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.
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.
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.
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.
Sharing with: Our World Tuesday.