Badlands National Park

It’s difficult to find words to describe a place that has left me so speechless such as Badlands. After spending even more hours traveling through even more fields, with a few short visual breaks provided by Minnesota’s wind farms, we arrived at our first planned destination.

Badlands is something other-worldly. We pulled off the highway onto scenic route 240 in South Dakota, finding ourselves paying the park fee at the entrance station wondering, “Where the heck is it?”

To the left and right all we could see were prairies filled with tall, swaying grasses that lean towards one another, seemingly sharing secrets among themselves. To be fair, this holds a certain beauty in itself, but we had already come from miles of open land and wanted to see it filled with the painted hills that we knew Badlands has to offer.

Sunset Behind Painted Hills

Moments later, our anxiousness quickly turned into jaw-dropping amazement at the first scenic pull-off. We stood on top of a prairie plateau, looking down onto unreal cliffs and hills. Brush strokes of red, brown and orange that juxtapose the lush greens of the adjacent prairie.

Continuing down on route 240, it gets only more awe inspiring. Down near the campground was a mountain range of these cliffs that wrap around the road as we drove to stake our claim at the camp site. After watching the sun set behind the hills, which brought out even more red and amber colors, we rolled into the tent and went to bed early.

Rolling Red Hills and Giddy Goats

The next morning we finished the scenic loop, which is necessary for anyone visiting this park. Along route 240 you can see dozens of sudden drop offs as well as more of these tall, equally daunting and beautiful hills that line the road.

After a short while, the land levels out again and you can see bison feeding on the grass way off in the distant prairie, then suddenly you find yourself again staring either down or up (it is truly multi-dimensional) at alien-looking hillsides.

Young Goats Learn Their Way Around Badlands

About half way through our morning drive, we met a sizable herd of goats along with their kids. (One rather large, suspicious ram wandered pretty close to the car to investigate our picture taking.) Watching these young little goats scrambling up rock, trying to figure out the best way back up to their parents, is curiously entertaining and downright adorable.

Almost directly at the park exit station, the cliffs shrink yet again into bright green fields and bison reappear munching on prairie grass, bidding you farewell.

Badlands was simply astonishing. Next stop, Salt Lake City.

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