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Badlands Loop Road

Upon leaving the visitor center we did the loop road, not sure why they call it that as it doesn't loop anything. We stopped at the different vista pullouts and took pics and enjoyed. The park was extremely busy, with well over 50% of the vehicles being motorcycles. Guess that may have something to do with Sturgis being in full motion. The landscape of the park is a gorgeous up thrust of different colored layered materials which are exquisite to the eye. And the shapes are unique.

For centuries, humans have viewed South Dakotas celebrated Badlands with a mix of dread and fascination. The Lakota knew the place as mako sica. Early French trappers called the area les mauvaises terres a traverser. Both mean "bad lands". Conservation writer Freeman Tilden described the region as "peaks and valleys of delicately banded colors-colors that shift in the sunshine, ..... and a thousand tints that color charts don't show. In the early morning and evening, when shadows are cast upon the infinite peaks or on a bright moonlit night when the whole region seems a part of another world, the Badlands will be an experience not easily forgotten." The peaks, gullies, buttes and wide prairies of the badlands can be challenging to cross, yet they have long attracted the interest and praise of travelers.

The badlands are a place of extremes. Your travels here may produce conflicting responses. You may visit in summer and curse the heat and the violent lightning storms, yet be echoed by the wildlife and wildflowers. You may come in winter, chilled by the cold and winds that roar unhindered out of the north, and still marvel at the exquisite beauty of the moonlight glistening on the snow dusted buttes. Whatever your feelings about the badlands, you will not come away unaffected.

Nomad View

At the end of the loop, which isn't a loop, we exited the park and headed in toward Wall SD. As we were heading into wall, I realized that Nomad View was on our right, so we drove in to see what all the excitement is about. It is a nice area for boondocking, but disappointing as it is not really as big a part of the badlands as peoples videos make it look like. Would have been a neat place to boondock just to have done it, but quite glad we got ourselves into the park that we are at. Definitely does not live up to its billing.

Sage Creek Rd Rim Drive

After leaving Wall Drug, we headed down Sage Creek Rd. All dirt, but finished the loop that the previous route had promised. We were able to not only see more of the Badlands, but also buffalo and prairie dog towns. Got pics and enjoyed the drive. Got back to the rigs about 5pm, having knocked out a large portion of the things we want to see while here. It was a nice cool day today with the high only being 82. Clouded up in the evening, so should be able to open windows tonight without having to run the ac.

Badlands Drive

To get both ways on our journey, we had to travel through the park again, so I did a time lapse video going both ways for a few more photos of this unique park.

From the Badlands National Park website

Land of Stone and Light

The rugged beauty of the Badlands draws visitors from around the world. These striking geologic deposits contain one of the world’s richest fossil beds. Ancient horses and rhinos once roamed here. The park’s 244,000 acres protect an expanse of mixed-grass prairie where bison, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, and black-footed ferrets live today.


Badlands National Park is home to many resilient creatures, including some of the most endangered species in North America. To survive the bitter winters and searing summers of the Great Plains, you need a good plan -- and the wildlife of the park have arrived at many ingenious solutions to the problems of exposure, heat, cold, and drought. Check out the articles below to learn the amazing stories of such iconic animals as the American Bison, Black-footed Ferret, and Pronghorn!

Mako Sica: Naming the Badlands

What’s in a name?

The name Badlands National Park poses an interesting question: why would you try to entice people to visit a park by calling it bad? In truth, the name is an homage to people that lived in the Badlands before it was a national park. For hundreds of years, the Lakota people have called this area mako sica, which literally translates to “bad lands.” When early French fur trappers passed through this area, they called the area les mauvaises terres a traveser (‘bad lands to travel across’). Since the French trappers spent time with the Lakota, it is likely that the French name is derived directly from the Lakota one. But why? What made this area deserve a “bad” name?

The Badlands presents many challenges to easy travel. When it rains in the Badlands, the wet clay becomes slick and sticky, making it very difficult to cross. The jagged canyons and buttes that cover the landscape also make it hard to navigate. The winters are cold and windy, the summers are hot and dry, and the few water sources that exist are normally muddy and unsafe to drink. These factors make the land difficult to survive in, and evidence of early human activity in the Badlands points to seasonal hunting rather than permanent habitation.

One final fun fact about the name of Badlands National Park: In 1922, when Badlands was first proposed as a national park, the suggested name was Wonderland National Park!

Geologic Formations: How Badlands Buttes Came to Be

How did the Badlands get there? Why do they look like that?

The formations in Badlands National Park and badlands formations around the world are the end-product of two simple processes: deposition and erosion.

Deposition is the process of rocks gradually building up. Over the course of millions of years, the layered rocks of the Badlands were slowly stacked on top of each other like a layer cake. These rocks were deposited by a number of natural forces, which range from shallow inland seas to rivers to wind. Deposition began about 75 million years ago with the formation of the Pierre Shale, the base of the geologic formations in the park. Deposition ended about 28 million years ago with the Sharps Formation, the uppermost unit of Badlands stratigraphy.

Erosion is the process of rocks gradually wearing away. The Badlands began eroding about 500,000 years ago as the Cheyenne and White Rivers carved their way through the landscape. They are the reason for the narrow channels, canyons, and rugged peaks of the Badlands which we see today. And the Badlands are still eroding – it is estimated that the Badlands erode at the rate of one inch per year, which is a rapid rate for rocks. In contrast, the granite of the Black Hills, to the west of Badlands National Park, erodes at the rate of one inch per 10,000 years. Scientists estimate that in the next 500,000 years, the Badlands will have eroded completely – come visit the park while you can!

Badlands… This term sounds familiar. Have I heard it before?

You may have heard the term “badlands” used before, but not in reference to our park. That’s because in addition to being a geographic term, describing Badlands National Park in South Dakota, this word is also a geologic term! The lowercase version of badlands is used to describe most terrains that look like the formations in our park. They are typically characterized by soft sedimentary rocks that erode easily.

There are badlands formations all over the country in places like Wyoming, Utah, North Dakota, Colorado, and Nebraska. You can even check out badlands formations in the National Park Service like Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota and Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, or opt for ones on National Grasslands like Toadstool Geologic Park in Nebraska. There are also badlands formations found throughout the world in Canada, New Zealand, Italy, Spain, and Argentina.

What kind of rocks are those?

There are a number of rock types that can be found in the Badlands. The formations in our park contain sandstones, siltstones, mudstones, claystones, limestones, volcanic ash, and shale. These rock types come from a number of different sources. For example, many of the sandstones found in Badlands are the remnants of ancient river channels. The occasional limestone lenses found in the park come from calcium-rich groundwater flowing through ancient lakes and precipitating out calcium carbonate, otherwise known as limestone.

Volcanic ash found in the Badlands comes from eruptions in the Great Basin, a geologic province including states like Utah and Nevada. Most of this ash was washed into the area along with eroded sediment from the Black Hills, making many of the rock layers an ash-sediment mixture, which often consists of 50% ash and 50% eroded sediment. There is only one layer of pure volcanic ash, called the Rockyford Ash, in the park.

How about the layers? What’s the deal with those?

The layers of the Badlands correspond with different moments in geologic time. They start with the oldest layer at the bottom, then move upwards in space and time towards the youngest layer, which sits on top of the formations. To unlock the stories of the park’s different layers, it is often easiest to start where most good stories do: at the beginning.

The Pierre Shale, which forms the bottom most layer of the park’s geology, was deposited 75-69 million years ago. It was laid down by a shallow inland sea known as the Western Interior Seaway. This seaway stretched from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic Ocean, covering most of the modern Great Plains in shallow, warm water. This sea contained ancient marine life which would have existed at the same time as dinosaurs, but because dinosaurs couldn’t swim, none of them are found in the Pierre Shale or in the Badlands as a whole. Instead, the creatures that we find from this time include shelled cephalopods like ammonites and baculites alongside mosasaur, a giant marine reptile that could measure over 50 feet long.

On top of the Pierre Shale sit the Yellow Mounds, which are just an altered version of the Pierre Shale, despite their striking differences in appearance. After the Western Interior Seaway drained North into the Arctic Ocean, the leftover shales weathered into soils. Those soils are now preserved as the Yellow Mounds, which are what geologists call a paleosol. Paleosols are ancient fossilized soils preserved in the rock record, and they often appear as brightly colored layers like the Yellow Mounds, which gets its mustardy color from a mineral called Goethite.

The Chadron Formation, consisting largely of light gray claystone beds, was deposited about 37-34 million years ago across an ancient floodplain. The environment of the Chadron Formation would have been hot and wet, like Everglades National Park is today. It was home to creatures that we associate with these modern environments like ancient alligators, as well as some animals that no longer exist, like the massive Brontothere.

The Brule Formation, deposited 34-30 million years ago, represents a cooler and drier time in geologic history. The hot, wet vegetated floodplains of the Chadron Formation now transformed into an open savannah, where occasional river channels would cut through the plains. Many grazers, like the oreodonts commonly found in Badlands National Park, made good use of eating the grasses and plants which grew here. Consequently, there were also predators who made good use of the grazers, like nimravid, a cat-like animal with saber teeth.

Above the Brule lies the Sharps Formation, the youngest geologic formation of the park at 30-28 million years old. The base of the Sharps Formation is the Rockyford Ash, a volcanic tuff formed from ash that came from eruptions in the Great Basin, where Utah and Nevada are today. Much of the Sharps Formation is characterized by sandstone river channels as the climate continued to cool and dry.

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