Badlands National Park


We have driven on the outskirts of the Badlands National Park several times over the years.  Usually while rushing from one side of it through to the other.  Usually on Interstate 90, which skirts the north side allowing only a distant view.  This year we chose to stay and look around a bit.  We were returning west, from our dog days of summer drive through the mid-west.

Not finding a campsite in Cedar Pass, we landed at a very nice KOA at Interior.  It was a bit of an oasis along the White River, several miles outside the park itself.  We had a nice base from which to explore the park.

At first view, I was struck with how those settling the west would have been thankful for the wide expanse of prairie that surrounds them.  And how the native inhabitants, the Arikara and the Lakota, would also be thankful for the shelter the land could provide.

Today it’s inhabitants, the bison, prairie dog, pronghorn, and the coyote thrive and survive.  We saw more diversity in wildlife during our stay here than since our visit to Alaska, over a year ago.

 Perhaps the most iconic, and certainly the largest is the American Bison.  We have seen bison in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and British Columbia.  They always impress.  The Badlands herd is maintained at about 1,000 head.  They are rounded up every fall, vetted and then culled to keep the herd manageable.  These surplus animals are first offered to the indigenous communities near the park.  We have managed to nearly exterminate them, and it is sobering to look at these vast herds today, and recall that they once filled the prairie.  There were so many animals that Grizzley, Wolves and Cougar were also common.  Today there are none to be found.

I love this photo in that it has the two keystone species of the western prairie.  The Bison and the Black Trailed Prairie Dog.  Both worked together to maintain a healthy ecosystem.

Another iconic species here is the Big Horn Sheep.  Another animal that we have seen throughout the west.  These here in the park are lean.  One wonders how they can survive in such a harsh environment.

Ewes and Lambs

The Boys Club

I always love seeing Pronghorn and they were plentiful in the park.  If you see Bison, the Pronghorn will be nearby.  We saw these guys on our drive on the Sage Creek Rim Road.


The apex predator here, at least for the prairie dog and the ground squirrel is the Coyote.  Watching this one hunt in the tall grass give you an idea why so many western indigenous people see the Coyote as the mischief maker.


The National Park Service call the Badlands the land of stone and light.  While true, it is so much more.  75 million years ago a shallow sea covered the Great Plains.  The Badlands are what remain of that sea bottom and the sedimentary layers that covered it all.  These layers of soil reveal the fossils of of past inhabitants who then tell the story of the land.  The land was formed by uplift of the ancestral Rocky Mountains and then by erosion.

Our exploration was limited to the North unit of the park.  The South unit lies inside of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and was closed.  The native people having felt, as they so often have, the brunt of this virus.  We also mostly explored by car, allowing access to much of the park.

Our travel in the park took us along the Badlands Loop Road (paved), and the Sage Creek Road (improved gravel).  Each give access to viewpoints from where you appreciate the beauty of this place.


I did take the opportunity to enjoy several hikes.  My first, a short one I followed a quarter of a mile out from the Window and Door trails.  The other was the 5 mile Castle Trail, starting at the Window and Door overlook taking you through to the Fossil Exhibit trail head.


From the bison who own the prairie to the small pollinators who patrol the small flowers here, this rugged land can be a shelter for anyone who visits.


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