Friday, March 11, 2016


About 40 miles south of Rapid City, South Dakota is the town of Scenic. It's not really a town any more. Never was much of a town to begin with. I remember something about a church organization from the Philippines buying the town and land about five years ago, but there are no signs of development or new activity of any kind. Now you'll only see a few abandoned buildings and a small newer metal building with one gas pump out front and a tiny post office. There's one trailer house that looks like someone could be living in it, but mostly Scenic is just somewhere you drive through on your way to somewhere else. Like me, on my way to that little corner of the Badlands a mile or so to the south. Except I did stop. I was drawn in by a dilapidated structure that was once doing business as the Longhorn Saloon. The skulls in various stages of decay and bleached white by many years in the sun were the first things I noticed. Then I saw the words "Indians Allowed." I don't know if someone was trying to be funny, or if it is real evidence of the racist history surrounding that area which includes the Pine Ridge reservation. Of course I had a couple of cameras along including a digital SLR and a trusty old Polaroid loaded with black and white film. I chose the Polaroid for this shot.

The photo is not sharp. Kind of blurry. Absent of color or any attractive characteristics. Much like the place is in real life. 
Traveling a little further down the road my view changed completely. The landscape was still quite stark, but now in a very visually pleasing way. After turning off the highway and driving down a narrow dirt road for a couple of miles, I soon began a climb that took me to the very top of the plateau. It was worth a few white knuckle moments as I was eventually greeted with this view -

Amazing. I could see for miles and miles in every direction. I took in every detail. The
subdued colors of the panorama were in striking contrast to the bright blue of the sky and whitest whites of the clouds. Time passed quickly up there, unlike what was to be the case a short while later. I traveled back down the road to where the land flattened out into pure prairie. 

After parking my vehicle I hiked to the base of an outcropping carved by water and wind over millions of years. But today there was only a very light wind as I started my walk and it had completely disappeared by the time I stopped and sat down in a grotto where erosion had made a perfect resting place. There was no wind here. Not even a slight breeze. It was perfectly still. And quiet. Incredibly quiet. A total absence of sound, nearly to the point of being unnatural. Time also stood still. In all of my adventures in nature I don't recall feeling quite like this. Even in my beloved Black Hills, and Spearfish Canyon in particular, there have been times, mostly nights, when it was almost as quiet. But even then the stars were sometimes so bright you could hear them shining. That might be the case at this spot I found in the Badlands, too. But, at that moment, on that day, there was only quiet. 
It's interesting that when I started out from home that morning I was intending to head up into the Hills. But, as fate would have it, I turned left instead of right at just the precise moment. And, as Robert Frost said, "...that has made all the difference."

Roger O'Dea       3/11/2016