My first trip out to the Badlands in South Dakota was in 2021. Originally it was meant to serve as a midpoint to camp overnight on my way out to Yellowstone. Once I arrived, it was clear that I should have set more time to visit. We did stop again on our way back, but just for a little after we stayed at Devil’s Tower the night before. Since we were planning on taking a little extra time to get back, we spend a little more time there. That just reinforced the notion that I needed to come back.
So I went again later that year, and again in 2022. The most recent trip was the most rewarding of the three. I had a mission. I wanted to discover myself, but also explore the park and its wonders. I also wanted to use the trip to push my landscape photography skills farther. I am working on a book project that some day will showcase the effects of climate change on our national parks.
The park seems almost alien in the landscape. The prairie that stretches across much of the plains is littered with canyons and spires, eroded by rain and wind. The area is very loose sedimentary rock formed from the deposition of material from the rockies and black hills for millions of years. You can see the layers in the above image. Many scientists, including those with the USGS and NPS, think that the park itself will be eroded away in around 500,000 years based on current erosion rates. You can read more about the geology of the park here on the NPS site.
While the terrain for us is nearly inhospitable, there are many animals that call the park home and are suiting for just such a place. One is the big horn sheep, of which you can see throughout the park. They thrive on the rocky cliffs and gorges that make up the park.
The American Bison and the Prairie Dog have a mutually beneficial relationship in the park. The prairie dogs make holes and keep the ground “tilled up” which helps give the bison mud to wallow in. The bison also enjoy the better grass in the park, and since the bison help keep the grass shorter, the prairie dogs can see over the grass and don’t have to work so hard on maintaining it. It’s a win win. If you visit the park, a great place to start to see bison is over on the western end of the park near Roberts Prairie Dog town. Just keep following 240 through the park heading to wall. Right at Pinnacles Overlook, there is a road that heads left. Take that and follow it. You’ll find them.
I can’t wait to head back to the park. I had written in an old post on my website before I lost it, that the park was a lot like me. It’s rough and ugly, but once you get to know it a little bit, it’s actually pretty great. I’m probably not be nearly as great as the park, and that’s ok. In my future trips there, I will be hoping to photograph some baby bison, and maybe even get a photo of a burrowing owl. That’s another animal that has a symbiotic relationship with the prairie dogs. I will also be working to do some astrophotography while I am there as a practice for when I finally head out to the Utah 5.
Until the next adventure,
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