The word “badlands” resonates for some as the useless land, it’s the land that does not provide much or is hard to traverse. The Lakota Indians called it “Mako Sika” and others like early French trappers called it “Les mauvaises terres a traverser” which translates to badlands. This one-of-a-kind almost unorthodox place fascinated me for a long time. It feels like an alien place where you are transported into a different realm. Is this location harbor alien life? alien civilization? Some reports convey that alien activities have been observed in the park. Is it a secret place that kept people off since the beginning of time? Is it haunted by ghosts some claim! I am scared of the supernatural such as ghosts, but with my brilliant wife on my side, I was determined to uncover what lies beneath the park called the Badlands.
This otherworldly destination is about 60 miles from Rapid City, South Dakota and not far from the famous Wall Drug. Getting to the park wasn’t that difficult, the directions are straightforward enough not to get lost, even for someone like me.
If you arrive early enough as we did, there is no traffic, once off the freeway, it’s a 10-mile stretch before you reach the park entrance. Along the stretch, wildlife was abundant. Bison, bighorn sheep, deer, and prairie dogs abound. The best way to visit the park is to take the Badland Loop Trail which is about 30 miles long and allows you to visit most of the park even without getting out of the car which I don’t recommend. The roads are paved and smooth, allowing you to cruise effortlessly.
The adventure begins as you pass the entrance, follow the scenic loop road, and the lookouts are abundant. Even though the sceneries look the same, they are all distinguishable. The sandpiles with various formations and colors feel like painted hills. The colors are blinding and mesmerizing. We had to take many pictures of them because of how the sun hit the eroded-jagged rock formations, and the reflection of the colors change the time of the day. Early morning, when we visited the park, we were lucky that the colors were more vibrant and livelier. The formations stretch as far as your eyes can notice. The vast formations once were under the ocean, and when the water receded, those exposed with abundant fossils and dunes that can be seen scattered everywhere you look. You may consider this is a hostile environment, but if you scrutinize deeper, the whole park teams with abundant microscopic and macroscopic life. As we were driving, the thing that struck me the most was the memorable rock formations of the yellow hills of the Badlands scattered through the park. They are resounding yellow due to the paleosols that interact with the sun giving off that color.
The loop brings you to a different section of the park which stretches over 244,000 acres. the park is also a location of numerous movie productions such as Armageddon and the infamous Starship Troopers. As you drive through the park’s beautiful one-lane road, you encounter hills and sand formations on either side of the road. You have the impression that you are going to crash on them as they appear from nowhere. It is surrealistic and otherworldly which reminds me of Aliens that might inhabit the area. Nothing looks ordinary and proper. The colors transform from gray, yellow, and orange to red.
The sediments we saw were deposited over a long period of time when they were under the sea and are now exposed to harsh conditions such as howling winds and rain, the mounds were eroding, and badlands are a living and breathing area that is consistently changing.
The self-guided trails are available. everyone should enjoy the hikes and feel the land. When we tried the Castle trail for a mile that stretches over 5 hot miles and the sun is sizzling, the land radiated the heat. It was hard to complete with kids in the summer so, we turned back. Bring some water for the hike and pay attention to the rattlesnakes who love to come and bake in the sun. Also, take a walk along the 0.25 mile-Fossil-Discovery Trail. This boardwalk trail is a good education for kids and adults included, explaining the landscape and the lives of the inhabitants in the distant past. There are also many hiking trails and overlooks that one day might not be enough to visit. This area is abundant in bighorn sheep, and we were lucky to spot them right from the boardwalk.
Among those outlooks, one that struck me the most was the Big Badland Overlook which stretches as far as your eyes can gaze, its millions of mounds made of zebra stripes hills that make you feel small. Nature is amazing, and this is something I was lucky to have seen.
Once you have done the 30 miles of paved road and delt with traffic and other visitors, you feel like you had enough of badlands. It intrigued me before and it still intrigues me once I’ve seen the park. I still feel like there is a presence at the park. Aliens are to be blamed. Have I seen any? or they aren’t noticeable enough, those big horn sheep were the alien? I will be back in the park again.