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Author: Troy Larson

The Invisible Beaches of Ridgeville, Manitoba

The Invisible Beaches of Ridgeville, Manitoba

Ridgeville, Manitoba is a shrinking community in southern Manitoba, about ten miles northeast of Emerson, or sixty miles southeast of Winnipeg. The average visitor would never know it today, but about 9,000 years ago, Ridgeville was beachfront property. Glacial Lake Agassiz (one of the largest of all the glacial lakes and larger than all of the Great Lakes combined) created a successive series of beaches in the Ridgeville area as it drained. Today, the soil remains sandy, but Lake Agassiz is long gone.

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Canada’s First Ukrainian Orthodox Church

Canada’s First Ukrainian Orthodox Church

It took a year to gather the photos for this post, largely due to my own confusion about two churches named St. Michaels.

I stopped in Gardenton, a tiny town in southern Manitoba, just over the international border from Minnesota, because I had been photographing some places in Tolstoi, which is just a short distance away. I hadn’t done much pre-planning or research on Gardenton, but I was pleased to discover some abandoned places I could shoot.

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All That Remains of a Manitoba Ghost Town

All That Remains of a Manitoba Ghost Town

The divided highway which straddles this tiny country church is the only hint that a metropolitan area of more than 800,000 people lies just thirty minutes to the north. Otherwise, this serene spot on the prairie is a place out of time, a remote spot on the table-flat plains that were once the bottom of glacial Lake Agassiz.

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Daydreaming on Main Street in Struble, Iowa

Daydreaming on Main Street in Struble, Iowa

Struble, Iowa is in Plymouth County, about thirty miles northeast of Sioux City, and not far from another place we recently visited, the similarly-named Ruble, Iowa.

Struble, Iowa

According to the 2010 Census, Struble is a town of 78 residents, down from an all-time high of 327 in 1910. I was fooling around on Google Earth One day when I stumbled upon Struble, and we decided to visit so we could photograph the abandoned buildings in town. In April of 2016, we found ourselves daydreaming on Main Street in Struble, Iowa, photographing two old banks which stand side-by-side.

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Ghost Town on Broken Kettle Creek

Ghost Town on Broken Kettle Creek

In Plymouth County, about twenty miles north of Sioux City, stands Ruble, Iowa, a tiny dot on the map near Broken Kettle Creek.

Ruble, Iowa

Ruble was founded in 1900, and was never really more than a roadside pit stop, with the store serving weary travelers and regional residents under the leadership of H.C. Marbach. The small one-room country school served area students in the early days until a larger school was built on a different site.

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Here’s What It Costs to Buy an Old South Dakota Church

Here’s What It Costs to Buy an Old South Dakota Church

We were out photographing some historic and abandoned places in April of 2016 and we had just decided to call it a day and head for home when we discovered this place by accident. Technically, this address is listed as Elk Point, South Dakota, but really it’s a spot along the Interstate 29, just a mile north of the Vermillion exit, about thirty miles northwest of Sioux City.

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Historic Rock River Crossing

Historic Rock River Crossing

Anderson Bridge was built across the Rock River in 1900, on the northwest edge of Doon, Iowa.

About thirty miles southeast of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Doon is a town of 577 people, and the hometown of western novelist Frederick Manfred, who published 22 novels between 1944 and 1992.

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Ghost Town: Mondak, Montana

Ghost Town: Mondak, Montana

This is Mondak, Montana, a true ghost town in Roosevelt County straddling the Montana/North Dakota border, two and a half miles west of Buford, North Dakota, and ten miles north of Fairview, Montana. It was a smoky day in July 2014 when we took these pics on a trip that had already taken us to Trotters, North Dakota and Fairview Lift Bridge and Cartwright Tunnel the day before. It was our first visit to Mondak, and we found three structures remained standing, including the former Mondak jail. We revisited Mondak in 2017, too, when skies weren’t quite so hazy.

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Capa’s Catholic Church, Just Before the End

Capa’s Catholic Church, Just Before the End

In July of 2015, we stopped in Capa, South Dakota to get some photos of a place with only one remaining resident.  It was a beautiful place with plenty to photograph, but we discovered the former Catholic Church, which had been unused since 1940, had recently collapsed.

Recently, Iowa photographer Dick Evans contacted us and offered to send some photos he took in Capa shortly before the church collapsed, which we’ve posted below.

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Mining Relics and the Majesty of Spearfish Canyon

Mining Relics and the Majesty of Spearfish Canyon

One of America’s greatest scenic byways winds through the Black Hills between Spearfish and Lead, South Dakota, featuring waterfalls, thousand-foot cliffs, and roadside turnoffs where travelers can stop and photograph the sights. Spearfish Canyon is so beautiful, some scenes from Dances with Wolves were filmed here.

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Bad Luck and Bad Judgment Leave Owanka Nearly Abandoned

Bad Luck and Bad Judgment Leave Owanka Nearly Abandoned

Not quite six miles south of Interstate 90 in the undulating green hills of Pennington County lies Owanka, South Dakota, a near ghost town with a story of bad luck and bad deeds that led to its present depopulated state. According to a number of sources, the present population of Owanka is two, although there are two more residents who ranch on the outskirts of town, effectively doubling the population.

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Devils Tower: The First National Monument

Devils Tower: The First National Monument

A visit to Devils Tower National Monument gives one a sense of mysterious contentment; a degree of spiritual calm instilled by few of North America’s natural wonders. The tower is located in the Black Hills of northeast Wyoming, not far from Crazy Horse and Mount Rushmore in neighboring South Dakota, and just down the road from another place we visited — Aladdin, Wyoming.  It is a rare honor to visit a place like this and bask in the grandeur of the creator’s work.

Devils Tower, Wyoming

Native American tribes have considered the tower a place of spiritual importance for thousands of years. Different tribes each had their own name for the tower — Aloft on a Rock, Bear’s Lodge, and Bear’s Lodge Butte, for example. They were derived from similar legends about the origin of the mountain. One such legend, from Kiowa author N. Scott Momaday:

Eight children were there at play, seven sisters and their brother. Suddenly the boy was struck dumb; he trembled and began to run upon his hands and feet. His fingers became claws, and his body was covered with fur. Directly there was a bear where the boy had been. The sisters were terrified; they ran, and the bear after them. They came to the stump of a great tree, and the tree spoke to them. It bade them to climb upon it, and as they did so it began to rise into the air. The bear came to kill them, but they were just beyond its reach. It reared against the tree and scored the bark all around with its claws. The seven sisters were borne into the sky, and they became the seven stars of the Pleiades.

It was not until the 1859 expedition to Yellowstone by Captain William F. Raynolds that a European documented a visit to the tower. It was in 1875 that an interpreter in Colonel Richard Dodge‘s expedition mistranslated the Native American name as “Bad God’s Tower,” which eventually became Devils Tower. Christians and Native Americans have each advocated over the years to have the name changed, unsuccessfully.

Devils Tower, Wyoming

President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed Devils Tower a national monument on September 24th, 1906, making it the United States’ first national monument.

Devils Tower, Wyoming

The release of Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster motion picture “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” in 1977 resulted in a big increase in tourist traffic to Devils Tower. The movie, which was one of the highest grossing movies of all-time for a number of years, has become an inextricable part of the mystique of Devils Tower. They show the movie every night at sunset at the KOA campground just outside the park, and alien head souvenirs are everywhere.

Devils Tower, Wyoming

Devils Tower, Wyoming

It is hard to get a sense of scale from Devils Tower when you see it in pictures, so to give you an idea how big Devils Tower is, we’ve used two yellow arrows in the above photo to point out climbers who were descending on the day we visited. Inset of the same two climbers below.

Devils Tower, Wyoming



Devils Tower, Wyoming

Park rangers patrol along the visitor path with handheld radio units to communicate with climbers when necessary. Climbers intending to go beyond the boulder field at the base must register at the ranger station before leaving, and upon return.

Devils Tower, Wyoming

Exactly how Devils Tower formed is a disputed topic. The rock is a magma intrusion, but geologists do not necessarily agree on whether the magma reached the surface, or whether it remained underground, to be exposed later by erosion. Some have speculated it is a laccolith, while others have said it is the core of an extinct volcano. As the boulder field at the base demonstrates, the tower continues to erode and crumble at a geologic pace, and one day, many millennia from now, the tower will be gone.

Devils Tower, Wyoming

Devils Tower, Wyoming

Devils Tower, Wyoming

Hulett, Wyoming is the closest town to the monument, a tiny little tourist stop about 8 miles away. Terry and I like to try out the cheeseburgers at little roadside cafes when we’re on trips like this, and we both agreed that the burgers we got at the tiny diner in the Hulett Motel were some of the biggest and most delicious we’ve ever tasted. No exaggeration, they were really good.

Devils Tower, Wyoming

Devils Tower, Wyoming

If you enjoy our work, please consider supporting future shoots by ordering our book, Churches of the High Plains. Thank you!

Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright Sonic Tremor Media

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The Final Chapter in Capa, South Dakota

The Final Chapter in Capa, South Dakota

We visited Capa in July of 2015, near the end of a four day trip to explore some abandoned places in North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, and South Dakota. So many times, when visiting vacant, out-of-the-way places on the high plains, we find a regular, criss-cross grid of gravel roads, intersecting every mile or two, and we can easily drive right up to our desired places, but that was not the case in Capa.

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The Remains of Cottonwood, South Dakota

The Remains of Cottonwood, South Dakota

On Highway 14, about halfway between Wall and Philip, lies sleepy Cottonwood, South Dakota. We visited Cottonwood at the suggestion of our friend Maya Greywolf who had been momentarily captivated by these abandoned places while passing through on a roadtrip. We had little idea what to expect, but we were thrilled at the photo opportunities when we arrived.

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Carlyle, Montana: Prairie Ghost Town

Carlyle, Montana: Prairie Ghost Town

There were once over two hundred people in Carlyle, Montana, but today it is a ghost town, just a green, largely treeless spot on the prairie, just inside the Montana/North Dakota border. We were on a trip that had included stops at Adelaide Country School in North Dakota and Devils Tower, too, when we decided to run over to Carlyle and see what we could see. The remains of the business district (visible in the background, behind the elevators) are secured on fenced and posted property, and are a shadow of the small town that once stood here.

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Tiny Aladdin, Wyoming is For Sale

Tiny Aladdin, Wyoming is For Sale

Aladdin is a former coal mining settlement in Crook County, today a tiny roadside stop in the Black Hills of northeastern Wyoming, just a short drive from Devils Tower National Monument. Census records indicate a peak population of 200 people during its coal mining heydey, but today, only 15 residents reportedly remain. The centerpiece of Aladdin is the 118-year old General Store which does a brisk business serving travelers on the road between Devils Tower and Belle Fourche, South Dakota.

Aladdin, Wyoming

In July of 2014, the owners of Aladdin put the town up for sale. A sign on the door of the store reads, “This town is for sale. Store, house, bar, trailer park, post office, 30 acres, $1,500,000 firm.” There have been several interested buyers, but so far, no takers.

Aladdin, Wyoming

Any potential buyer with plans to operate the General Store would have to make a strong commitment of both dollars and labor. There is no running water at all in the store (travelers use outhouses when necessary), heat is provided by a wood burning stove, and running the town is a full-time job, seven days per week.

Aladdin, Wyoming



Aladdin, Wyoming

The inside of the store is absolutely packed with antiques and souvenirs. We spent a good twenty minutes inside shopping and imagining what it was like in the 1800s.

Aladdin, Wyoming

Just down the road from Aladdin is a former coal tipple, now a state historic site.

Aladdin, Wyoming

During its operational days, this tipple facilitated the coal mine at the top of the slope. A mine car would carry ore to the top of this structure and “tip,” dropping a load of coal down the chute into a waiting Wyoming and Missouri Valley railroad car at the bottom.

Aladdin, Wyoming

If you enjoy abandoned places and the high plains, check out our book, Churches of the High Plains.

Aladdin, Wyoming

There is a quite nice, paved walking path that leads from the bottom of the tipple to the actual mine entrance at the top, and you will be treated to an amazing view if you make the short, uphill hike.

Aladdin, Wyoming

Aladdin, Wyoming

Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media LLC

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128 Years of Postal Service in Rockham, South Dakota

128 Years of Postal Service in Rockham, South Dakota

Rockham is in Faulk County, South Dakota, about 80 miles northeast of Pierre. I visited Rockham while on a trip to shoot several neighboring places — Miranda, and Lily — and they all turned out to be beautiful places to photograph.

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The Lonely Streets of Miranda, South Dakota

The Lonely Streets of Miranda, South Dakota

Miranda, South Dakota is in Faulk County, about forty miles southwest of Aberdeen. The scenery on the way to Miranda was awesome; like being adrift on a sea of prairie in places, with barely a power line or telephone pole to be seen. Miranda is an unincorporated community of about a half dozen inhabited residences, and upon arrival I was pleased to discover it had a number of vacant and abandoned places to shoot.

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Going Back to Hillhead

Going Back to Hillhead

After I visited Hillhead in 2014, it was pointed out to me that I missed the building that was once the school. So, when I was planning a trip to shoot some places around Aberdeen in June of 2015, I decided I would travel through Hillhead again on the way back home and see if I could get a shot of the school.

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Crandall’s Landmark Standard Oil Station

Crandall’s Landmark Standard Oil Station

If you decide to visit Crandall, South Dakota, this much is certain — you will be treated to some awesome prairie vistas on the way to this out of the way place near the convergence of Day, Clark, and Spink Counties. Crandall is an unincorporated community with fewer than a handful of residences remaining. The former gas station is historically significant as the last Standard Oil Station in the United States to use manual gravity pumps.

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