One visit to South Dakota’s Badlands won’t be enough.
With echoes of our Badlands sister trip (1996) still resounding, it became a must-stop when husband and I drove west.
The Badlands vary from any other rock formations I’ve seen in these vast states of ours. They jut from the earth like Grand Teton in Jackson Hole, Wyoming and yet are completely unlike that sharp mountain. Teton springs skyward, at least from the Jackson Hole side, a rugged triangle set on a flat surface—no rolling hills leading to it— standing there proudly 7,000 feet above the valley, calling out, look at me.
The Badlands are Far More Chaotic
One row of low-rising buttes have you thinking of Haleakala on Maui where the earth appears moon-like.
The next moment, you’re looking over a warren of twisting, tight hills with deep or shallow dips running between them. Think of viewing an ant farm lying on its side.
Turn again when the sun strikes the pinnacles at the proper slant. It reminds you of Arizona’s Painted Desert as colors move from bleached to red-orange with a streak of purple.
Arrange to arrive as the sun descends, pick a spot at Pinnacle Peak not far off Route 240. The sun setting across the expanse is reminiscent of the Grand Canyon. Wide valley meadows spread before you, the leas are trapped by the surrounding formations tossing together mesas and plateaus. The light catches a pool of water in the distance. Or is it white stone starting to show its stuff as the sun hits at the perfect angle?
Ocean or Prairie—What do the Badlands Remind You Of
The striations in the landscape change with each moment the sun sinks lower. Sitting in lawn chairs or on blankets as you would to enjoy a Hawaiian sunset, you feel the folks around you holding their breath, waiting, waiting.
The Badlands are different from the ocean as the sun takes ages to disappear across this skyline. Here, there is no final plop into the water, but a spreading side-to-side of orange against the now black horizon. The ever-moving, changing clouds providing that upward shot of rays beckoning you to believe in heaven.
The next day drive the rough seven miles to Sheep Mountain for a bit of a back country hike. Be prepared with water, sunscreen, hats and a 4-wheel drive. Don’t be a dunce and try this trek in a car or when the weather is bad. It’s a slow ride with a rutted, rarely maintained road. But persevere because the views along the way are worth it and the destination is pure delight.
South Dakota’s Badlands are Stuffed With Formations!
Roadside are formations that appear to be overgrown toadstools, or if you have a big imagination, Fred Flintstone’s home.
At the end of June you can expect a multitude of wildflowers to provide you with a kaleidoscope array of colors. Ah, nature! Let me photograph you and you and oh wait! There’s another one!
If you’re lucky, and quiet, you’ll glimpse a blue bird balanced perfectly on a spent yucca stem.
How many of you American (and elsewhere!) children of the sixties grew up watching westerns from Rawhide to Maverick? The good guys would chase the bad guys into the canyons where they’d never be found. The Badlands are a labyrinth of hiding places for bank robbers and train-stoppers. The ne’er-do-wells could hunker down and stay out of sight until the good guys gave up … if they did.
We found that backcountry hiking and overnight stays were discouraged, but were not given a clear reason. If you presented your camping pedigree showing particular astuteness at surviving the remote life, perhaps the rangers would lighten up and let you in on the best places to go. Or maybe not. It’s dangerous country with little cell coverage, wide-ranging temperatures, and yes, deer, antelope, and bison play here.
A reminder that the wild animals aren’t pets. Don’t walk near animals, don’t startle them, and for pity’s sake, don’t try putting a bison in your car.
South Dakota’s Badlands National Park details
Size – 244,000 dazzling acres to explore
The Ben Reifel Visitor Center – This is the main visitor’s center and worth stopping.
Wall, South Dakota
Wall is the closest little town just off Interstate 90. There’s a nice visitor’s center with helpful rangers, a gift store and a museum. Wall is a pure tourist town, but don’t let the trappings of that atmosphere stop you from exploring. And by all means, visit the ice cream shoppe.
Scenic, South Dakota
With respect, share a chuckle with the handful of residents still living in this wide spot in the road. We laughed at the official “business district” sign pointing to town only to discover most businesses are closed. Keep driving south four miles to reach the Sheep Mountain Table Road and take the hike mentioned above.
Pine Ridge Indian Reservation Center
If you check a map, you’ll see that the Badlands weave through this reservation. If good fortune is on your side, you’ll be able to chat with new ranger, Matthew Janis. We could have spent hours with him learning about the history of the area, the Oglala Sioux Tribe, and his far-reaching connection to historical leaders.
What Are You Waiting For
The Badlands have a geographic personality worth getting to know … even if learning takes several visits.
Great pictures. They capture what you might describe as the beauty of open space. Need to get myself there someday.
Knowing how you love to travel, Ken, you will love the Badlands. I would return any time.
What a great post. I also am awe inspired when I first saw them, and a little terrified. When you look at them from a high advantage, all I could think of was they were a maze. When you go down into them, you feel like one wrong turn and you will be blocked in forever. On the other hand, it is such a spectacle sight to see.
You’ve got that right, William. I can so see the cowboys hiding in that crazy maze of winding hills. Beautiful and crazy.
The photos are beautiful. That sunset is especially stunning. Would love to go there.
I’m sure you can talk your family into FLYING into Billings or Rapid City and making the trek, Ken. 🙂
I definitely love the Badlands. Such an other-worldly atmosphere combined with a laid back quirkiness.
It really is other-worldy, Doreen. We saw several mountain ranges on our summer trip and all very unique with the Badlands being the most unusual.
I think that June is probably the perfect time to go to South Dakota. I think I might freeze if I were to go in the winter. Your pictures are so beautiful. I’ve always wanted to visit states like the Dakotas, Montana, Wyoming but never had. From the pictures I see, they always look like they have a special kind of beauty.
June-September, Erica, for sure. Winter visits to the west should be savored by those who love to ski and do other snowy things.
Sure am glad that you’re enjoying the pictures.
Wow, getting pretty fancy with the interactive elements of your blog RoseMary. Wonderful photographs as always. I’ve been to both South and North Dakota, but it was for business so I never had the time to see much outside of the cities. Really beautiful!
Trying to bring the site into the 21st century, Marquita. Let me know how I’m doing.
I think South and North Dakota and the rest of the states south of them don’t get a lot of attention. I’m guilty of it for sure. Like ND? Why do I want to go there? Oh, but there’s probably something there to explore!
Such beautiful photographs RoseMary. So much land and space – right up my street. I do like the outdoors in reasonable weather though. I hope you enjoyed your trip – it sure looked adventurous.
The UK does not have nearly enough land. I dream of living in a detached house with land and preferably a horse.
Thank you, Phoenicia. It’s such a lovely landscape.
The UK has many beautiful spots, too. As you know, I’m wild about Wales. I’d love to spend time exploring your island top to bottom and east to west.
Horses are a lot of work, but sure are pretty!
Plan a trip to India once Rose Mary.You will love it for sure 🙂
I am now blessed to have three friends from India–two of you are cyber friends and one now lives in Seattle–but you’ve all compelled me to want to visit with your generous natures and love of your country. India is on the list!
That’s an awesome sunset photo! I regret not taking time to explore the Badlands when I drove through the area years ago. However, I did make a pitstop at Wall Drug. Priorities, right?
As long as you had the ice cream, Jeri!
That’s how Jackie and I felt about our ’96 trip. We glimpsed the barest bit of the park and have both been itching to go back ever since. That’s a lot of years between trips–which just means you’ll have it on next year’s schedule!
Your photos are great! I vaguely remember a family trip to the Badlands when I was a child. I’ve been thinking about going there again for the last few years, but haven’t made it yet. Looks and sounds interesting.
Donna, I love going to Europe, love it. But then a road trip like this one happens and I think about everything Canada and the USA have to offer. Our countries are so huge! Hope you get to the Badlands next travel season. Remarkable.