Fondest memory: You will see a lot of prairie dogs in the Badlands, which includes a lot of grassland. These little animals form their own "towns" and can be spotted from the road side. Be sure to bring your binoculars to get a close look.
Fondest memory: See some fossils of ancient horses and deer-like creatures on display right on some of the trails in Badlands National Park. This area had a much different (warmer) climate and landscape in the past. It was very fascinating to learn about how the Badlands formed, so be sure to spend some time at the visitor center.
Like Death Valley, the Badlands can mislead you with its name. Sure there is much more inviting land in many places; but the Badlands supports a surprising variety of animal and plant life. Whatever the conditions, nature will adapt. The main part of the park for touring is the North Unit which is parallel to, and just south of, Interstate 90. There are three entrances to the park: One from the south called the interior entrance and the two main entrances; the Northeast (Exit 131) and Pinnacles (Exit 110). I recommend Exit 131 because it is closest to the Visitors Center)
I saw quite a bit more wildlife than I anticipated on my trip through the badlands. There was a variety of birds along with chipmunks, prairie dogs, rabbits, deer, mountain goats, and bison.
This area was a shallow sea some 75 million years ago. The area was covered with a quite different variety of plants and animals. Take the fossil trail to learn some about this ancient past. Human habitation of the area has a much shorter history of only 11,000 to 12,000 years.
Fondest memory: Seeing the wildlife and I was fascinated by the fossils exhibit.
Now, I'll be honest. Badlands National Park was not on our way “back east.” Any reasonable straight line from Denver to Philadelphia would not in any way take you through South Dakota. But reason is not the only thing that guides you in this life. Sometimes it's a friend, a whim and a beer. You see, we had this friend who was not “back east,” but on his family farm. There was this beer I had one time from a small brewery who did not distribute outside their area. The whim? Oh, that's the kind of logic that connects a brewery in Wisconsin with a farm in South Dakota and says that even though there is about 24 hours of driving between the two, you can do it all in a few days along with taking in a couple small National Parks.
So, that is how we came to be standing in front of this glowing mass of colorful rocks which in the past looked a bit like but paled in comparison to the Bungle Bungles. I am pretty sure that back in 1994 I would have thought to myself that I had those two places “under my belt,” but I was just a naive young man of 35 and much like those who knew me then and have not seen me since, they knew only a part of me. Nature cannot be captured. You can only steal a glimpse and that's only when you have the sense to take a look, and sometimes a second one.
We were also doing a lot of extensive hiking and backpacking trips which kept us in some parks far longer than most visitors even care to. We had spent a couple weeks in places like Yosemite, Grand Tetons and Glacier. The truth was no matter how long a trip you have traveling around the US National Park system, there is never enough time to see it all. Even if you did, you would not have seen it all in every season, in every light, with every creature living there present. Nature is not something you can capture. It's something that if you are lucky lets you in for brief glimpses of its amazing creation.
Most of our summer had been spent chasing spring. It seemed wildflowers and snow were with us well into August and after an abbreviated stint of true summer in Canada of all places, we rushed our way through a glorious but all too short fall. As it was, we had just eked out a short stint at Rocky Mountain National Park. A gorgeous peek at its Aspen golden autumn would no doubt soon be blown away by a burst of winter air, followed soon after with a permanent coat of snow. High altitude park roads would be coming to a close. As much as we dreaded it, it was time to put away our tent.
It would have been easy to make a beeline for South Florida, to cut the trip a few weeks short. We had seen all there was to be seen that magical summer. No one would fault us for being so overloaded with impressions that no more could fit in. But this was not just a farewell to the National Parks of the US. It was a farewell to the US as our home and any goodbye to an entity like that would mean some goodbyes to the friends we had made along the way. In my case, it was a 50 year long trek and many of those friends were in the northeast where I grew up and had spent the majority of my life. (concluded below in Fondest Memory)
This is one park that it makes a huge difference if you are there at the right time. The formations look far more spectacular on a sunny day, particularly when the sun is low on the horizon. Try and be here for sunset, it's magical.
Fondest memory: We could have easily been somewhere in Utah. It could have been May. A magical trip could have just been starting but we knew deep down that it was coming to an end. That it was nearly October and that the very colorful rock formations before us were a long drive through a couple of big states from Utah. We stood in the prairie, in a wasteland called the Badlands though in this beautiful light as the sun sank into the horizon, it did not seem so aptly named. In fact, it didn't seem so bad at all.
I had passed through the Badlands on my first trip “out west” in 1994. It was an overcast day and I remember thinking to my myself that it looked a lot like the Bungle Bungles in Western Australia. I had been in much of the Oz Outback the previous year and part of the inspiration for doing a trip around the US was to see things in my own country that made me feel the way I did when I had traveled around the world. Fourteen years passed by and the Badlands did not weather the storm of time so well. On planning a return trip to show my wife the many wonders of the US National Park system, the South Dakota parks were pretty low on the list of priorities. Even though the trip would span six months in total, we were starting about as far from it within the Continental United States as possible: South Florida. (continued below in Fondest Memory)
We had enjoyed 2-days of beautiful sunny weather with temperatures in the low 30s C (90 F) for both our drive down from Saskatchewan, Canada and the following day spent exploring Mount Rushmore, taking an 1880s steam train ride and then finishing off with the Crazy Horse Memorial. The morning of our 3rd day of the trip broke with high clouds as we headed off for distant Badlands National Park, but the sunshine gradually broke through as we finally reached the western entrance to the Badlands Loop Road after turning off Interstate 90 and onto Highway 240 at Wall. It was already 10:30 AM and we were anxious to do some proper exploring!
Fondest memory: This was a Sunday morning and the Entrance area was not too busy - we did not even have to wait in-line as we drove up. A credit card soon took care of our $15 entrance fee, we were handed a nice map & information pamphlet and a Park Planner with all the details we needed. We were then on our own to enjoy the drive to the eastern end of the park where we could loop back out onto I-90 to head back to our distant motel.
This map shows the 'yellow' town of Wall in the northwest corner. We were headed east (right) on Interstate 90, so it was from there that we turned off onto Highway 240 to take us down to the Pinnacles Entrance of Badlands NP. Just off to the east of the Highway 240 you can see a sharp drop-off to the flat lands below paralleling it. When viewed from I-90 by traffic heading west, the cliff appears as a sheer 'wall', hence the name of the town.
Fondest memory: Once we were motoring along the Badlands Loop Road, we slowed down to take in as many sights as possible, starting with Pinnacles Overlook. Almost all the way from there to White River Valley Overlook (near the purple rectangle) the road mostly winds along the flat ground high above the plains below, providing great views looking down into gorges and off into the distance. However, once the road descends to the lower levels at the eastern edge of the park, you are suddenly driving among the peaks and now looking up at them. It is a completely different perspective.
It took us about 2 hours to reach the Visitors Center area, where we had lunch before then continuing eastward as we climbed back up to higher ground again. Finally exiting through the Northeast Entrance, we were soon back on I-90 where we swung west as we began the 2-hour drive back to our motel in Hill City.
As with all US National Parks, there is an entrance fee to Badlands National Park. When I was there we purchased a now discontnued National Parks Pass,( Which will still be honored for 1 year from the date we received it) The NPS have since introduced a new system. The "America the Beautiful" Passes. These will replace the traditional pass, the Golden Eagle, Golden Age and Golden Access passes. The new standard pass is $80, which is $30 more expensive then the pass we bought but does allow access into the areas that were only formerly available with the Golden Eagle pass (which at $15 more that the regular pass was still $15 cheaper than this new one) Ah but time marches on and prices keep going up, what can you do? It's still more than worth it to support the parks. You can of course still buy a weekly pass to each park, which is $15 per vehical, $7 if you are on foot or bike. A yearly pass for JUST Badlands National Park is $30.
Check out the NPS website for more details on ALL passes.
For specifically Badlands Park fees
For all National Parks Passes
Favorite thing: The Badlands are gorgeous hills/mountains colored various shades of red and orange. When you first approach them, you just have to get out of your vehicle and take a look! There is no real need to do this immediately, though. As you travel, you will find that there are MANY opportunities to take photos and look at the mountains. In fact, I found that, after a while, I actually just wanted them to end! This does not mean that I didn't like the Badlands, I loved them! Sometimes too much of a good thing can be a bad thing, that's all!
Favorite thing: You have two choices for direction at the Pinnacle Gate. Going left will take you to the main park. Going right is a nice view of the bandlands but if you continue to follow the road you leave the park. There is a nice Prairie Dog town about a half mile or so on the pinnacle gate.
Favorite thing: When we visited in July 1996 the temperatures soared over 100 degrees fahrenheit. I am prone to exaggeration, but this is no lie. Just be prepared with plenty of water and sun screen. Realize that when you set out on a hike, you need to retrace every step when it is time to head back to your car. The heat of the upper great plains can sneak up on folks and believe me, heat stroke is no fun.
Most Americans are enthralled by Mount Rushmore. The stone carvings of the mugs of Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and T. Roosevelt seems to send chills down the spines of red blooded Americans.
I can take it or leave it. Actually, I prefer my mountainsides to be rock and trees and not a public sculpture. I guess I'm a bit cranky.
In any event, on July 4, 1996 as we were driving past Mt. Rushmore at 7:00 a.m. we caught sight of the hot air balloons rising up in celebration of Independence Day. That was pretty neat.
Favorite thing: The Badlands main claim to fame is the "Wall". This structure of rocky pinnacles and ravines stretches east to west about 100 miles and is no more than a mile wide. Although it is not that terribly wide, the Wall provided a natural barrier that wagons, horses and beasts of burden could not cross.
We saw so many of these beautiful creatures roaming throughout the wide open spaces of the park. the are just gorgeous
more to come