Adventure through Badlands National Park

By: Tom Malone - Summer 2012

Rapid City, South Dakota - I looked at the map and double-checked with David Griffin, the pilot of the our ragtop Jeep. Badlands National Park was, in fact, just a few miles out of the way of our regularly scheduled route to Minneapolis.

We pulled off of Interstate 90 and entered a seemingly normal county road. We passed some homes and shopping areas. Nothing we hadn’t seen before. According to our map, the entrance to the National Park was close.

Then, the density of homes began to thin. Our Google Maps directions cut out; cell phone service no longer existed on the sparse plains of South Dakota. The once-irrigated fields began to turn into desolate, martian landscape. We discussed our options if our Jeep were to break down; how would we get water?

We pushed forward. Our Jeep crested over the horizon, and then we saw it. The strangest, most beautiful, barren landscape formations I’d ever seen. The dusty, massive ant hills seemed to shift with the sun, which painted the hills with purples, golds, greens, and blues. Of course, we drove directly into the foreboding terrain.

We drove up the side of a hill composed of fossilized dirt; hard, flaky, yet inviting. The manual-transmission Jeep had to drop a gear to continue the incline. Eventually, we pulled over on the side of an empty road and decided to explore.

In flip-flops (I wasn’t prepared for an adventure that day), I scurried down an incline on part of the Badlands’ infamous “Wall”, a 60-mile long eroded face of martian earth that gives the park its name. Consistent erosion gave me the ability to witness 10 millions years of geological formations with one panoramic view.

After exploring the crevices of the Wall, we jumped into the Jeep and drove a few miles through the remainder of the barrier. As we emerged from the Wall, we climbed onto a grass prairie that seemed to run forever. As we looked around, it was as if the Badlands didn’t exist; the most desolate piece of land in the country vanished as quickly as it appeared.

Badlands National Park may not express a typical definition of natural beauty, but it’s worth the adventure to see otherworldly landscapes that sit in our own backyard. It’s easy to drive through, but camping and backpacking through the park is possible. Pair it with a trip to Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, and Yellowstone to make the adventure even more worthwhile.