I never thought erosion could be interesting…
Then I went to The Badlands National park in South Dakota where the slow change brought to the earth by millions of years of wind and rain has created a stunningly beautiful landscape straight out of a 1960s sci-fi movie.
Driving across South Dakota you notice the land changing all the time.
On the eastern side the state is very hilly and lush, then it flattens out and becomes a giant farm with vast grassland, fields of corn, paddocks full of cows and dusty towns as far as the eye can see.
Then the flat land runs out suddenly – and you’ve arrived at The Badlands.
Poor Carmen was very sick with food poisoning as we explored the park but we made sure to do as many activities as we could, though I did have to hike on my own.
Here are 5 things to see in The Badlands
1. Sunrise and sunset
On our first day in The Badlands we camped at a site with a magnificent view of one of the highest bluffs and as the sun set we sat in our folding chairs and watched the show. The light painted the rocks deepening shades of orange until the sky turned purple.
The next morning we woke very early and Carmen pointed out how beautiful the rising sun looked.
But we both fell back asleep and missed it…
The next day I made sure to set an alarm and trekked out into a valley all by myself.
I heard coyotes howling as the sun stirred and felt very alone! But when the light burst up from the ridge line and bathed the rocks I was treated to a view I will never forget.
2. Hike up a bluff
Don’t let the signs warning you to beware of rattlesnakes scare you.
The Badlands National Park is quite unique in that you are allowed to wander pretty much wherever you want as long as you are respectful and don’t do anything stupid, like sticking your arm into a dark crevice ( where rattlesnakes like to live).
There are several walking tracks but because of the difficult terrain the paths are more like suggestions.
I chose a path that snaked up a rocky bluff and led me through a few tight spots where the ground was loose and the rocks were sharp.
But I made it to the top and was very glad I’d pushed myself to do it. The view looked like the African savannah or something from an artist’s wild imagination and I got some great photos.
3. Go to a Ranger talk
Just about every night in the summer time Rangers from the US Parks Service give talks on the animals, topography and history of The Badlands.
We were right on time for a talk about the night sky but a lick of low lying cloud spoiled that. So the Ranger switched to another topic that she knew plenty about – owls.
She showed us all of the species of owl that live in The Badlands and also tried to dispel a few of the myths about these birds.
The funniest was that people often think they can turn their heads in a complete circle; but she explained that they are simply able to snap their necks back and forth very quickly making it look like what the girl does in the film The Exorcist.
4. Visit Wall Drug
You have little choice in this. Whether you drive in from the west or the east by the time you reach The Badlands you will have seen so many signs urging you to visit Wall Drug that you just have to go!
Wall Drug is a sprawling store that sells everything from food, books and coffee to souiveniers and T-shirts.
But it’s unique in the fact that it’s been around since 1931 from when there were only 300 people living in the small town of Wall.
The coolest thing on display are black and white photographs of the American Indians and early settlers who lived in this part of the world.
5. Look for Buffalo
The grasslands of America were once teeming with huge herds of buffalo but they were hunted to the brink of extinction. In recent years there has been a huge effort to rekindle their stocks and tracts of grassland have been set aside for them to graze on unmolested.
A section of the Buffalo Gap National Grassland is right outside the park limits of The Badlands and if you drive to one end of the loop road you can cut through it.
We were lucky to see one of these huge beasts, but made sure to stay in the car.
Apparently they can be very dangerous as well as delicious.
As always we’d love to read your comments!
Have you been to The Badlands? What did you think? Or would you like to go?
What you need to know:
How to get there – Badlands National Park is located 75 miles east of Rapid City, South Dakota. It’s best to get there by car.
How much – We paid $15 for a 7 day pass for a vehicle. Individuals on foot (hikers) are $7 and motorcycles pay $10.
When to go – Any time though summer and spring is best.