Badlands National Park preserves 242,756 acres of sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles and spires in southwestern South Dakota.
We love hiking the Badlands!
The southern Stronghold Unit is co-managed by the National Park Service and the Oglala Lakota tribe. You can see that unit on the horizon in this photo. Due to its remoteness and limited access, we did not visit that area.
While eating lunch we spotted some deer resting in the shade.
Archeological records indicate that Native Americans used this region as hunting grounds for 11,000 years. From the top of the Badlands, they could easily scan the area for wandering herds and potential enemies. If hunting was good, they might stick around into winter before returning to their villages along the Missouri River.
One of the great aspects of this park is visitors are allowed to hike off-trail just about anywhere. On two days we just set off into the Badlands wilderness and climbed on top of the eroded buttes for fantastic views. Can you spot Theresa in this photo? Click the image for a larger version.
The Badlands are eroding extremely fast on a geologic scale. Experts believe the Badlands have been eroding for only a half million years, and in another half million years they will all be gone.
About 75 million years ago this area was covered with a shallow sea that laid down very uniform layers which are rich in fossils. We were amazed how perfectly horizontal the layers were, especially compared to the jumble of layers we saw at Death Valley.
You cannot tell from a distance, but up close, the Badlands are so dry and crumbly it’s surprising they haven’t eroded away completely.
These male turkeys were doing a dance, unfurling their plumage, and gaggling up a storm to impress a nearby female turkey. Their display seemed to work, because she followed the group into the field.
The Roberts Prairie Dog Town sported an interesting mix of prairie dogs and bison. Some prairie dogs act as sentinels to warn others in their town of approaching threats. They stand up on their hind legs, stretch toward the sky, and let out a loud SQUEAK!
This impressive bison has already lost most of his winter fur coat. We’d often find large clumps of bison fur in the grass and stuck to the bark on trees.
We would just park our car along the road and start hiking down the ridge into the Badlands. The trick is to not get “cliffed out,” where you are stuck on the edge of a steep cliff with nowhere to go. Whenever we climb down, we always make sure we can climb back up the way we came so that we don’t get stuck.
Climbing the Badlands is fun but not always easy. We had to shimmy our way down this 30-foot high crack in the wall Jackie Chan-style. That’s not easy to do in a skirt, but Theresa is an expert!
In this photo, Theresa is standing in the Badlands wilderness. Our car is on the top of the 60-story ridge in the distance, and now we have to climb our way back out. It may seem counterintuitive, but fortunately climbing up is much easier than climbing down.
After the shallow sea that covered this area eventually drained, a jungle formed here about 65 million years ago. Chemicals from decaying jungle plants produced the distinct yellow soil.
It’s amazing to think that these dry, desolate Badlands were once a lush, tropical jungle!
The yellow color looked fake, as if someone had come through with a giant watercolor brush and soaked the hills in yellow paint.
About 37 million years ago, sediment from the west washed over the jungle. Eventually the jungle rebounded and converted the sediment into a red soil that you can see here.
Click on the photo above for a large panorama of the Badlands.