Please don’t be put off by the name. Badlands National Park, just fifty miles from Rapid City, ND, is one good place to visit. The park consists of 244,000 acres of rugged beauty. Striated rock formations such as cones, ridges, buttes, and amazing precipices dot the landscape, giving it a desolate, almost alien beauty. Geologists estimate that it has taken between 26 to 75 million years to create these wonders, but that creation is still ongoing. A single thunderstorm, with its wind and rain, can create a new formation shadowed against the sky, or disclose a fossil hidden from view for millions of years.
When the first Lakota came across the landscape, they dubbed it “malo sica”, meaning “land bad”. But they were certainly impressed by the wealth of game. The area remained a rich Native American hunting ground for over 11,000 years, and is still of great spiritual significance to them. The park is rich in wildlife, certainly, such as buffalo, pronghorn antelope, mule deer, and the pervasive prairie dogs, with their underground burrows.
The sights to behold in the park are readily available to all. The Badlands Loop Road, highway 240, is a thirty mile circle around the park. Start your adventure at the Ben Reifel Visitors Center, located on this road at the Cedar Pass Lodge. Here you can browse through the bookstore, check out educational materials and programs on offer, or pick up a souvenir or two. And there are quite a few programs to check out! Join one of the park rangers on a tour. You can learn about the geology, the history. And even find a fossil. Fossil hunting is allowed in the park, but you must look, but not take. All fossils must be left in situ.
The Badlands Loop is ideal for cruising the park, with a different view around every turn. There are more than 30 stops along the route, offering terrific photo ops. If more wildlife is what you’re looking for, take the Sage Creek Rim Road for the opportunity to get some amazing shots – photographs, of course. The ark itself is open twenty-four hours, so you might want to stay after nightfall to experience the starlit sky. Do it on your own, or sign up for a ranger-led Night Sky Program. Telescopes and lecture are provided.
There is a wide array of accommodation in the park, ranging from the primitive campsites available at Sage Creek, to the more convenient ones with electrical hook-ups, running water, flush toilets and covered picnic tables offered at Cedar Pass. Lodging is available at Cedar Pass Lodge.