“Nothing could be more lonely and nothing more beautiful than the view at nightfall across the prairies to these huge hill masses, when the lengthening shadows had at last merged into one and the faint after-glow of the red sunset filled the west.” – Theodore Roosevelt
Teddy Roosevelt is big in the Dakotas. And that’s not referring to Mt. Rushmore. But when thinking of how I could describe North and South Dakota, “quiet” came quickly to mind. After driving more than 2,200 miles in just over a week, the scarcity of development, people and changing landscapes are a constant. There was sound- the wind and birdsong is always around, but it didn’t erase that quiet.
Much of the driving through the countryside was to add to a collection of rural churches. For a photographer, the weathered prairie churches can have a special aesthetic, especially when surrounded by open land and a huge sky. Many I found from pre-trip research are now abandoned or privately owned and usually isolated. But even when I found one located in a small town or by a collection of farmhouses, it was rare I saw any people.
Along the way, I drove by or stopped at ghost towns and abandoned farms in many places. I don’t know much about the recent history of the area so I could only speculate how so many places have become abandoned. I did find an interesting website that explores several of the small towns though – Ghosts of North Dakota.
Beyond the farmland, the geology changes some in the western portion of the two states. Theodore Roosevelt National Park (N. Dakota) and the Badlands National Park (S. Dakota) are two places where you’ll both escape the farmland and also find bison, pronghorn, prairie dogs and other wildlife.
And finally, I did pass through some of the larger cities along the way. Art Alley in Rapid City, South Dakota is a good place to mention. It was an unexpected discovery and the block long outdoor art gallery is worth seeking out if in the area.