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Life As an Itinerant Artist - Redux

In Search of St. Barbara's Catholic Church

August 08, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

A couple of years ago, I ran across an old photograph taken by my father of a church across a wide chasm in the Badlands. As part of an ongoing project to ​revisit some of the spaces in "Black Hills Ghost Towns", I went looking for this church.

From "Black Hills Ghost Towns", © Watson Parker & Hugh LambertAn unidentified church sits on the edge of the Badlands desolation. Repeated searches have failed to turn up the location of this church.

At first, I thought it was St. Joseph's Catholic Church, on Cuny Table. I visited that church twice, and couldn't match the angle in the original photograph. It is a beautiful church, sitting atop a wide table overlooking the Badlands, but it isn't a match for the picture Dad took in 1957. Spirit Of the PrairieSpirit Of the PrairieSt. Joseph's Mission, Pine Ridge Reservation, SD I kept searching for the church. Another Catholic mission on the Pine Ridge reservation looked promising. The only problem was that it was difficult to access. St. Barbara's sits atop a table just south of the White River, miles from any main highway. From the north, maps showed it accessible from Bouquet Table Road, and indeed, Google Maps showed the most direct route crossing Cain Creek and the White River. Only problem was, there are no bridges. The first time I attempted this route, I went with Mom, and it was springtime. A wet year. We got five miles south of the highway, and were turned back because the area around Cain Creek was flooded, and there wasn't anyway to get across it in our little Subaru.

The Long Way HomeThe Long Way HomeBouquet Table Road, Badlands NP, SD This view is looking back north towards the Badlands, after Mom and I turned around and headed home. The clouds were breaking, and the patterns on the fields were beautiful. Even though we didn't get down to the church, we had a wonderful drive through the Badlands.

White River FordWhite River FordWhite River Ford near St. Barbara's Church, SD

My brother Dave and I took the Toyota down that direction just this past week, and took another road that branches off of SD 44. After some wrong turns, and a few very vague tracks, we managed to get down to the White River, where we tested the water for fordability. In August, the river is low, and the bottom firm. Dave walked across, and I brought the truck over with no real issues.

St. Barbara's ChurchSt. Barbara's ChurchMemorial church and cemetery

Just across the river, we found St. Barbara's cemetery. A miniature memorial church sits atop a small knoll overlooking the plot, where several families have lovingly tended to the graves of the departed. The church is a model of the real church, but it's only about 4 feet high. From a distance, it looks like the real thing.  St. Barbara's Church CemeterySt. Barbara's Church CemeteryCemetery plots and miniature memorial church St. Barbara's ChurchSt. Barbara's ChurchMiniature church near cemetery GravestoneGravestoneSt. Barbara's Church Cemetery

Up on the hill, we found the remains of the original church. Nothing was left but the foundation and a few scraps of tin from the roof. The concrete steps led up to where the door would have been. We walked the entire site, looking for the broad chasm shown in Dad's picture, but again, could not match the site to the photograph. There are other churches in the Badlands, but this was my prime candidate, until now. There is no deep gully anywhere within walking distance of the original church as in Dad's photo. There is a road that looked interesting, heading over toward Conata and another river crossing, but we did not explore that route.

RemainsRemainsSt. Barbara's Church foundation Badlands BluffsBluffs near St. Barbara'sThe road up to Conata crosses a wash here, and runs up the hill towards the White Rive. FoundationFoundationSt. Barbara's Church, all that remains.

River RoadRiver RoadKyle SD

We took the southerly route home, down River Rd. towards Kyle. This valley is remarkably green for August, and a beautiful part of the Badlands I had never seen. It's definitely a 4WD road, with several rough spots, and a couple of creek crossings, like this one, with a VERY dubious bridge. (An alternate route crosses the creek without a bridge, but has an extremely high exit angle that the truck might not have been able to negotiate.) Looking back, I might not have crossed this bridge, as the supports are eroding away from the bank on the entrance side. Note the wrecked car under the bridge in the stream.

A Bridge Too FarA Bridge Too FarWash crossing, RIver Road, Kyle SD The search for St. Barbara's is over, but the search for the mysterious church on the edge of the Badlands desolation continues... If you have an idea of where the church in the original picture might have been, please contact me, or comment below.


The first edition of the "Disappearing Agrarian Landscapes" book has arrived!

June 14, 2016  •  3 Comments

After many requests from friends and patrons, I've designed and printed a coffee table book of my "Disappearing Agrarian Landscape" photographs. It is hard-bound, and printed on high quality matte stock, with a dust cover and accompanying copy explaining how I got started making images of the American West. I have a few copies that are signed and numbered, and would be happy to send you one upon request. The books are expensive to produce, and I am only charging a bit more than they cost me to produce. If you'd like one, please drop me a line or call my studio line at 248-229-7900. They are $60 each, and that includes shipping.

A Disappearing Agrarian Landscape -- text and photographs by James W. Parker $60 with free shipping

Resources for Photographers

March 04, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

In conjunction with the Photographers Business Boot Camp this Friday, March 4, at Washtenaw College, I am posting a few links to other resources. Many of these were mentioned in the all-day seminar; others are lucky-strike extras. Please feel free to leave comments about other software or articles that you've found useful.

Here is a link to the full presentation. (TimeManagement.pdf 5.1Mb)

(Please note that this post is moderated, so if you add a spam link, it will be deleted.)

Imaging Software

Adobe (Lightroom, Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator…)     


OnOne Software


Nik / Google



Business Tools

FileMaker Pro






Microsoft Excel, Word, PowerPoint

FotoBiz X



Google Calendar

Google Drive

Writing Tools


iA Writer

Pages (Apple)

Web site development

ZenFolio Use referral code 9BP-ZYX-ECM for a 10% discount


GraphPaperPress (WordPress Templates)

ThemeZilla (WordPress Templates)

PhotoCrati (Photographer specific WordPress Templates)​

Articles for a Deeper Dive

David Allen “Getting Things Done”

The Pareto Principle

14 Time Management Tips (All Creativelike)

Creating a Business Strategy

How to Write a Business Plan

The Big Lie of Strategic Planning

Fine Art Resources


Juried Art Services

Entry Thingy

Art Show Photographers Facebook Group

Art Fair Calendar

Art Fair Insiders

Art Show Photo website

Larry Berman’s website

parkerparker blog


Winter in the Black Hills

January 11, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

I love coming to South Dakota in the winter. Besides being quiet and peaceful, the light is amazing. Recently, I had the chance to shoot up at Sylvan Lake, at the old Meeker Ranch near Custer, and at Bear Butte. The light was soft and cool, and the snow on the ground sparkled.

Sylvan LakeThe lake is completely frozen over in January, allowing one to walk out in the middle. This photograph is one of my favorite vantage points, near the shore at one end of the lake.

Sylvan Lake, Custer State Park

In the Shadow of the BearIn the Shadow of the BearBear Butte, Sturgis SD

In the Shadow of Bear Butte


The Meeker Ranch, Custer SD

Meeker Ranch BarnMeeker Ranch BarnThanks to Jon Crane for the tip

Barn at the Meeker Ranch

Tiny House on a HillTiny House on a HillMeeker Ranch, Custer SD


Spaghetti WesternSpaghetti WesternMeeker Ranch, Custer SD

Spaghetti Western

CollectionCollectionMeeker Ranch, Custer SD



In Search of St. Barbara

August 05, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

In Dr. Watson Parker's book "Black Hills Ghost Towns", this image of an un-named church appeared. Sitting on the edge of a Badlands chasm, I thought I'd located it last year when I photographed St. Joseph's Mission, on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Mom and I went back this spring to see if the angles from the old shot matched. They don't. We then spent a couple of lovely hours driving around the Badlands, detoured by a road closure on the two-lane between Scenic and the White River Ranger station. We drove miles out of our way, over Red Shirt Table all the way to Kyle and back to Rapid City.

We went back a few days later, and tried to access another possible mission that I've only found on the 7.5 minute USGS quads. Five miles down a single track farm road on top of Bouquet Table, we were turned back again by high water over Cain Creek. This year has been especially wet in Western South Dakota. Lots of hail, thunderstorms, rain. The resulting muck in the Badlands clay is not a pretty sight when you're stuck in it, so we turned around. On the way back, the clouds broke, and I got this wonderful shot looking northward toward the Badlands.

The Long Road HomeThe Long Road HomeBouquet Table Road, Badlands NP, SD

We did have a lovely outing in the Badlands. I got my Senior Interagency Access Pass for all the National Parks -- an amazing value for $10, BTW! You can get 'em at any National Park entrance station, or by mail order for an extra $10. And we spoke to a ranger at the visitor center, who confirmed my guess that St. Barbara's is likely the church in the 1958 photograph. Google satellite imagery is unclear as to whether the church is still standing. It appears as if it may have burned down. 

I'm going to give it another shot this August, and see if I can find the church from the south, unless the river crossings have dried up. (Not likely). It will be a good adventure, nonetheless.


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