I’m not a geologist or a paleontologist and I don’t hike or camp. But when I drove into Badlands National Park I was hooked on the rugged other-planet-looking world of southwestern South Dakota.
People are simply drawn to the unusual beauty of the Badlands, and for folks like me who like to see the world through their windshield, there’s the Highway 240 Loop Road stretching into the national park between Interstate-90 exits 110 and 131.
As the byway follows the natural contours of the Badlands’ rugged landscape, it also weaves in and out of the native grasslands. The park contains the largest, protected mixed grass prairie in the United States.
Along the 31.5 mile byway, there are 14 designated overlooks allowing visitors to safely stop and get an up close view of the sharply eroded spires and buttes — often striped in different colors.
According to park literature, these geologic deposits contain one of the world’s richest fossil beds. Ancient mammals including the rhino, three-toed horse and saber-toothed cat once roamed here. Today visitors might see bighorn sheep, deer, pronghorn, prairie dogs, coyotes, fox and black-footed ferrets.Authorized by Congress in 1929, Badlands National Monument was established to preserve the scenery, to protect the fossils and wildlife, and to conserve the mixed-grass prairie. The Badlands was designated a national park in 1978 and it is overseen by the National Park Service.
Make sure and stop at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center on the Badlands Loop Road which features educational exhibits, a park video and a large gift shop. National Park Service Rangers are also on hand to answer any questions about the park and its history.
In the Badlands South Unit — managed by the Oglala-Lakota Tribe — is the White River Visitor Center on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
Many visitors choose to stay longer than a few hours in the park and have several options including hiking, horseback riding, attending one of the many ranger programs, camping or staying at the Cedar Pass Lodge.
No matter how long you visit, the Badlands is sure to leave you with an inspiring vacation memory.
For more information check the website at http://www.nps.gov/badl/index.htm.