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Off the Beaten Path
Sep 29, 2014
I’ve been told that my mom’s family often took Sunday afternoon drives together. Many times Grandpa would just pile them into the car and start driving with no particular destination in mind. One such trip led the family to eastern Wyoming with nothing but sagebrush and open sky. When nature called, as it is wont to do on family trips, the only privacy available was behind the largest sagebrush. Well, the story goes that my dear grandmother saw turkey vultures circling while searching for just the right sagebrush, and the ominous birds succeeded in scaring nature’s calling away. Now since that story came from my beloved uncle, who never let the facts get in the way of a good story, I’m not sure I can say this bit of family history is very accurate, but I do believe the part about just getting in the car and going for a drive. Why? Because I suffer from the same urgings — back roads and random drives are simply good medicine after working the day job all week long.
Lately I have taken particular affinity to the back roads — the graveled county roads that criss-cross most of our farm and ranch land. The roads that only the locals know. I’ve often been pleasantly surprised by the beauty I’ve stumbled upon by just turning down one of these roads less traveled. I’ve seen numerous scenic churches and countless abandoned farmsteads. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to enjoy unexpected wildlife encounters. My favorite thing to find is a lone prairie windmill standing out against the sky, especially around sunset.
In late August, I was heading north through Clark County and decided to take an off the beaten path road along the western edge of the Coteau des Prairie. A lone barn with two apple trees out front caught my attention down a lonesome gravel road. Along the other side of the same road was a long tree belt full of plum trees heavily laden with fruit. A light rain began to fall and I was the only one on the road so I stopped, got my long lens and began wondering what kind of wildlife like fresh plum. It wasn’t long until I saw an orange flash of feathers fly through the trees. I drove a bit closer and shut off the engine. About 10 minutes later two Baltimore oriole females and three males made an appearance and began feeding on the plums. I spent an hour watching them and attempting to photograph the scene. The whole time I was there, not another vehicle was seen or heard. It was one of my favorite parts of the whole weekend.
You know that old saying that talks about taking the time to stop and smell the roses? I’ve found the same sentiment to be true for making interesting photographs. Give yourself time to explore unknown roads. Take the time to drive somewhere you’ve never been. Then find the patience to sit still and see what happens. When you do, the photographic gems you may find down South Dakota’s back roads will often surprise you. Happy trails, and watch out for those dang turkey vultures.
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 South Dakota’s prettiest spots. Follow Begeman on his blog.