Our stop at Badlands, South Dakota was one of the most memorable stops of my childhood journey to the west. I remember feeling as though I had stumbled into a different land or had landed on a different planet. The barren landscape was almost lunar in its starkness and yet eerily beautiful in its simplicity.
I remember vividly climbing the rocks with my siblings and delighting over the prairie dog town.
I couldn’t wait to share the experience with Toby and the kids and see if reality would do justice to my memories of Badlands National Park.
The Badlands are desolation at its truest. There are no obstructions to mar the horizon. The land unfolds unceasingly until it meets the sky. It is a land close to the sun.
The Badlands sneak up on you. The monotonous grassland of the plains seem to stretch for miles when suddenly that ocean of prairie transforms into the rock faces of the Badlands.
We began our journey through Badlands National Park on the grassland side of the park, away from the rock formations. It was a beautiful drive in with very few other visitors.
Our first hint at arrival was the sound of chirping coming from outside the windows of the bus. We soon discovered the source of the noise. We had arrived in the land of prairie dogs.
Tyler was enthralled and could have spent all day starring through the chain link fence at those personable rodents.
The only way we managed to get him back in the bus was the promise that more prairie dos were ahead…thousands of them.
Our first stop was Robert’s Prairie Dog town: a vast open stretch of prairie, dotted with hundreds of prairie dogs mounds that lead to a labyrinth of tunnels beneath the ground.
The kids were delighted by the way the prairie dogs would stand watch on the raised dirt of the mounds and then scurry down the hole as they approached.
We couldn’t get over the shear number of prairie dogs that surrounded us.
After spending ample time oohing and aahing over the prairie dogs, we were back in the bus on our way to the barren rock formations synonamous with the Badlands.
But were weren’t done seeing wildlife. The kids soon learned not to turn away from the window because you never knew what wild animal might wander past while your back was turned.
Along our way we came across a herd of buffalo,
and a daring family of pronghorn sheep climbing the cliffs near the road.
The terrain became more and more magnificent the further into the park we drove.
The Badlands are composed of 160 square miles of prairie grasses, unearthly rockscapes and fossil beds.
In those fossil beds the Badlands preserve the world’s greatest fossil beds of animals from the Oligocene Epoch of the Age of Mammals. Once much wetter than today, the area was home to saber-toothed cats, miniature camels and horses, and even gigantic rhinoceros-like beasts called titanotheres.
In the visitor center we were able to watch paleontologists work to excavate fossils from chunks of rock found in the Badlands. The kids loved being able to watch them work, up close, and ask them questions.
We soon found ourselves in the terrain that the Badlands is known for. It is so unearthly unique that it felt as though we had stepped onto a movie set. Surely this couldn’t be real. It caused all of us to pause and acknowledge was a mighty and artistic Father in Heaven we have, to create something so incredible.
We decided to check out the views up close and left the comfort of the bus for some climbing and exploring.
We walked trails and let the kids climb the rocks. They loved it and it was so much fun to watch them delight in an experience that brought me such joy 20 years ago.
After spending the afternoon exploring Badlands National Park we drove into Rapid City, South Dakota. This will be home base for the next few days as we explore all that Rapid City has to offer. The starkness of the Badlands were a shocking contrast to the Black Hills of South Dakota that we find ourselves camping in now. It is hard to believe such different lands can exist only miles apart. The Black Hills are stunning and we can’t wait to explore them more fully.
Next stop: Bear Country USA and Fort Hays Chuck Wagon Dinner