Subscriptions to South Dakota Magazine make great gifts!
Subscribe today — 1 year (6 issues) is just $25!
The Pleasure's in the Details
Sep 4, 2012
OK, I’ll admit it. I’ve gotten a little road weary this summer. I’ve crisscrossed the state a couple different times exploring our parks. As much as I love getting out on the road, I really needed a break. But what to do? I’m winding up this summer-long series on our state parks and now I don’t want to drive? Aren’t all the good parks miles and miles away from Sioux Falls? Thankfully the answer to that question is no.
Just a few miles southeast of Sioux Falls is Lake Alvin Recreation Area. According to the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks website, Lake Alvin is named for Alvin Dempewolf, the only World War I soldier from Harrisburg to die overseas. The lake has a popular beach and swimming area and is known for good fishing. The entire body of water is a “no-wake” zone, so on any given weekend you may see kayakers and canoes out for an enjoyable paddle.
Before last weekend, I had driven by the area occasionally but never really stopped to check out the place. So I decided to investigate a little more. The lake is nestled into the lower valley of Nine Mile Creek not far from the Big Sioux River. The hills and ample trees along the shore provide smooth water surfaces most of the time by keeping the wind at bay. For a camera buff, this means excellent shooting conditions at sunset. On those evenings when the clouds are colored yellow, orange and pink, the still waters mirror the evening sky for a double shot of color.
The hiking trail on the north side snakes along the top of the prairie hills and then back through the heavily wooded valley near the lake’s shores. I walked the trail just after lunch on a day where it had rained lightly in the morning. The sky was still overcast, which made for very even light. It was as if there was a giant soft box in the sky, and contrary to the popular belief that sunny days are the best times to shoot, this soft box effect makes for really nice shooting conditions. The colors of the grass and flowers are more saturated and deep, harsh shadows are also eliminated.
Walking the trail, I was constantly amazed by nature’s palette of color. The stately yellows of goldenrod and the deep reds and purples of flowering thistles contrast well with the green and tan hillside grass of late summer. Once you start looking, you notice other things like texture and patterns as well. From the ripple of a fishing lure hitting the water at sunset to the contrast of old bark and vibrant moss and lichen on the tree limbs, these patterns and design of nature often engage my attention (and my camera) for hours. Since it had rained in the morning, there were still droplets clinging to flower buds and leaves that remained out of the wind. It is in times like these when I locate and attach my macro lens to get in as close as possible. I really like how the drops of water look like smoothed jewels on the veined leaves and slender grass stems. Once in that close, things like unnoticed insect life fill the viewfinder and can make for some very interesting photos. From busy bees to majestic Monarchs, life abounds in the undergrowth and amongst the flower buds.
It is funny how one can miss a treasure simply from being too close or familiar with it. I think I was guilty of that with Lake Alvin Recreation Area as well as the nearby Blood Run Nature Area along the hills of the Big Sioux River. I’m confessing that error now and hope to take the short drive again out there this fall to see what color autumn will bring and what other jewels I can find so close to home. My camera is almost excited as I am.
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.