A huge natural barrier 100-miles long runs through the plains of South Dakota, called the Badlands Wall. It's characterized by jagged peaks, rugged cliffs, and tortuous gullies formed by the force of water that has been carving away at the cliffs for the past half million years. It continues to erode away an inch (or more in some places) each year.
The origin of the name? The Lakota called this place mako sica translated as "land bad." The French trappers that arrived in the early 1800s called the area les mauvaises terres a traverser also meaning "bad lands."
Hundreds of fossilized bones have been found (and continue to be discovered) in this area that was once an inland ocean and then a swampy marsh. Today, bison, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, and prairie dogs live in the park. We saw bison and pronghorns in the distance, and, of course, many prairie dogs as there is a huge town very close to the road
Approximately a million visitors come to the park annually to view the wonders of the landscape and the beauty of the animals.
In 1939 this area became a national park. In 1976 the South (Stronghold) Unit, land owned by the Oglala and of their most sacred places, was acquired and is now preserved. The final Ghost Dance took place on Stronghold Table in 1890 a few weeks before 150 Lakota were massacred at Wounded Knee (which is 25 miles south).
We drove the Badlands Loop, a 30-mile highway, that provides incredible views of the classic Badlands landscape. We entered at the Northeast Entrance off of SD 240 and the first overlook, Badlands Wilderness Overlook, is a "must see." Honestly, it took my breath away!
We continued along the Badlands Loop road stopping at a number of overlooks along the way.
Yellow (and pink) mounds through Dillon Pass.
The Fossil Exhibit trail has interesting exhibits of nautical and ancient vertebrae. This is a stop where we saw kids and adults alike climbing all over the small peaks and sandy soil.
John did some off-trail exploring here. Thankfully, no rattlesnake encounters.
Loved how the layers of rock are so clearly visible in this area.
After hearing about this place my entire life, it was awesome to see this landscape in person. There are two campgrounds in the park and overnight backpacking is permitted. Also, there are various ranger-led activities such as nature walks/hikes, evening (star gazing) programs, and fossil demonstrations.
Admission is $15/car. Of course, we have John's Senior Pass ($10 for life) that gets us in for free. It was about 100 miles each way from where we are staying near Custer, but absolutely worth it. This place, like Rocky Mountain National Park or the Grand Canyon, needs to be seen in person. The photos do not do it justice.