People told us we picked a great time to visit the Badlands. “You’ve come at a great time,” they’d say. But we didn’t get it. After all, we’d never been to the Badlands on any day before now.
But after the short trip from Wall Drug Store down I-90, we began to see what the buzz was about.
After an especially wet spring — “Most unusual,” people kept telling us — the grasslands were greener than ever, and wild mustard added ribbons of yellow to the verdant landscape. We felt lucky, very lucky, to be in Badlands National Park on what turned out to be an especially good day.
Badlands National Park, approximately 75 miles from Rapid City, can be accessed by taking Exit 131 off I-90 to enter the park at the Northeast Entrance. We recommend stopping at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center and afterwards following the Badlands Loop Road, a two-lane, paved surface through the North Unit of the park.
It comes as no surprise to those who have sought advice from the National Park rangers that rangers are the go-to people for information. They know where you are most likely to see wildlife, which roads are closed due to rock slides or flooding, and what not to miss even if you have to wait for a parking spot. We wanted to talk to the rangers first. And, as we expected, the Badlands rangers mapped out our day, stamped our Passports, and offered tips for short-term and longer term trips.
Notably, Badlands National Park can boast of having one of the most complete fossil accumulations in North America. This guy, of course, is a recent acquisition!
But other creatures, not made of concrete, may be lurking in the grass or beneath the undulating rocks.
Our greatest takeaway, however, from this national park is not the animals, but the panorama of the natural landscape: sharply eroded buttes of sandstone, limestone and volcanic ash against a contrasting mixed-grass prairie. For us, Badlands is one of the nation’s most interesting parks.
According to the Badlands National Park website, two processes have been at work for over 75 million years: 1) Deposition — the process of building up rock in a stacking process and 2) Erosion — rocks gradually wearing away, having begun 500,000 years ago by the Cheyenne and White Rivers. It’s these striations and layers of the formations, along with ripples caused by river erosion, that make this signature land known as Badlands an almost iconic sight.
After we parked at a picnic area, we took a close-up of the cracks and crazes of what appeared to be very tentative rock formations. When we returned home, we read that the rock really is eroding — about an inch every 10,000 years. (Still time to see the Badlands in your lifetime, though!)
Our whole trip through the Badlands consisted of driving, stopping (at almost every marked area), taking pictures, and standing in awe. We hardly spoke.
The sense of quiet, the raw beauty and majesty around each turn, and the sound of the wind let us know that there are greater powers at work in the world. We were just two tiny admirers standing on the precipice, aware of our smallness.
Badlands National Park is, for the most part, accessible for all travelers. If you have mobility issues, know that there is much you can see of the Badlands from your car. In addition, added walkways to some of the major formations assist travelers in their quest to view the hard-to-reach places.
We totally agreed with those who had congratulated us (as if we knew what we were doing!) on selecting an especially lovely spring for a visit to South Dakota’s national park. But we suspect that almost any day would be a good day to stand tall with the wind at your back staring out at nature’s beauty at the Badlands.
By discovering nature, you discover yourself.Maxime Lagase
See the USA,
Rusha & Bert