Friday, May 2, 2008

Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary

If you are a fan of horses, great western landscapes, or the Old West you will love the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary.

Located 12 miles south of Hot Springs off South Dakota Highway 71 at the crossing with the Cheyenne River, the sanctuary would attract photographers for it's terrain alone. Add in a herd of over 500 wild horses, a western movie set, abundant other wildlife, and authentic Native American and pioneer cliff carvings and you have quite the mix.

Tours are given year-round in small busses. Much of the tour will be shooting photos out the windows of the bus. I've found the tour guides to be knowledgeable about what photographers want and agreeable to stop when needed or to allow people to get outside of the bus for picture taking if practical at that particular point. I wouldn't expect them to put up with shooting every picture off a tripod and the time that takes, but they will work with you. A zoom lens in the 80-400mm range is very handy when shooting out the window, but at times the horses are too close for that.

The stars of the show, of course, are the horses. They are quite often easy to line up with spectacular backdrops.

Wild horses seem all the more "wild" if they are running and kicking. Unfortunately that can't be guaranteed at every visit, but it's a lot of fun when it happens.

Springtime, of course, means babies, and lots of them. The pictures below were taken at the end of April 2008. The variations in colors between individual animals, even mares and foals, is amazing.

This area was originally several ranches, and remnants are found everywhere. This stone and wood corral is so authentic and rustic looking that Marlboro cigarettes once used it for advertising photography.

Several movies have taken advantage of the sanctuary's landscape as well. Disney's "Hidalgo" filmed opening sequences here, including a reenactment of the Wounded Knee massacre. Here is a production still from the movie featuring Viggo Mortenson and the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary in the background.

No, I did not take the picture above. It is a Disney publicity photo I found on Google. I was there and watched an afternoon of filming, including this scene, but was not allowed to take pictures.

TNT Films recreated Fort Robinson, Nebraska here for the made-for-tv movie "Crazy Horse." The set still stands and looks really great until you get too close.

A cliff near the "Hidalgo" filming sites is covered with petroglyphs of varying ages. Native Americans etched drawings into the soft stone, and pioneers followed the tradition. Many of the names carved on the cliff face in the late 1800s and early 1900s can be easily traced to families that still live in the area.

These petroglyphs are very similar to ones found on the Koller Ranch, which is in a canyon to the west, near Edgemont. If you are interested in this kind of thing, I would suggest checking out Rock and Pine Adventure Tours. See my earlier post for more info:

Turkeys, deer and prairie dogs are almost hard not to see on the tours. I've spotted bighorn sheep and the sanctuary staff tells me that mountain lions and coyotes also roam the area.

The Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary has one cabin that sleeps four for overnight accomodations, or Hot Springs has many hotels and there are numerous campgrounds in the area.

Learn more about the horses, the sanctuary and it's very interesting founder Dayton Hyde, and check current tour schedules and fees at

On the way to the sanctuary from Hot Springs, you will pass the Cascade Springs and Cascade Falls picnic areas. Both are great places for a short stop to enjoy the warm bubbling brook and Cascade Falls includes a good old-fashioned swimming hole.


Tim said...

Cool stuff. I especially like the horses when they're kicking up all the dust.

Why do you suppose the Disney photographer was shooting outdoors with tungsten film or a tungsten white balance? Maybe they should have let you shoot...

Chad Coppess said...

Actually I think that Hidalgo shot may be from the actual movie film. If I remember correctly, it was fairly warm when they were shooting the Wounded Knee scenes, while they real events took place in late December. So they were probably shooting with that bluer white balance to make it look more like winter.