Sunday, September 14, 2014


Picture a desolated, arid plain.  Brown brittle grasses, dry sagebrush, devoid of trees.  The hills eroded into numerous craggy spires and crooked dusty gullies.  Blistering hot in the summer, frigidly cold in winter.  A hard, lonely landscape.  Who would visit a place like this?

Why me, of course!

Obligatory park entrance sign photo

I've always had a fascination with the Badlands of Western South Dakota.  The artfully weathered hills, sculpted by wind and rain.  The colorful layers of rock uncovered by erosion.  The wide-open vistas.  There's beauty to be found in these "bad lands."

Lone tree amid endless grassland

The local Lakota people called the rugged moonscape Mako Sica, which means "land that is bad."  Early trappers and settlers steered clear of this dry, desolate area. 

The muddy gravel road

The Badlands were created eons ago when a large ocean covered the western plains states.  Over time, sediments deposited on the ocean bottom, creating the colorful layers that eventually became rock.  Volcanic activities created uplifting of the nearby Black Hills.  From these mountains, steams flowed, carrying more sediments that deposited over the old seabed.  Finally, wind, water and ice combined to erode the softer sediments, leaving behind tougher sandstones.  Nature sculpted the rocks into fantastic shapes - spires, pyramids, castles, and wrinkly gullies.

My mom takes in the view

But that's not all - within these colorful rock layers lie a wealth of fossils.  Three-toed horses, prehistoric rhinos and pigs, saber-toothed cats, and all kinds to sea life - the remains of these animals and more have been unearthed in the Badlands.

Amazing striped hills

Now, this wonderful area is a National Park (very deserving of its status IMHO).  It had been a couple of years since my last visit, so this time I was bound and determined to get out here.

Tiny yellow flowers still in bloom

My parents, brother, myself, and Denise all piled into my mom's car, and we drove east on South Dakota Hwy 44.  Shortly after passing the tiny town of Scenic, my dad turned onto minor road 590, a back way into the west park entrance.

Craggy, eroded slopes

This year, Western South Dakota has had a very unseasonable cool, rainy summer (it's like Oregon and SD switched weather patterns).  The day I chose for my Badlands visit was cool and cloudy with intermittent rain sprinkles.  By far not typical weather for late August!  But all that moisture did come with a silver lining - turning the adjacent plains a lovely shade of green. 

Well-placed overlook

Road 590 was a well-graded gravel track through wide open grassy rangeland.  On our way to the park, we passed a few farms, and a couple of huge sunflower fields.  Then the terrain began to get rougher, with scattered buttes and gullies.  And then we came upon a park entrance sign.

Colorful hills

The morning's light rain had softened the gravel road just enough to create a thin layer of mud.  Exiting my mom's car at the first viewpoint, I noticed the entire body was splattered with silt.  Usually this time of year the only thing that coated cars was dust. 

More colorful layers on display

We traveled along the park road, stopping at a couple of nice viewpoints.  I'd hop out of the car with my camera and start capturing the expansive landscape before me.  I wished the weather wasn't so cloudy and blah - I'd really hoped to photograph the Badlands against bright blue skies.

Another great viewpoint

At one of the pullouts I accidentally stepped into a small mudhole.  Thick, sticky clay clung to my shoes.  Try as I might, I couldn't quite knock all the mud off.  Now my poor mom's car was not only dirty on the outside, thanks to my shoes it got muddy on the inside too.  (Sorry mom!)

Lots of color in those hills!

Finally our endless gravel road intersected with Road 240, directly south of the town of Wall.  Here was the park's Pinnacles Entrance, and from this point we traveled east on smooth, newly-paved asphalt.  Most visitors enter the park via this road, and travel east to the Ben Reifel Visitor Center.

Family photo op

The first major overlook, appropriately named the Pinnacles Overlook, gave us an amazing view of the tiered, sculpted hills.  Their sides wrinkled from numerous rainstorm runoff, their tops shaved into thin fins.  They looked almost castle-like.  But the best part was seeing the various layers of colorful rock, each marking a different era in geologic history.

Very amazing sights

On photo overload, I spent lots of time wandering around, photographing the hills from as many angles as I could think of.

Don't worry - no snakes were spotted

Although the Badlands look desolate and incapable of supporting life, all kinds of fauna live in these hills and gullies.  Mule deer, pronghorn antelope, bison, coyotes, prairie dogs, and the endangered Black-footed ferret (thought to be extinct until they were rediscovered in 1981, thirty-six ferrets were released in the park in 1994).  And, of course, slithery critters such as the rattlesnake also make the Badlands their home. (Luckily we didn't see any!)

These craggy hills go on forever

The Badlands do have several short hiking trails.  I was tempted to take a quick ramble on one of them, but after stopping at one parking area, I noticed the rain had turned things to muck.  I saw a family playing in the creek bottom, and all were head-to-toe covered in mud.  Not wanting to mess up my mom's car any more than I already had, I opted to get my photos from the parking lot.

Busy bee

Luckily, the park has several great viewpoints strung along the main park road (sporting mud-free wood boardwalks).  The road from the Pinnacles Entrance to Ben Reifel Visitor Center is a lovely scenic drive.  My dad stopped at a bunch of these pullouts so I could capture more of the amazing landscape.

Road through the ruins

Although the weather wasn't the greatest, I still managed to get a lot of images I liked.  Coming from Oregon I know full well that a cloudy sky is not always a bad thing when it comes to photography.  Although I missed out on blue skies, I did enjoy saturated colors and no shadows!

Mother nature is a great artist!

We ended our drive at the Northeast Entrance, and headed towards I-90.  But our day's exploration was not quite over yet - on the way home, we planned to stop by the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.  I'll tell ya all about it in my next post.

Stay tuned!

Sharing with: Our World Tuesday.


  1. Love those wide open spaces, so beautiful. Those little yellow flowers are called Curly cup gum weed, random fact :) They are very sticky and fun to play with for kids.

  2. Wow, gorgeous images of the Badlands. I love the lone tree shots and those colorful stripey hills! The family photo shot is cute. Thanks for sharing your trip! Have a great day!

  3. Fascinating place! (And I'll never forget Wall drugstore!). We have a similar badlands in Alberta, Dinosaur provincial Park - amazing landscape!

  4. GREAT shots Linda. I enjoyed my time in the Black Hills too.

    Love the pinks in the layers and its beautiful country though desolate.

  5. This was gorgeous to see actually .
    I was sort of expecting to see Clint Eastwood in his younger days come riding out of the landscape on a horse ( it came to mind when I heard Bad Lands) .
    Thanks for the great share !

  6. Linda, if I lived in your area I would want to visit this place with you! Your photos are captivating! Thank you so much for sharing.

  7. I've been to the Badlands!!! Really interesting area...I marveled at the expanse of the seemed to go on and on... Your pictures are wonderful!!! We did a quick drive through with only a few stops so I didn't get many good photos....
    Love the colors that you captured...amazing how beautiful an area called "the Badlands" can be!!!

  8. Wonderful scenery!

  9. I think the Badlands are beautiful! Yes, I HAVE been there. ;))

  10. The more I see of your national parks I know I have to cross the pond and see them for myself.

  11. Magnificent scenery, hard to imagine a vast ocean covered these lands. I have seen the badlands in North Dakota but a ND'an told me the ones in South Dakota were more scenic. I hope I'll be able to check them out one day. Thanks for all these lovely photos.

  12. Thanks for the photo tour of the Badlands! Wonderful photos and love the one of your family! ~ Great post for OWT!

    artmusedog and carol (A Creative Harbor)

  13. There is a rugged beauty in that area - I've always wanted to visit.

  14. Those hills are gorgeous! Love the stripes on them and the ruggedness of the area. Beautiful!

  15. Great photos and amazing landscapes. I've read about the Badlands but your photos really add to what I had read. Thanks for sharing.

  16. OHMYGOSH...stunning photographs! What an amazing area to spend time in. And thank goodness you didn't run across any rattlesnakes!

  17. Just beautiful and another place on my list to see.

  18. Wonderful landscape very inviting.

  19. Bad lands for agriculture no doubt, but superb for your photography. I think you're right, the light seems ideal for these images.

  20. Boa tarde, excelente foto reportagem da paisagem seca onde o mar já esteve presente, a natureza altera o ecossistema em defesa do planeta, quem sabe se daqui alguns milhões de anos o mar volta a correr entre as montanhas.

  21. I'd love to go there.
    Great pictures!

  22. Not blue skies [ I would have felt the same] but some stunningly beautiful shots. Colourful hills, busy bee, road through the ruins.

  23. Hmm, these lands don't look so bad!

    But the snake does.

  24. Heheh...Saturday we will be there...Sunday Minute Man! You are getting me so excited!!

  25. It may be bad by name, but it looks great - another place to add to my wish list!

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  26. We took the family out to the Badlands 8 summers ago - it was a wonderful trip, but HOT! We spent some thorough time exploring. My poor husband climbed up and down and all around carrying one toddler or another the whole scorching time.
    The ribbons and layers are vivid in these overcast conditions. Have you ever played with HDR editing? I've just recently dabbled a little - very striking with gray cloudy skies.

    Great photos, Linda - it truly is an awesome landscape.
    I love the family shot. And I took the same photo of a rattle snake sign, and I too was relieved to not come across any. :)

  27. Such a gorgeous place and amazing views! Great pictures !

  28. What a gorgeous place. My hubby has seen these but I have not had the pleasure. I really enjoyed all your gorgeous shots. I got a kick out of the family photo opt.

  29. I have got to stop looking at your pictures and make dinner, but I have to share a story. About 15 years ago our family of 4 drove to the Badlands from where we live (Wisc). When we got there I cried. At first my family thought I was probably car sick, but it wasn't that at all. I was overwhelmed by the beauty. it was one of my most favorite places to camp on our journey out West. Your shots are beautiful. Wish I had a good camera back then!


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