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Divine Infant Mission Church with the Milky Way.
Divine Infant Mission Church with the Milky Way.
Predawn clouds at Fort Pierre National Grasslands.
Predawn clouds at Fort Pierre National Grasslands.
Predawn clouds at Fort Pierre National Grasslands.
Predawn clouds at Fort Pierre National Grasslands.
Sunrise along County Line Road in the Fort Pierre National Grasslands.
Sunrise along County Line Road in the Fort Pierre National Grasslands.
Sunrise along County Line Road in the Fort Pierre National Grasslands.
Sunrise along County Line Road in the Fort Pierre National Grasslands.
Sunrise along County Line Road in the Fort Pierre National Grasslands.
Sunrise along County Line Road in the Fort Pierre National Grasslands.
Deep Creek Church in rural Haakon County.
Deep Creek Church in rural Haakon County.
Elm Springs Church in rural Meade County.
Elm Springs Church in rural Meade County.
Twin school houses along the Wicksville road in rural Meade County.
Twin school houses along the Wicksville road in rural Meade County.
Early pasqueflowers at Reva Gap in the Slim Buttes.
Early pasqueflowers at Reva Gap in the Slim Buttes.
Early pasqueflowers at Reva Gap in the Slim Buttes.
Early pasqueflowers at Reva Gap in the Slim Buttes.
Early pasqueflowers at Reva Gap in the Slim Buttes.
Early pasqueflowers at Reva Gap in the Slim Buttes.
Sunset over Immanuel Lutheran, Zeona.
Sunset over Immanuel Lutheran, Zeona.
Sunset over the cemetery at Zeona.
Sunset over the cemetery at Zeona.

When Magic Awaits

Mar 30, 2016

The day didn’t start well. At midnight, the moment the day turned from Thursday to Friday, March 11, the alarm in my hotel room at Oacoma went off. I’m not sure if it was accidently reset or the previous occupant thought it would be a good joke on the next guy, but needless to say, I wasn’t thrilled about it. I was planning on getting up early. Just not that early.

About 3:30 a.m., I was up again and out the door. My plan was to photograph the Milky Way with a little country church I knew about near Lower Brule. Bleary eyed and short of sleep, I arrived at the church to find that a new structure had been built right where I had planned to point the camera. Plus, there was a home about a quarter mile away with a barking dog that I had awakened. Hoping to not wake the residents, I headed farther down the road to another little chapel I knew of on the way to Fort Pierre. So far, I was 0 for 2 on the day.

Thankfully things changed when I got to Divine Infant Mission Church just off Highway 1806. It was still dark enough to photograph the Milky Way and high wispy clouds began to move in to diffuse the brighter starlight just enough to make them appear larger than actual size on the long exposures. At the first hint of light, I heard the coyotes sing their morning song to each other. The clouds grew thicker so I decided to head into the Fort Pierre National Grasslands to find something to shoot against the predawn sky.

What happened next was one of those magical South Dakota moments. As the dawn light began to paint the incoming clouds on the eastern horizon, I could hear pheasants cackle, prairie chickens boom, ducks quack and an owl call. The morning was alive all around me. At one point I looked behind me and saw a great horned owl calmly at looking me from just 30 yards away. Turns out, the barn I was using as foreground in my photos was also his home.

Farther down the road was an old, one-room schoolhouse. I stopped there to photograph the brighter colors of sunrise. It was one of those mornings when the whole sky seemed alive with a different shade of color.

The rest of the morning I hunted for country churches in western South Dakota for my Prairie Sanctuaries project. The sky was a beautiful, crisp blue with plenty of high, white clouds — perfect for black and white photography. I found a very interesting set of abandoned one-room school houses along the Wicksville road in southern Meade County that caught my eye. I can’t remember ever seeing two sitting that close together before.

Later in the day, I made my way to the Reva Gap campgrounds at Slim Buttes. I had heard from a friend that the pasqueflowers were out early this year due to the warm weather. I was able to find a handful above ground, but none had bloomed yet. Even so, the hearty little flowers are fun to find and photograph.

As the day waned, I drove to Zeona in southwestern Perkins County to visit a church I had not photographed yet. I was hoping for a signature South Dakota sunset. Things weren’t looking promising; the western sky had clouded up significantly. But then there was a break on the horizon and the sunlight started to shine through. Just as I pulled up to the church the sky turned pink, yellow and orange. It was a thrilling way to end the day. And to think, I always say that March is the hardest month of the year to take pretty pictures in South Dakota. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

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.

Comments

08:13 am - Thu, March 31 2016
Mary Dailey said:
Love the Milky Way picture and blog. The pix of pasque remind me of baby chicks. Reminds me to go rustle up some pasque flowers before they pass.
02:55 pm - Fri, April 1 2016
Katie said:
Beautiful, Christian! Thanks for sharing.
09:14 pm - Fri, April 1 2016
Janie said:
Wasn't expecting to see your name at the end of this story! Upon seeing it my mind was flooded with memories of working with your Dad when he was at the Dupree School and I was the school secretary. I then remembered you as a little boy, coming to the office after school.

Then I remembered your Mom as the 6th grade teacher having our older done Zach as a student; and counseling me when Jodh came along as her student 2 years later, reminding me not to make comparisons.

Great article!
08:27 am - Tue, April 5 2016
Gene Hetland said:
Excellent as always, Christian! I'm not sure why I find rural churches and vacant farm buildings so evocative, but you and your camera seem to know what I'm thinking. My wife and I enjoy the small towns and rural areas of our state. Keep up the great work.
12:32 pm - Tue, April 5 2016
Lottie Kroetch Walker said:
I too love old churches---I grew up north of Philip ,S.D My brother Arthur owned and operated The Scotchman Industry's in Philip.

QUESTION? WHERE IS THE PICTURE OF THE CHURCH TAKEN IN Haakon COUNTY?

I LOVE THE S.D MAGAZINE
03:41 pm - Tue, April 5 2016
Christian Begeman said:
Hello and thanks to everyone for the kind comments. Lottie, Deep Creek is a little over 20 miles northwest of Hayes, SD by road... although a good chunk of it is gravel. The address is listed as Midland, but it is a good 40 plus miles north and a little west of Midland. If you are familiar with Kirley or the Kirley road, then you are in the general area of Deep Creek. Hope that helps.

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