Badlands National Park in South Dakota is one of the most underrated destinations in the United States. While driving from Detroit to Seattle, I decided to take a short detour off of the main highway and allow myself to explore this hidden gem. I’m so glad I did, as its beauty and magnificence quickly blew me away. This park truly has everything from striking geological formations to the Bighorn sheep living there. In this blog, I will share my journey through Badlands National Park and why it should be on your travel list.
Overview of Badlands National Park
Located in southwestern South Dakota, Badlands National Park spans over 244,000 acres of breathtaking landscapes. The park is known for its rugged terrain, colorful rock formations, and diverse wildlife. It was established as a national park in 1978 and has since become a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts, photographers, and nature lovers.
History of Badlands National Park
Before European settlers arrived on the Dakota prairies, this area’s Native American culture recognized the importance of this geological structure. The Lakota people called it “Mako Sica,” which means “land bad,” the Badlands’ rugged terrain and unforgiving weather were considered unfit for human habitation. Nevertheless, many Native American tribes, including the Sioux, have lived in and around this mystical land for thousands of years.
Later, when French fur traders encountered the area, they called it “les mauvaises terres à traverse, ” which translates to “bad lands to cross.” During the 1800s, European settlers began moving west for new opportunities. To the pioneers, the Badlands was an insurmountable barrier on their journey. The harsh weather and rough terrain made it impossible to settle or navigate.
Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States, was a passionate conservationist and visited Badlands National Park several times in his life. He was deeply moved by the rugged beauty of this land and worked towards preserving it for future generations.
In 1978, Badlands National Monument became Badlands National Park under President Jimmy Carter’s administration. Since then, it has become a haven for outdoor enthusiasts and photographers alike. The park’s creation was a joint effort between the National Park Service, the South Dakota State Historical Society, and the Oglala Sioux Tribe. The park’s territory includes the largest undisturbed mixed grass prairie in the United States.
The Unique Geology of Badlands National Park
The fascinating geology of Badlands National Park left me in awe. The park’s unique landscape tells a story of millions of years of erosion, deposition, and transformation of sediments and rocks. The makeup of the bands of stone in the cliffs is remarkable and truly one-of-a-kind. The colors of the Badlands’ sedimentary rock formations change throughout the day with the light. The canyon faces, ranging from rich browns and yellows to bright red, have a surreal appearance found in few places on Earth.
The Badlands has numerous geological formations such as canyons, ravines, gullies, and hoodoos. My favorites were the Hoodoos because it’s fun to say.
Hoodoos are tall and thin spires of rock that rise from the bottom of the arid drainage basins. Wind and water erosion forms These stunning geological features over time, creating unique shapes and patterns.
Badlands National Park boasts towering cliff walls that rise up to 250 feet, creating a dramatic and awe-inspiring landscape. These rocks offer a tangible connection to the park’s geological history, with colorful striations in layered sedimentary formations.
The road winds through cliffs and hoodoos, providing easy exploration of geological formations and breathtaking views.
One of the most exciting things to see while visiting Badlands National Park is the Bighorn sheep that call it home. These magnificent creatures are named for their massive, curved horns that can weigh up to thirty pounds.
Bighorn sheep are typically found on the park’s rolling hills, grazing on hardy mountain grasses and brushing against the rocky slopes. The Bighorn sheep are a symbol of the park’s wilderness and a testament to the park’s conservation efforts.
Once threatened by diseases introduced through contact with domestic sheep, their numbers dwindled dangerously low. The park’s management team initiated restoration programs that helped their population recover. Making the sighting of these magnificent creatures a testament to successful conservation efforts.
The Badlands National Park offers an ideal habitat for the Bighorn sheep. The park’s undulating topography and rocky slopes give the sheep excellent vantage points for detecting predators. The sparse vegetation offers a rich diet of grasses, sedges, and forbs that these animals prefer. The park’s semi-arid climate suits the Bighorn sheep’s rugged nature. They are built to withstand the park’s variable weather conditions, ranging from freezing winters to scorching summer heat.
In the face of adverse conditions, these magnificent creatures have adapted to their harsh environment, turning the “badlands” into a thriving ecosystem. Whether navigating cliffs or grazing in the valleys, the Bighorn is a quintessential part of the landscape and continues to enchant visitors.
Keep your eyes peeled while driving through the park, and you may spot a herd or two.
Image Gallary of Badlands National Park
More Information on Badlands National Park
For more information on planning your visit to Badlands National Park, including maps, camping sites, and fees, check out the official website of the National Park Service.
For information on the Geology of The Badlands – See Geologic Formations: How Badlands Buttes Came to Be
If you’re like me and are a photographer looking to capture the beauty of the United States, then a stop at Badlands National Park must be on your list. And when you drive the winding road through the park, wonder what the native people must have thought of this unique place.
In conclusion, you must make time to detour off the main road and visit Badlands National Park to create memories that will last a lifetime.
Where is Badlands National Park
The park is located in South Dakota, just south of the town of Wall (the home of the infamous “Wall Drugs” sign. Follow highway 240 south from I-90 to reach the eastern park entrance.