I am finally getting around to posting my experience from the Badlands in South Dakota. Back in July, my daughter and I took a trip out to Yellowstone. The plan was to use Badlands as a checkbox type thing where we could just stay the night as a half way point for us, but also to visit another national park. We arrived just before sunset and spent just a little time seeing things, then hurriedly set up our campsite for the night. While she loved the park, I personally found it absolutely stunning both from a geology and landscape perspective, but also from a wildlife perspective.
What is Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park is located in Southwest South Dakota and covers nearly 400 square miles. That area clearly shows why the park has the name Badlands. The terrain is rough. Approaching the park, you start noticing the prairie falls off into a plain covered in buttes and deep valleys. It’s a complete change of landscape from everything around. They are formed as the soft sedimentary rock is eroded away. When this happens, layers revealing tens of thousands of years are made visible.
Just the beauty of the Badlands wasn’t the entire reason I came back. Toward the end of August, after months of struggling with the stress at my job, I decided that I needed to head back to find myself. Photography had always been something I enjoyed, but the Yellowstone trip reinforced the idea that not only did I want to do photography, I needed to explore. I have been fighting the urges to go see what there is to be seen of most of my adult life. In early September, my mental health had finally deteriorated to a point where I had the realization that I needed to do something. I was in a really dark place and considering doing things that, well…would leave my daughter without a father. So, I quit.
I won’t go into more on all the reasons why, that can be found on this post (I QUIT). But, after I quit I made the choice to head back to the Badlands to be alone for a week in nature and exploring, just like my heart has always wanted to do. It was amazing and I am 100% sure that I will be doing far, far more in the future. The Badlands with its harsh outside contains so much beauty. It’s craggy and rough, but those chasms and shear drops give texture to the landscape. Without the thing that makes the Badlands so “bad”, there would be no stunning beauty and it would be just another open field. I spent most of my mornings and evenings pushing myself to not sleep in or head to bed early so I could capture the sun illuminating those very features that give the Badlands all its character. The last morning I was there, I was treated to the most spectacular sunrise I have ever seen. The warmth of the sun against the cool rainy morning was calling to me as a metaphor for my life. I was hurting, and still am. However, the glow from the sun rising gave me hope. It let me know that things can be better, and the warmth of who I really am is still there hiding somewhere.
Badlands National Park is also filled with a huge array of wildlife. Also on the last morning, after the spectacular sunrise that helped me to know it was OK, I was caught a little of guard when a bighorn sheep crept up behind me to visit. He was simply grazing on a small hill behind me, it’s just that the hill was no more than about 50ft from me. So, I calmly asked to take a few photos of him. He simply looked at me, then continued grazing.
While at the park, I also saw hares, bison, pronghorns, and of course prairie dogs. I was under direct orders by my 10 year old daughter to photograph the prairie dogs for her since they are of course very silly and cute. Well, by rodent standards they are cute I suppose. My point is that while Badlands to us humans is pretty rough and inhospitable, there are so many creatures that call this place home.
My bigger point with all of this is that I rushed. Not only on this trip, but in life as well. I fought to get farther along in life from a financial standpoint. Just like I rushed through the Badlands on my way to another destination. I missed so much, just like I have missed so much in my life. It’s time for me to slow down and focus on who I really am. I want to spend more time showing my daughter the beauty that is all around us, and maybe I can get to a point where I can show her the beauty that used to be me when I was passionate about things.
That’s my goal now. Make my heart happy and in the process help those around me be a little happier too.
Thanks for reading,