The majority of South Dakota was flat and barren – not hard to imagine with an entire country population of less than 800,000 people. The sudden change in terrain comes just past Mitchell, as you head toward what’s commonly known as the Badlands National Park. It is not necessary to enter the park to experience the Badlands, but its worth a gander through for the dramatic views and the uniqueness of the hills.
The views from the corrugated walls surrounding the Badlands are spectacular – colorful eroded spires, pinnacles and canyons in multiple reds, oranges, yellows and greens, stretch into the distance. We explored the more developed Hwy 240 loop as well as a less developed loop recommended by a toothless cowboy we met at a truck stop the day before.
In the Badlands, we saw some of the most rapid landscape changes in a short period of time….erosion has carved knife-like edges and canyons throughout, chimneys, pinnacles and turtleback mounds. Through the force of nature, the siltstone, pinnacles and volcanic ash areas have been worn away to scupt the dramatic landscape.
Known to be overwhelmingly hot in the summer, it was a welcome treat after spending several cold nights in Canada, Michigan and northern Minnesota. South Dakota is home to some of the world’s greatest prairie grasslands which I didn’t realize before the trip.
Despite the dry air and high 90 degree temperature, we hiked to the top of one of the mountain peaks in the park. It was surprisingly quiet so we had every breathtaking view and moment to ourselves. We also hit the Sage Creek Rim Road which heads west of the loop, where you can camp and venture into the backcountry by foot.
As the evening approached, the shadows are cast upon the infinite peaks, and it was as if the whole region was part of another world. It reminded me in some ways of Idaho’s Craters of the Moon, but much more dramatic, full of peaks and valleys of delicately banded colors. A sun worshipper, I thrived in the hot sun that beat down on us as we walked through the almost ghostly, wraithlike canyons.
I came across the following quote in a book later that evening and resonated with Frank Lloyd Wright’s first impression of the Badlands in 1935: “I’ve been around the world a lot, but was totally unprepared for the revelation called the Dakota Bad Lands….what I saw gave me an indescribable sense of mysterious elsewhere – a distant architecture, ethereal……an endless supernatural world more spiritual than earth but created out of it.”