed an incredible lightning storm approach the lake right as daylight faded. It was calm and cool after a warm day. The music of distant thunder rumbling over the hills and faint scent of rain on the breeze still lingers in my memory. Moments like that aren't few and far between at Sylvan Lake. Maybe that is why it is such a magical place.
Speaking of magic, one of my favorite drives in the world is Highland Ridge Road to Red Valley Road in the northern part of Wind Cave National Park. At early morning or late evening light, you almost always see something amazing. Elk move out into the prairie and coyotes sing to each other while moving through the prairie dog towns. Pronghorn and bison use the road and sometimes walk within a few feet of my vehicle, allowing for interesting close-up photos. One morning this time around, I was lucky to spot a burrowing owl pair in a ridge-top prairie dog town. One was flying scout and the other was in an old burrow with its head not quite halfway out. The owl slowly levitated upwards for about 20 minutes until I could see its whole body, all the while looking towards me with a suspicious eye. When I opened my door to get a better angle the pair flew off to a safer perch. I figured I’d bothered them long enough and decided to move on. Even so, spending an unexpected half hour with these unique birds was magical. As was my two weeks in the area. There’s truly nothing like the Black Hills in spring.