In Photos: The Wonders of South Dakota's Badlands
The Badlands are a vast and awe-inspiring piece of true American beauty. Persistently rugged, and seductively unforgiving, they meander through various states, coming to a head in South Dakota’s Badlands National Park. The recently re-introduced buffalo roam strong in herds running into the hundreds. They are joined by bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, and even the black-footed ferret, our country’s most endangered land mammal.
The dry terrain consists mostly of sedimentary rocks and clay soil, shaped uniquely through extensive erosion by water and wind. This makes for seemingly endless stretches of sharp red mountain ridges carving up the vast plains. In certain parts, red rocks make way for winding roads up the more hospitable ranges that are home to a small community of South Dakotans who truly like to get away. Highly recommended for nature enthusiasts, vista addicts, and anyone who’d like to look through the eyes of the westbound settlers, buffalo in tow.
Bighorns are sheep, but not the fluffy kind. They can be found grazing majestically in small herds through the plains, and are more than capable to climb a mountain or two if needed.
Picturesque sunsets are set in shoebox theatre-like landscapes layered with distant mountains and plains.
Large trees are speckled through the far-stretching plains, and are made to look small by their surroundings and distance from each other.
Some of the most impressive views are also the most disorienting. The size of the park is such that the same landscape might repeat as far as the eye can see, and then some.
The reintroduction of buffalo into the region has been a multi-decade project that came into reality just a few years ago. Their slow pace and confidence should not be mistaken for a docile way of life, and visitors should make sure to admire from a distance.
The large males stand guard when a herd uses manmade roads to pass between large sections of planes. Such a majestic presence, especially after a rain shower when steam created by their body heat floats out of their fur and into the surrounding air.
On a rainy day, the dry plains will take on a different aesthetic. Pine trees will seem lush, and the grass plains remarkably hospitable.
The bright yellow line that marks the paved roads is reflected in the endless fields of sunflowers that can be found through the national park.
Large bee colonies can be found near each sunflower field, kept up by local beekeepers.
As the landscape dries, darker colors will slowly fade and misty views clear up.
Dark brown hills slowly return to a faded red, as vegetation moves slowly to greens and yellows as the sun intensifies.
Much of the water erosion that shaped the landscape was the result of ancient oceans holding court in the area. More recently dried up rivers and streams provide modest accents amongst the more dramatic and large scale.