A Journey through Badlands National Park, South Dakota

The more we travel, the more I am in awe of the wondrous beauty of this big wide world. While so many of us yearn to globetrot to faraway and exotic destinations or endlessly explore the famed cities and romantic countryside and small towns of Europe, we often forget there is so much to discover in our own backyard. I remember visiting the Grand Canyon several years ago and standing in amazement at the sheer scale of the canyon and the variegated colors in the rock formations. And then, we captured a brilliant sunset at one of the best viewing points and watched as the sun slowly descended behind the canyon turning the sky into a fiery shade of orange. This was a dramatic moment and an image I’ll never forget.

Traveling in our own Backyard

This year, while we did travel across the pond a few times and headed to the Caribbean and Mexico, we also visited places in the western part of the United States that were new destinations to me. The cities of: Bend, Oregon; Boise, Idaho; and Rapid City, South Dakota, as well as smaller towns in California, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and South Dakota all left a lasting impression. We also experienced the allure of the vast and rugged wilderness of The Last Frontier in Alaska as we traveled from Fairbanks to Anchorage. In addition, we made a return trip to Glacier Country in the northwest corner of Montana, a place that captured my heart almost two years ago. I’ve become fascinated with the wide-open spaces, majestic mountain ranges, clear air and big skies, small towns, and a simpler way of life as we’ve traveled the back roads and byways through these states. There’s something inspiring about each with their unique beauty.

So, if you were to ask me which destination or trip stood out as a favorite, I’m not sure I’d have an answer. They are all so different and captivating, but there is one that was the biggest and most unexpected surprise of all – South Dakota.

We’ll be chronicling our travels to many of these destinations in the coming months and you can also find our latest articles on U.S. News & World Report, but I wanted to share a bit of history and images from one of the places that made South Dakota so intriguing – Badlands National Park.

Badlands National Park – One of America’s Legendary Landscapes

The highlight of driving through and stopping at various points of this 244,000-acre park is to marvel at the mystical moonscape-like landscapes of geologic deposits and eroded pinnacles, buttes, and spires that stretch as far as the eye can see.

The park’s website gives this background on the history of these formations:

“The Badlands were formed by the geologic forces of deposition and erosion. Deposition of sediments began 69 million years ago when an ancient sea stretched across what is now the Great Plains. After the sea retreated, successive land environments, including rivers and flood plains, continued to deposit sediments. Although the major period of deposition ended 28 million years ago, significant erosion of the Badlands did not begin until a mere half a million years ago. Erosion continues to carve the Badlands buttes today. Eventually, the Badlands will completely erode away.”

The Door Trail of the Doors and Windows Trailhead, where we were able to hike across the formations, can only be described as otherworldly. I’ve never seen anything like this formed over time by nature. Some of the chalk-like and porous, petrified formations crumble with even the gentlest touch; definitive evidence that they will eventually disappear.

In sharp contrast to these geologic deposits is the mixed-grass prairie ecosystem that lies between the shorter grasses in the west to the waist-high grasses in the east where many animals roam free, including bison, bighorn sheep, mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk, mountain lions, Black-footed ferrets, and the pesky little prairie dog that seems to dig-out cavernous homes at just about every foot. The largest prairie of its kind in the United States, it’s also one of the world’s richest fossil beds with the legacy of Tyrannosaurus rex, Stegosaurus, and Brontosaurus in its layers of earth and the prehistoric seabed. Ancient mammals such as the rhino, horse, and saber-toothed cat also once roamed this area.

Badlands National Park has one of the designated Night Sky Programs with the National Park Service. On clear nights, the park is one of the best places in the country to view the night sky with more than 7,500 stars twinkling across what appears to be an infinite sky. Stargazers will immediately recognize the Milky Way and also be able to view the planets, moons, star clusters, nebulae, satellite fly-overs, and even the orbit of the International Space Station.

If you have been bitten by the wanderlust bug and are in search of a place to visit close to home, then head west to South Dakota. If your travel plans are flexible, consider visiting in the fall, as we did, or in late spring, to avoid the summer crowds at the major destinations and attractions. Enjoying this majestic scenery in solitude is what makes it all that more spectacular.


Stay tuned for more western adventures in South Dakota. In the meantime, for more information and special events in the park, refer to the Badlands National Park website.

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