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A skeleton of an old barn north of Wallace.
A skeleton of an old barn north of Wallace.
Soft rime ice on cattails with a red barn in the distance.
Soft rime ice on cattails with a red barn in the distance.
Detail of the soft rime ice formations.
Detail of the soft rime ice formations.
Long and delicate soft rime ice on the gate of Goodhue Lutheran in Codington County.
Long and delicate soft rime ice on the gate of Goodhue Lutheran in Codington County.
A wintery scene just east of Pickerel Lake in Day County.
A wintery scene just east of Pickerel Lake in Day County.
Rime ice on an unfallen leaf at Pickerel Lake Recreation Area.
Rime ice on an unfallen leaf at Pickerel Lake Recreation Area.
An abandoned prairie house in Roberts County.
An abandoned prairie house in Roberts County.
Cattle and deer grazing on the frosted Missouri River hills of Walworth County.
Cattle and deer grazing on the frosted Missouri River hills of Walworth County.
Sunrise frost at Custer State Park.
Sunrise frost at Custer State Park.
Fog at dawn at Custer State Park.
Fog at dawn at Custer State Park.
Frost detail on grass at Wind Cave National Park.
Frost detail on grass at Wind Cave National Park.
Frost detail at Wind Cave National Park.
Frost detail at Wind Cave National Park.
Frost detail at Wind Cave National Park.
Frost detail at Wind Cave National Park.
Rose hips encrusted with frost at Wind Cave National Park.
Rose hips encrusted with frost at Wind Cave National Park.
Rose hips looking like sugar-encrusted candy at Wind Cave National Park.
Rose hips looking like sugar-encrusted candy at Wind Cave National Park.
Coyote at Wind Cave National Park.
Coyote at Wind Cave National Park.
The morning sun breaking through the fog at Wind Cave National Park.
The morning sun breaking through the fog at Wind Cave National Park.
American Bison in a Custer State Park winter wonderland.
American Bison in a Custer State Park winter wonderland.
Pronghorn amongst the frosted grass at Custer State Park.
Pronghorn amongst the frosted grass at Custer State Park.
Winter morning in Minnehaha County.
Winter morning in Minnehaha County.
A red outbuilding on a frosty morning in Minnehaha County.
A red outbuilding on a frosty morning in Minnehaha County.
A red barn stands out against the frosty landscape of rural Moody County.
A red barn stands out against the frosty landscape of rural Moody County.
A red barn and silo under a clean blue winter sky in rural Moody County.
A red barn and silo under a clean blue winter sky in rural Moody County.
Frost on a sumac branch found at Palisades State Park.
Frost on a sumac branch found at Palisades State Park.

Tour de Frost

Jan 13, 2021

France has the Tour de France. Mitchell has the Tour de Corn (which I took part in one year, incidentally, bringing up the rear on the blue, non-road bike). Does anyone have a Tour de Frost? I doubt it, but that definition is how I have begun referring to my recent travels in South Dakota. To be honest, I actually described this column to managing editor John Andrews this way: “A veritable tour de force of frosted landscapes and icy detail.” From “tour de force” to Tour de Frost isn’t too much of a leap even for a simple guy like me. All of that is to say, this column is dedicated to the winter wonderlands I have enjoyed so far this season. It’s all thanks to winter fog that leaves hoarfrost or soft rime ice. This frozen moisture that seemingly appears from nowhere has the power to transform brown and muted winterscapes into magical fairy tale scenes.

The tour starts in northeast South Dakota. A mid-December Saturday weather report spoke of fog around Watertown. There was no snow on the ground, so the prospect of fog and frost was enough to get me on the road. Around Highway 212 west of Watertown is where Jack Frost’s work became remarkable. I stopped at Telemarken and Goodhue Lutheran country churches (both near Wallace) where the soft rime on the wrought iron gates to the churchyards was exquisitely long and beautiful. Further north past Waubay and into the Big Coulee area south of Sisseton, the prairie hills were rich with frost and fine winter scenery. I got my “White Christmas” feeling without a single snowflake falling from the sky.

Just after Christmas, I took a much-needed vacation to Custer State Park for a few days. I started the trip in Walworth County where a light hoarfrost covered the Missouri River hills with an elegant beauty just before the morning sun dispatched it. On my last day in the Black Hills, a heavy fog blanketed northern Wind Cave National Park and the southern reaches of Custer State Park. At a pullout along Red Valley Road, I spent at least half an hour on my belly finding delicate leaves, rose-hips and blades of grass all seemingly coated with sugar. Just as I was getting into my truck after brushing away the clinging ice, a lone coyote appeared from around the bend in the road. He stopped and locked eyes with me. It was quite the moment. After careful consideration and allowing a few shots from this odd-looking paparazzi, he moved off into the frost-laden hillside grass. Later in the day, I found bison lounging on the prairie hills along Custer State Park’s Wildlife Loop Road. Their dark shapes against the icy landscape were a beautiful contrast of strength on strength, life unfazed by the season of death.

The last portion of the tour brought me back to southeastern South Dakota. A heavy fog that slowly burned off during an early January Saturday morning was all it took for me to go looking for red barns against the frosted landscape. These scenes are one of the most beautiful things to discover in winter. I headed for a particular barn in Moody County, and I wasn’t disappointed. The beauty of a frosty day like that is that I found plenty of other wonderland scenes to photograph, a tour de force of winter imagery on this year’s Tour de Frost.

Christian Begeman grew up in Isabel and now lives in Sioux Falls. When he's not working at Midco he is often on the road photographing South Dakota’s prettiest spots. Follow Begeman on his blog.

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