I had basically ran out of ideas for places to shoot in the area and the forecast showed possible thunderstorms hitting the area. Last minute decision had me driving North into South Dakota.
I am a big fan of the Black Hills and Custer State Park. The only thing I am absolutely annoyed with in South Dakota is that they don't have many same day reservation campsites. They also make you call in and reserve the spots with a credit card even if they are same day. Not exactly the best scenario when road tripping and not really planning dates with destinations.
Anyways, I went in to Sylvan Lake in Custer State park to hang out and was hoping to sneak in the campground area and take a shower. Unfortunately the State Park Rangers were parked there so I basically just re-organized my camera gear and listened to the weather radio to see when the storm was going to come in. One of the rangers actually ended up talking to me about the storms and suggested a few locations for me to hike to and told me a view point that would be good for the sunset.
Since I had plenty of time, I decided to drive about a mile up from where I was and hike up to Little Devils Tower. The hike up there was pretty sweet, but I had no clue where I was going most of the time because there are hardly any markings to direct where to go. Luckily I ended up on top with a pretty awesome view and all to myself.
I immediately started setting up a timelapse with my linear rail.
Apparently with all of the rush to get on the trail, I forgot to pull my freshly charged batteries off the charger and put them in my bag. So one of my cameras did't have any batteries and had to remain in my bag while I walked around exploring and taking iphone photos.
When that timelapse finished, I ran my rail to another location for another quick shot before heading back down.
I took my time on the hike down even though I really wanted to get to the other viewpoint the ranger was telling me about. Plus the lack of trail markers made it difficult to navigate back to the trailhead. I did stumbled across a deer that was comfortable enough to not panic and run.
When I got back to my car and had everything packed in, I thought I should take the opportunity of the slightly dark empty parking lot I was in to take a quick shower. I quickly took off my boots, socks and shirt and started rinsing myself off which felt incredibly good after the hike even though it was relatively short. I should remind you that this shower setup isn't exactly ideal and kind of difficult to maneuver. I have to set the shower nozzle down, soap up, and press one trigger with my foot or knee while squeezing the other with my hand. Anyways, as I finished up and was drying my hair with my towel I look over and there was a woman and her daughter. Awkward is a fitting word here. I waved and the Mother asked me if I could take them to their car at Sylvan Lake which was about a mile or so away. I tried to explain to them that I had been living there for a few days and I would have to throw some stuff around to make room. They didn't care, the daughter sat on her moms lap and they were clearly just happy to not walk another foot. Apparently they were hiking to Harney Peak which is a little over 3 miles, and then got lost and ended up clear over on my trail. They were incredibly thirsty since they only packed a water bottle each so the girl jumped at the opportunity to get a drink from my ice water I just pulled from the cooler.
(Not 100% sure why I included this part of the story in here, probably an ego thing, but yea I saved a couple damsels in distress. no big deal.)
After dropping them off at their car, I quickly headed towards the second viewpoint I planned to shoot the sunset from. Although it was kind of dark in the hills, the sun was still up for another 20 or so minutes.
The view point was almost ideal, I was able to drive all the way up there so I could use whatever gear I wanted and could clean up my car while I waited. The problem was that as soon as I got to the top of the spiral road that wrapped the hill of 6,500 ft elevation I was stopped by a guy and told to turn around because they close at sunset. I quickly drove the rest of the way, hopped out real quick and took a few photos so I could decide if it would be worth coming back at a later day.
I remembered a pretty cool overlook I drove past early so I headed that way. Unfortunately, I was missing the sunset and could only take a couple super blurry shots out of my window as I drove into Custer.
By the time I reached my viewpoint it was all gone of course. But there was an obvious storm in the distance making its way towards me and was putting out some pretty good lightning.
I setup one camera on a pan head to move with the storm as it rolled over and took stills and panoramas with the other. It was pretty cool to see a storm with lightning and the stars above and was really hoping for structured supercell to form.
Apparently the storm behind me didn't agree because after my pan timelapse finished and I moved to a different location it started pouring rain.
After waiting for a bit I was able to get a couple more shots. At this point the lightning was so frequent that I was able to catch a pretty awesome behind the scenes shot.
Eventually the storm died down so I headed back to Custer to call in to the Parks Department to hopefully reserve a place to sleep for the 30th since it was about 2:30 am I didn't expect there to be an issue checking in for the 30th and leaving the 31st. Apparently that is a big NO, not only was a non-electric spot $20 but I would have to leave by noon or pay for a second day. The guy on the phone wasn't the best at explaining it so I eventually hung up and found a hotel that looked like I would be able to discretely park in their parking lot and sleep in my car without problems. Coincidentally that was probably the best nights sleep I had the entire trip.