Badlands National Park
In Southwestern South Dakota lies a segment of North American geology that is utterly otherworldly. Badlands National Park protects 242,756 acres of sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles, and spires blended with the largest undisturbed mixed grass prairie in the United States. The complex canyon systems and striped hills have been eroded out of sandstone over thousands of years by the Cheyenne River and, more recently, modern rivers. Originally, the Badlands were a flood plain of sedimentary materials laid down by an influx of water. Over time, rivers and weather eroded down the sandy material into the fascinating shapes that are seen today. An amazing characteristic of the Badlands is that the park’s geology is not stagnant. The hills and canyons are constantly being eroded and deposited. No two visits will ever be the same as a result!
Due to the base of the Badlands being a flood plain, there are many fossils in the area of animals and plants caught in the waters of the flood; and then quickly laid down to fossilize. According to the Badlands National Park website, “The White River Badlands contain the largest assemblage of known ate Eocene and Oligocene mammal fossils.” Among the fossilized remains are rhinoceroses, rabbits, beavers, camels, and three-toed sloths.
This National Park can be reached with no difficulty by car. Interstate 90 (I-90) is located directly north of the park and provides access to the Badlands Loop Road. State Highway 44 provides an alternate, scenic access to the park and intersects Highway 377 in the town of Interior. Follow 377 two miles north to the Interior Entrance gate.
1) Why is it called the Badlands?
The Lakota people 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. In the early 1900's, French-Canadian fur trappers 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 badlands topography.
2) How long does it take to see the park?
It depends. To fully experience most of what the Badlands has to offer, it takes two days. To drive through the park and stop at a few overlooks, it takes about two hours. Here are a few highlights you won't want to miss & the minimum time needed. • Drive the Highway 240 Badlands Loop Road (60 minutes if you do not stop at any overlooks)
• Stop at a minimum of two scenic overlooks (30 minutes)
• Drive the Sage Creek Rim Road to see animals and additional views (30 to 60 minutes - depending on distance covered)
• Hike a trail or explore the backcountry (variable time/distances - 30 minutes to all day)
• Attend a ranger fossil talk (30 min) or guided walk (60 minutes)
• Stop at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center (60 minutes)
• Go to the White River Visitor Center (45 minutes - does not include travel time to the facility)
• Take in a sunset or sunrise (20 minutes)
• Tour the South Unit of the park (45 minutes to all day)
3) Where can I see bison?
Bison live in the Badlands Wilderness Area (west side of the North Unit). You can usually see Bison from the Sage Creek Rim Road. This is also a good place to see prairie dogs, bighorn sheep, and other animals.
4) What is the best place for sunset?
Try Pinnacles Overlook, Conata Basin Overlook, Bigfoot Pass Picnic Area, and the Norbeck Pass area. Walking east on the Castle Trail is a great way to view the changing light on the north side of the Badlands wall.
5) What is the best trail?
All of the trails are spectacular. You really can't go wrong! For a 1.5 mile moderate to strenuous trail, try the Notch Trail. For a longer more moderate hike try any section of the Castle Trail. Be sure to wear sturdy shoes and be prepared for current and predicted weather conditions.
For more information, please visit Badlands National Park
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