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Badlands National Park, South Dakota, USA

Badlands National ParkBeing a frequent visitor of the beautiful Black Hills one gets used to meeting travelers that are excited to tour and experience all of the unique attractions and natural wonders of this special area.

They all are usually looking for the best local tips of must-see attractions, awe-inspiring views, breathtaking parks and mouth-watering local cuisine to enjoy during their visit.

At some point in the conversation, recommendnng a trip through Badlands National Park is only logical.

The experience is similar to what you might see if you landed on the moon - the Badlands just feel so foreign and misplaced to the casual observer.

Out of nowhere, the scenery instantly changes into harsh terrain of heavily eroded, intricate mazes of narrow ravines, v-shaped gullies, sharp ridges, buttes, and colorful pinnacles. The natural question then is usually, "Why are they called the Badlands?"

The Lakota Native Americans were the first to call this place "mako sica" or "land bad - Extreme temperatures, lack of water, and the exposed rugged terrain led to this name.

French-Canadian fur trappers also called it "les mauvais terres pour traverse," or "bad lands to travel through." Today, the term ‘badlands’ has a more geologic definition.

Badlands form when soft sedimentary rock is extensively eroded in a dry climate. The park's typical scenery of sharp spires, gullies, and ridges is a premier example of this badlands topography.

Badlands National ParkBecause floods and winds have swept away so much of the soil and rock in badlands areas, dinosaur and other kinds of fossils often can be seen.

Badlands National Park is home to the richest Oligocene epoch fossilbed in the world. Fossil remains of ancient horses, sheep, rhinoceroses, and pigs have been found here.

Even though by definition badlands contain very little vegetation, some plants are found in South Dakota's Badlands - primarily prairie grasses. In fact, the South Dakota Badlands are the largest protected mixed grass prairie land in the United States.

A visit to Badlands National Park can be as intensive as you desire. The scenic byway can allow travelers beautiful views of the park from the comfort of their vehicle.

For others looking for a chance to burn off some energy, pull over and enjoy a hike on the Notch Trail – an adventurous 1.5 mile hike up a badlands canyon to an elevated overlook with sensational views.

With over 244,000 acres, you are sure to enjoy some extremely enjoyable times in the Badlands!

The 244,000-acre national park preserves a naturally excavated landscape revealing the Earth's history.

Rock layers that stacked up over about 75 million years began eroding a half-million years ago, sculpted into channels and canyons by the Cheyenne and White rivers.

Sod-covered buttes represent the Ice Age-era prairie, where ancient hunters left behind bison bones and arrowheads up to 12,000 years old.

badlands-national-park Badlands National ParkTo the Lakota Soiux, the area was a seasonal hunting ground for buffalo, animals that again inhabit the park, a remarkably still preserve that teems with life provided you slow down to see it.

Bighorn sheep, prairie dogs and pronghorn are just a few of the endemic prairie species that visitors can witness on foot or by car.

At sunset and sunrise, the vivid hues of mineral deposits in the rocks radiate warmth. Overnight, countless stars pierce the dark night sky.

Whether because of time of day, or eons past, change is a motif central to the Badlands, still eroding under nature's forces by about an inch a year.

The park is divided into two sections: the main North Unit and the largely roadless and inaccessible Stronghold Unit, located within the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in the park's southern section.

Driving is one of the most popular ways to see the park, and routes such as the Badlands Loop Road (Highway 240) are well-marked. Park entry costs $30 per car - $15 if you enter by foot or by bike.

Think of the Badlands National Park as remote and prepare accordingly. You can access free public Wi-Fi in the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, the main visitors center about eight miles into the park from the Northeast Entrance — one of three main entrances, all in the North Unit.

But expect spotty cellular service elsewhere. Neighboring Cedar Pass Lodge serves as Badlands National Park's only commercial hub, with a restaurant, gift shop and snacks for sale.

Restrooms are available here as well as in the park's two visitors centers, campgrounds and picnic area. The lodge, visitors centers and restrooms are fully wheelchair accessible.

Badlands National ParkCome prepared with ample supplies of water; you'll find few places to refill water bottles. This is especially important if you go hiking; the Park Service recommends two quarts per person for every two hours of hiking.

Also bring your own food, sunscreen, hat and sunglasses. Sturdy hiking boots will help with footing on some of the looser trails and also protect you from cactus spines and, possibly, snake bites.

That said, you don't have to be an outdoors expert or hiking pro to enjoy the park. In addition to scenic drives and turnouts, there are easy short hikes of less than one mile and one fully accessible boardwalk trail as well as wooden boardwalks at most scenic overlooks, which makes them accessible to all visitors.

The Badlands has no namesake hotel or even many other services — but with little commercial fanfare to get in the way it is easy to appreciate its ancient geological, Native American and homesteading past.

For the closest experience to nature, try camping. In addition to backcountry camping for the super experienced, Badlands National Park offers two campgrounds. The primitive, first-come-first-served Sage Creek Campground in the park's northwest has 22 sites for free, vault toilets, picnic benches and bison trails.

For running water and electricity, opt for the Cedar Pass Campground, adjacent to Cedar Pass Lodge, where you'll find RV and tent camping sites with shaded picnic tables.

Two sites are fully wheelchair accessible but most of the terrain around the campsites is accommodating. The lodge also rents 26 pine-paneled cabins with mini-refrigerators, microwaves and deck chairs perfect for gazing at the night sky.

Badlands National ParkJust south of the park, at Circle View Ranch, check into cozy B&B accommodations on a 2,800-acre working cattle ranch. For more adventure, book the property's Hamm Homestead Cabin, built in 1880.

It's still without running water and electricity, and you'll have to bring your own bedding, water and camp supplies, but the experience on the edge of the White River is 19th-century authentic.

You'll also find motels and chain hotels — including Econo Lodge and Best Western properties — in the gateway town of Wall on the park's far north side.

You just may have heard of the tiny town of Wall (population less than 1,000), Badlands National Park's chief northern gateway and named for the rock-wall formation that runs across the park.

Before you get there: Billboards on Interstate 90 touting 'free ice water' have been pulling in traffic to Wall Drug since 1936.

Originally a drugstore, it's now a tourist attraction — thronged in summer by up to 20,000 visitors a day — with a splash park, Western art gallery-cum-restaurant and a mall selling everything from cowboy boots to mounted Jackalope.

It's a very touristy place, but must-visit experience complete with homemade donuts and five-cent cups of coffee.

For more to do, consider staying in Rapid City, the state's second-largest city with 75,000 residents, an hour's drive northwest of the park.

It's also a gateway to the Black Hills region — home to scenic Custer State Park and three more national park areas — providing a convenient perch between BNP and Mount Rushmore National Memorial.

Badlands National ParkThe rugged beauty of the Badlands draws visitors from around the world. These striking geologic deposits contain one of the world's richest fossil beds.

Ancient horses and rhinos once roamed here. The park's 244,000 acres protect an expanse of mixed-grass prairie where bison, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, and black-footed ferrets live today.

Badlands National Park is home to many resilient creatures, including some of the most endangered species in North America. To survive the bitter winters and searing summers of the Great Plains, you need a good plan.

The wildlife of the park have arrived at many ingenious solutions to the problems of exposure, heat, cold, and drought.

The Buffalo faced the hardest challenge from the insane behavior of humans.

There are many names for the American Bison. Scientifically, the plains bison subspecies found in Badlands National Park are of the genus Bison, of the species bison, and the subspecies bison. If you ask a wildlife biologist, these animals are called Bison bison bison!

They are most often called buffalo. The word buffalo is derived from the French “bœuf,” a name given to bison when French fur trappers working in the US in the early 1600s saw the animals.

The word bœuf came from what the French knew as true buffalo, animals living in Africa and Asia. Although this name was a mix-up of two different animals, many people still know bison as buffalo today.

Badlands National ParkAnother name for these animals is “tatanka.” Tatanka is the Lakota word for bison. Bison are incredibly important in Lakota culture; the Lakota are traditionally nomadic and would have spent their lives following bison before Euro-Americans settled the West.

Another word for bison in Lakota is “pte.” The Lakota are sometimes known as pte oyate, meaning “buffalo nation.”

How many bison have lived in the US? - Bison were once massively abundant in the American landscape. Their natural range extended from Canada to Mexico and from New York to Oregon.

Scientists and historians estimate that there were at least 30 million bison roaming the country before Euro-American settlement of the West.

Before Euro-American expansion into the West, these millions of bison were a major part of life in Lakota culture. The Lakota people lived as nomads, following herds of bison and hunting them when necessary.

Different parts of a bison supplied everything the Lakota needed – food, clothes, blankets, knives, fuel – and every part of the animal was put to use once it had been killed.

Bison also played - and continue to play, an important spiritual role in Lakota life, appearing in many oral histories and spiritual narratives.

When settlers expanded into the American West, these animals nearly disappeared. Major hunting of bison began in 1800 and increased with time as legislation like the Dawes Act and Homesteading Acts passed.

While the Lakota utilized every part of the animal, this systematic hunting resulted in a lot of waste – Euro-Americans used only hides, which could be sold as robes or rugs, and tongues, which could be sold as a delicacy.

Badlands National ParkAlthough this hunting was often for sport, there was a primary motive: the US government wanted to end Native American ways of life, and one way to do that was to kill off bison, which were central to the culture and well-being of most plains tribes.

Plummeting from a previous population of 30 million, there were an estimated 325 wild bison left in the country by 1884.

Luckily, a few conservationists had the foresight to protect the last of this species, and their efforts in the late 19th century are the reason why about 20,000 bison now roam public lands. The Native Americans were not quite as lucky. They ended up prisoners on the least desirable of their lands - what was left of them...

Badlands National Park is an otherworldly destination that offers visitors an immersive experience of the natural beauty and geologic uniqueness of the region.

The rugged canyons, towering spires, and colorful rock formations create an awe-inspiring landscape that is unlike anything else in the world.

National Park Service Website



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