Road Trip: Black Hills, South Dakota – Day 4, Part 1 – Early Morning In Custer State Park

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Black Hills Sunrise – Custer SP, UT – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

Days 1 & 2  Day 3 – Part 1  Day 3 – Part 2  

Late to bed and early to rise is the life of a photographer, especially when travelling. Even though I had stayed up the night before capturing star pictures, on Day 4 I woke up when it was still dark to catch the sunrise along the Needles Highway, which is within Custer State Park. This area features unusual granite rock formations, many of which are pillars. There’s also an arch called Needles Eye that is unusual in that it is tall and not wide. The highway is narrow and curvy with several small one-lane tunnels. It’s a breathtakingly beautiful drive, and I wanted to capture it in the early morning hours.

I arrived at the Needles Eye area about 10 minutes before sunrise. I didn’t have a chance to scout the location ahead of time, so I was hoping to quickly find some good spots for photography. I think I did alright in that regard, but if I had a chance to visit before hand I would have come away with some better photographs. As far as sunrises go, the one that morning was mediocre since there were no clouds. Hopefully I’ll have a chance to try again another time.

The Golden Hour was spent in the general vicinity of Needles Eye, trying to find different angles and views of the rocks. On the way back to the campsite I stopped at Sylvan Lake. You might recognize this lake if you’ve seen the movie National Treasure: Book of Secrets. It’s a very scenic spot, and I enjoyed a peaceful morning hike around it, capturing photographs as I walked.

All of the photographs in this article are camera-made JPEGs using my X-Pro2 and either a Meike 35mm f/1.7 lens or a Fujinon XF 16mm f/1.4 lens. Both are great options for landscape photography, depending on if you want wide-angle or a “standard” focal length. One costs about 10x as much as the other. I used Acros, Velvia, Astia, PRO Neg. Std, and Classic Chrome film simulations.

There is one photograph that I did not include, called Father Nature (if you want to see it, click the link). It seems inappropriate, but I assure you that it is a natural granite rock formation found along the Needles Highway in Custer State Park. Since I want this to be a family-friendly website, I decided to simply link to the photograph instead of posting it directly on this page. Take a look if you want, or don’t click the link if you don’t want to.

Enjoy the photographs!

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Meager Pine – Custer SP, SD – Fuji X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

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Monochrome Needles – Custer SP, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & 16mm

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Black Hills Above The Great Plains – Custer SP, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

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Dawn At Cathedral Spires – Custer SP, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

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Morning In The Hills – Custer SP, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & 16mm

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Needles Eye Tunnel – Custer SP, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

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Improbable – Custer SP, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

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Needles Eye – Custer SP, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

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Needles Eye Arch – Custer SP, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & 16mm

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Reaching Up – Custer SP, SD – Fuji X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

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Rugged Rocks – Custer SP, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

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Jagged Landscape – Custer SP, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

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Tunnel At Needles Eye – Custer SP, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & 16mm

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Overlook At Needles Eye – Custer SP, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & 16mm

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Needles In The Black Hills – Custer SP, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

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Towering Rocks & Trees – Custer SP, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

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Sylvan Lake Monochrome – Custer SP, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

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The Dam Bridge – Custer SP, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

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Black Hills Pine Forest – Custer SP, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & 16mm

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Morning Sun Through The Trees – Custer SP, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

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Looking Down The Dam – Custer SP, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & 16mm

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Risky Tunnel – Custer SP, SD – Fuji X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

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Sylvan Blue – Custer SP, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

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Chairs On A Dock – Custer SP, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

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Sylvan Lake & Blue Sky – Custer SP, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & 16mm

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Boats Ashore – Custer SP, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & 16mm

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River Canoe – Custer SP, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

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Spill – Custer SP, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & 16mm

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Grazing – Custer SP, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & 16mm

Day 4 – Part 2  Days 5 & 6

Road Trip: Black Hills, South Dakota – Day 3, Part 2

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Rocky Ridge – Hill City, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

Days 1 & 2  Day 3 – Part 1  

After leaving Mount Rushmore National Monument, we drove around the Black Hills a little, and then returned to our campsite to relax. After spending the two previous days on the road, it was good to limit the time in the car. We kept the evening low-key, playing board games and throwing around a football.

That night, once everyone was in bed, I tiptoed out into the darkness and did a little night photography. I set my X-Pro2 with a Fujinon 16mm f/1.4 lens on a tripod for some long exposure photography, utilizing Fujifilm’s Cam Remote app. The sky was dark but full of stars. I shined a flashlight into the forest and saw about 100 eyes looking back at me–deer, and perhaps other animals, were all over the place!

These photographs are all camera-made JPEGs. The black-and-white are Acros and the color are Velvia. I really appreciate the look that Fujifilm gear creates in-camera. I could spend hours in front of a computer post-processing, or I could rely on straight-out-of-camera JPEGs that look like they’ve been post-processed. I choose the latter whenever possible, because my time is important to me.

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Black Hills – Hill City, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

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Norbeck Overlook – Keystone, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

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Twisted Tree – Keystone, SD – Fuji X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

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Leaning Tree & Stars – Hill City, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & 16mm f/1.4

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Night Forest – Hill City, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & 16mm f/1.4

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Night Sky Over Needles Highway – Hill City, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & 16mm f/1.4

Day 4 – Part 1  Day 4 – Part 2  Days 5 & 6

Road Trip: Black Hills, South Dakota – Day 3, Part 1 – Mount Rushmore

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Four Fathers – Mt. Rushmore, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

Days 1 & 2  

On the morning of the third day of our South Dakota trip, which was the first full day in the Black Hills, after breakfast, we headed out to see Mount Rushmore National Monument. This is an iconic landmark of America. The heads of four quintessential presidents were carved into the rocks: George Washington, the first president and Revolutionary War general, on the far left, Thomas Jefferson, the third president and author of the Declaration of Independence, on the middle-left, Teddy Roosevelt, the 26th president and Rough Rider, on the middle-right, and Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president and slavery abolisher, on the far right.

Gutzon Borglum is the sculptor who, along with his team of over 400 people, carved Mount Rushmore, which is an incredible work of art. The work began in 1927 and finished in 1941. It was mostly carved by careful use of dynamite. Borglum was a renown artist even before Mount Rushmore, but this is certainly his biggest and best known accomplishment.

When we arrived we were surprised to learn that our National Parks Pass didn’t do us any good. There is a “parking fee” (but no entrance fee), and they offer no discount for those who have an annual pass. The parking garage, which resembles something you’d find at a large airport or downtown, is a big expense, I’m sure, so I certainly understand the need to charge money to park. I just think that, if you have an annual pass, they should give a discount of some sort.

The way that this monument is set up is you traverse a walkway towards the sculpture, with things on your right and left as you make your way down. It kind of feels like much of it was an afterthought instead of integrated design. Still, it’s laid out in such a way that you could choose to get as much out of it as you want. Except, when we were there, half of the trail and the Sculptor’s Studio were closed. Still, we found the museum to be interesting enough.

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Mount Rushmore Monochrome – Mt. Rushmore, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

Our ten-year-old and eight-year-old kids did the Junior Ranger program. This is a great way for them to not only learn about the park, but to be engaged and excited about it. Afterwards, once they had completed the requirements, they were sworn in as Junior Rangers and received a badge. This was a highlight of the trip for them.

The four heads are very large, but it is difficult to really appreciate the scale from the main viewing area. There is a trail that takes you closer, and it isn’t until you reach the end that you can better appreciate the size of the carvings. After we left the park we decided that Mount Rushmore was a neat place to see, but mildly disappointing. On the other hand, it made us want to watch the Alfred Hitchcock classic North by Northwest, which takes place, in part, at Mount Rushmore.

One takeaway from visiting this place is that photography is a lot like sculpting. Borglum’s job wasn’t all that much different from yours and mine, except the tools are different. He removed all of the stone that wasn’t Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln. What was left was his great work of art. When you and I compose, our job is to remove everything that doesn’t belong so that what we are left with is the strongest image possible. Often less is more.

The photographs in this article, which are all camera-made JPEGs, were captured using a Fujifilm X-Pro2 with a Meike 35mm f/1.7 lens attached to it. I really like this camera-lens combination, and I thought it was a good choice for the location. One of the things that I appreciate about my X100F is the simplicity and restriction of one-camera and one-lens, and I found that not changing lenses on the X-Pro2 while at a location provides a similar experience.

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Forefathers – Mt. Rushmore, SD – X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

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Heads Up – Mt. Rushmore, SD – Fuji X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

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George – Mt. Rushmore, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

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George Washington – Mt. Rushmore, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

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Monumental Proportions – Mt. Rushmore, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

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Junior Oath – Mt. Rushmore, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

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Getting Ranger Badges – Mt. Rushmore, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

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Junior Rangers – Mt. Rushmore, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

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Making Connections – Mt. Rushmore, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

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Securely In Father’s Arms – Mt. Rushmore, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

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Along For The Ride – Mt. Rushmore, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

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Josh, Joy, Jon & Forefathers – Mt. Rushmore, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

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Amanda, Johanna & Forefathers – Mt. Rushmore, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

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American Heroes – Mt. Rushmore, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

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Monumental – Mt. Rushmore, SD – X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

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Avenue of Flags – Mt. Rushmore, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

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State & Federal – Mt. Rushmore, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

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Umbrella of Liberty – Mt. Rushmore, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

Day 3 – Part 2  Day 4 – Part 1  Day 4 – Part 2  Days 5 & 6

Road Trip: Black Hills, South Dakota – Days 1 & 2

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Threatening Sky – Hill City, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

A couple of weeks ago my family and I took a road trip to the Black Hills in South Dakota to see Mount Rushmore. I visited that area when I was a little kid and don’t remember much of anything. Mostly what I remember is getting a piggy bank with the four presidents’ heads on it. My wife and kids had never been. We decided that it would be a great travel destination, so we hitched up the RV trailer and went.

Living in the Salt Lake City, Utah, metro area affords us the opportunity to see all sorts of great places. It’s closely located to many iconic sites of the American West. We can get to most anywhere west of the Great Plains within two days of driving, and many places can be reached within one day. To get to the Black Hills required two days on the road, although, if we weren’t pulling the trailer and really stretched ourselves, we might have been able to make it in one day.

Approaching the Wyoming boarder the landscape changes significantly. Even though you cross the Continental Divide several times while traversing the Rocky Mountains, the scenery becomes rather boring. While it is quite clear that these are not the same Rocky Mountains that John Denver penned songs about, there is a certain beauty in the emptiness, especially with building thunderstorms around.

We spent the night in Alcova, Wyoming, which is a tiny community along the North Platte River. It’s also the halfway point between our house and Mount Rushmore. This is where the scenery starts to become interesting again. The hills slowly become more green and trees begin to appear here and there, eventually becoming thick pine forest in South Dakota.

On the second day of our trip we arrived at our campsite north of Custer and south of Hill City in time to cook dinner and enjoy a campfire. Everyone was glad to be out of the car and at our destination. The fresh pine air felt great to breathe in. We spent the evening settling in and relaxing, as we had plenty of things planned for the next two days.

The only pictures that I captured on the drive out was at the camp in Alcova, Wyoming, and at a gas stop in Edgemont, South Dakota. Mostly I just wanted to “get there” so I kept pushing forward instead of stopping for photography. I saw plenty along the way that would have been worth the time to capture, so maybe on another trip through the area I will take my time. Once settled in at our camp in South Dakota I pulled out the camera again and captured some more images.

All of the photographs in this article were captured using a Fujifilm X-Pro2 and Meike 35mm lens. I really like this combination a lot. On this trip the lens was brand new so I was still figuring out how to best use it. I had other gear with me, but on these first two days I stuck to just this one camera and lens, more for the simplicity of it than anything else. These are all camera-made JPEGs, mostly Classic Chrome and Acros, although Velvia, PRO Neg. Std, and PRO Neg. Hi were also used. Enjoy!

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Grey Reef – Alcova, WY – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

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Rusty Cactus – Alcova, WY – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

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Old Wood Fence Post – Alcova, WY – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

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N. Platte River – Alcova, WY – Fuji X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

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Flowers & Rail – Edgemont, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

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Gas Tanks – Edgemont, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

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Sinclair – Edgemont, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

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Conoco – Edgemont, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

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Big Cookie, Little Girl – Hill City, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

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Camping Face – Hill City, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

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Adventure Joy – Hill City, SD – Fuji X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

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Campfire – Hill City, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

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Leaning Tree – Hill City, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

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Black Hills Monochrome – Hill City, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

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Partly Sunny – Hill City, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

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Ominous – Hill City, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & Meike 35mm

Day 3 – Part 1  Day 3 – Part 2  Day 4 – Part 1  Day 4 – Part 2  Days 5 & 6