South Dakota: Badlands NP

A rugged, harsh but beautiful landscape carved by nature

Location: Hours: Fees:
Ben Reifel Visitor Center 25216 Ben Reifel Road
Interior, SD 57750
Ben Reifel Visitor Center, is open daily all year, except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day A seven-day pass is $20.00 per vehicle or $10.00 per person. Bicyclist / pedestrian fees are also $10.00 per person. A seven-day pass for a motorcycle is $10.00.

The Lakota gave this land its name, “Mako Sica,” meaning “land bad.” Extreme temperatures, lack of water, and the exposed rugged terrain led to this name. In the early 1900’s, French-Canadian fur trappers called it “les mauvais terres pour traverse,” or “bad lands to travel through.”

Located in southwestern South Dakota, Badlands National Park consists of 244,000 acres of sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles and spires blended with the largest protected mixed grass prairie in the United States. It is desolation at its truest, where you can look for miles and see no sign of civilization.

This land has been so ruthlessly ravaged by wind and water that it has become picturesque. The Badlands are a wonderland of bizarre, colorful spires and pinnacles, massive buttes and deep gorges. Erosion of the Badlands reveals sedimentary layers of different colors: purple and yellow (shale), tan and gray (sand and gravel), red and orange (iron oxides) and white (volcanic ash)

A visit to National Park visitors’ centres has become de rigour for our tour and Jack and Emily love the Junior Ranger programmes which have become a part of their education. This time we learn about the formation of the Badlands – sedimentary deposits that were laid down when a shallow sea filled the interior of the USA. As this sea retreated and finally disappeared these sedimentary deposits hardened but were eroded over the years by the elements leaving the structures that are now found in the Badlands. We also learn about the wildlife – in particular the endangered black footed ferret which has been re-introduced back into the Badlands. Despite the barren landscape there is a surprising amount of biodiversity. The Badlands are home to the largest mixed grass prairie in the National Park System. Bison, pronghorn, mule and whitetail deer, prairie dogs, coyotes, butterflies, turtles, snakes, bluebirds, vultures, eagles and hawks are just some of the wildlife that can often be seen by visitors.

To complete our visit we take the scenic drive through the park, which takes us back towards Rapid City. The drive takes about 60 minutes but you will want to stop and admire the landscapes and takes some hikes – some of which are only about one and a half miles. The steep spiraling peaks and precipitous canyons provide the most spectacular backdrop for this ride, and there are plenty of scenic overviews that provide endless perspectives of this natural wonder. For those who haven’t seen the Badlands you need to hurry as they will be worn down (they are eroding a few feet per year) to some very unimpressive undulating mounds in the next 500,000 years or so – these peaks are ever-changing through the impacts of erosion.

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