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Badlands Morning

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


07:59 am - Mon, November 28 2011
Laura said:
What a great way to start off Thanksgiving — a person couldn't help but feel grateful having a chance to witness such beauty.
09:52 am - Mon, November 28 2011
Gregg Burrer said:
Great pics. I love SD landscape and you have captured it beautifully. Thank you,
11:00 am - Mon, November 28 2011
Dawn Campbell said:
Gorgeous~! Thanks, Christian for making the "sacrifice." I grew up on a farm too so can appreciate what early mornings meant to you. My little dream is to see the Badlands by moonlight when it's a full moon night. I'm still in the Dakotas so checking my calendar for a good night to make the trip west.
12:16 pm - Mon, November 28 2011
Babby Blair said:
what beautiful work God does. Everyone needs to just stop and look around. The world is full of beautiful sights. South Dakota may be sparsly populated compared to other states but I wouldn't live anywhere else. We are the best in the west.
08:29 am - Wed, November 30 2011
Chad Coppess said:
Thanks for the reminder that I need to get out there more! It's not like I didn't already know this, but just like you need that nudge from time to time. Great shots and story!
12:58 pm - Mon, December 5 2011
Bruce Tucker said:
Wow! No better "fireworks", than the morning sun, just shy of the horizon, reflecting off of those fast moving clouds... especially, with the South Dakota Badlands, as the backdrop! Thanks.

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