The Jewel in the Black Hill’s Crown

A crown isn’t really a crown without valuable jewels that signify why the one who wears it is important.  The Black Hills are South Dakota’s crown.  But the canyons known as Spearfish are the most significant jewel in this Dakota’s crown.  How many times can I use the word “crown” in a few short sentences?  Dang, that’s five times.  I’m OCD about over-using words, and now i’m off my point.  Recapture in you mind’s eye, if you will, the word “Jewel.”  NOT “crown.”  Crap, that’s six times…  Moving on from the analogy because I think you all get my point.  In other words, SPEARFISH IS LEGIT!

We were kind of let down in Keystone yesterday because of the gale-force winds.  But today the weather was perfect for our hiking in Spearfish!  We spent most of our time on the trails of Roughlock Falls.  It was a bit overcast in the morning which I knew would help with the long exposure shots I was hoping to get!

The wife and I enjoying Spearfish

There are actually two sets of waterfalls that are famous in Spearfish.  They are both known as Roughlock Falls, but they are accessed from two different trails.

Where the final scenes from ‘Dances with Wolves’ was filmed.

We really couldn’t have asked for a better day to see the Black Hill’s crown jewel.  The weather was great, the light was warm, and the landscapes are breath-taking.  Any visit to South Dakota isn’t complete without hiking in Spearfish.  We’re looking forward to tomorrow because we’ll drive a little over an hour into Wyoming to see Devil’s Tower.  Stay tuned!

Vintage Keystone

The wife and I recently took a short trip into the Black Hills of South Dakota on long weekend.  Our plan was to do some hiking in Custer State Park, then hit up Spearfish Canyon (known as the most beautiful area of the Black Hills), and finish up our trip hiking around Devil’s Tower National Monument in Wyoming.

First on the agenda was the area of the Black Hills known as Keystone.  Our goal was to hike the ten-mile trek up to Harney Peak, which is the highest point east of the Rocky Mountains at 7,242 ft (2,207 m).  Unfortunately for us, the weather gods just weren’t permitting a safe trek.  40 mph winds with regular gusts up to 70 mph made balancing on rocky terrain extremely difficult.  Our plan B wasn’t nearly as exciting, but we made due with our situation and our desire to still see some of the landscape.  So we jumped in our car and made a slow stop-and-go route through Custer Park via the well-maintained roadways.

I opted to focus on improving my mobile photography skills, so I used my iPhone 4s to capture most of these images.  The image quality isn’t nearly as great, but the joy of simply taking pictures comes back in a nostalgic way since I didn’t have to think about all the manual adjustments I’m constantly making on my DSLR.

In an effort to not only capture Keystone through an iPhone, but to also capture the nostalgic joy of point-and-shoot photography, I edited all of these pictures in my iPhone with a vintage filter using the great Snapseed photo app.

It was nice to see the sites from the car, but it’s just not the same as being in the outdoors and hiking through this beautiful landscape.  Hopefully our hiking in Spearfish tomorrow will be met with calm winds!

Gyeongbokgung: Re-touched Print!

As I file through my photographs from two and a half years of living in Asia, I’m retouching my best shots and saving them as .tif files for my new website: www.leephelpsphotography.com

Today, I’ve retouched and re-edited this shot of Gyeongbokgung Palace, located in Seoul, South Korea.  This image was captured on a Canon T1i (500D) using a Tokina 11-16mm wide-angle lens, and a polarizer & ND filter.  In post-processing I combined three exposures of this image into an HDR, then created a monochrome image with Photoshop.

Gyeongbokgung Palace

For those of you who love Asia, and Asian culture, this would look great in your home or office!  You can buy prints on high quality archival photo-paper or canvas, as well as personal and rights-managed downloads here!

Mako Sica, “Land of the Bad” Day 4 Finale

The “Badlands” is a name that is kind of misleading.  A hundred years or so ago the name would have been fitting due to its harsh landscape and difficulty to travel through.  Today it’s different.  Today the name should be something like “Unforgettable-wild-beauty-land.”  Because that’s the truth.  Nobody that visits this place will forget it.

Even though I was heading home today, I felt like I needed one more experience to add to my memory bank.  Before I turned my tires towards home I pulled into the parking lot near the Notch Trail Head.  I’m so glad I did.

Looking Back at Notch Trail Head

The beginning of Notch Trail had me meandering through a valley, but the last half of the hike was high up along the canyon walls.  And here, there was only one way up!

A few hikers proceed along the canyon wall after climbing the ladder.

And the view from the top is worth the whole climb!

Watch your step!

Following Notch Trail along the canyon walls is worth ignoring any fear of heights.  The end of the trail will lead to one of the best views in Badlands National Park.

Here’s somewhat of a crappy panoramic video clip of the end of the hike view at Notch Trail:

Mako Sika has treated me paradoxically well.  “Land of the Bad,” is a place of wild beauty that I’ll never forget.  Thanks so much for following me on my journey through this incredible park!

Check out:

Day 1 / Day 2 / Day 3

Mako Sica, “Land of the Bad” Day 3

Yesterday’s twelve-mile hike of Castle Trail through Badlands National Park was at a pace that allowed me to take in all the details.  It was an otherworldly experience that you can read about here.  Today however I wanted to take a wider and more general approach to my exploration of what the original natives called “Mako Sica,” or “Land Bad.”

Badlands Loop Road is a forty-mile loop in and around the park with many spots to pull off the road and take in the incredible natural formations from a wide-angle.  I started near Ben Reifel Visitor Center and headed west in my vehicle, stopping at every great composition I could find.

Elevation Climb

Badlands Texture from Above

Surrounding the Badlands are vast expanses of protected grasslands. These ecosystems are vital to the wildlife that still lives there. I composed the image like this to give the viewer a feeling for how expansive these lands are, and how small and important are the numbers of the buffalo that are slowly gaining in population due to the protection.

Brother Moon, Sister Tree

Once I completed my round-trip of Badlands Loop Road, I took some time to rest before going out for the golden hour at the end of the day.

A deer basks in the warm, golden light of dusk.

The sun sets on my last full day in the Badlands.

Tomorrow, I’ll head home from this brief, but incredible exploration of Badlands National Park.  But before I take the five-hour drive home, I plan to do one more short hike at Notch Trail in the morning.  I’m looking forward to this trail that clings to cliffs before it ends at a sheer drop-off and incredible view.  Stay tuned!

Read about Day One here, and Day Two here , or Day Four here.