Badlands National Park: Through The Dry Plains of South Dakota

A landscape like no other... with miles and miles of sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles and spires all blending together amongst the largest protected grass prairie in the United States. Was it a product of my imagination? Had the hours and hours of driving finally caught up with me? Oh no... it was very real. I had finally arrived. Since the first time I had learned about Badlands, I knew it was a magical place that I absolutely had to explore.

For thousands of years, Native Americans had used this area for their hunting grounds. With descendants now living in North Dakota as a part of the Three Affiliated Tribes. The history of Badlands runs deep; from the displacement of Native American tribes, the infamous massacre a couple of miles south at Wounded Knee, and the influx of homesteaders to South Dakota. All of which adds to the mystique of this desolate land, where it's easy to feel as if all signs of civilization have escaped.

Badlands National Park: Through The Dry Plains of South Dakota
Badlands National Park: Through The Dry Plains of South Dakota

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This land has been so unrelentingly devastated by wind and water, that it has created one of the most unique landscapes I've ever witnessed. A wonderland of strange, colorful spires and pinnacles, gigantic buttes and deep gorges. Overtime, a constant erosion of the Badlands has revealed layers of different colors; adding a touch of color to this skyline in ruins.

On the day of my visit it had been raining the entire way there, only to let up as I arrived into the park. In fact, it is said that a single thunderstorm can cause enough erosion to unearth the fossils of the many prehistoric animals that once called this land home. The skeletons of ancient camels, three-toed horses, saber-toothed cats and giant rhinoceros-like creatures are among the many fossilized species found here.

Badlands National Park: Through The Dry Plains of South Dakota
Badlands National Park: Through The Dry Plains of South Dakota

As an explorer, I couldn't help but to stop at just about every pull-out and wander around to capture photos. Finding real evidence of wonder was enough reason for me to visit, yet the experience inspired me far beyond what I saw. When architect Frank Lloyd Wright visited the Badlands in 1935, he wrote:

“I was totally unprepared for that revelation called the Dakota Badlands. 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.”

One of the greatest pleasures I get from visiting National Parks is not just their sheer sense of physical beauty, but the ability to see wild roaming animals in their natural habitats. This was especially true when visiting Badlands National Park; from tiny shrews to 2,000-pound bison, 39 species of mammals can be found on the Badlands prairie.

Badlands National Park: Through The Dry Plains of South Dakota
Badlands National Park: Through The Dry Plains of South Dakota

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Prior to my trip I had never seen a Prairie dog, but these little mammals run wild in the park. At first it seemed as if the ground was moving, but as I drew closer it turned out to be prairie dogs scattering from one burrow to another. For a minute I froze. I was so fixated on the movement and sound of the prairie dogs that I literally stopped in the middle of the road.

As I continue to explore the many corners of this country, I'm in constant awe of the beauty that is scattered across the U.S. and beyond. Just when it seems as if I've seen it all, places like Badlands continue to surprise me.

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 About The Author

In 2015, Founder of TMDE Paul Martinez left a career in sales for a life of exploring. In just a matter of months he had visited over 10 countries, 30 cities, 10 states, countless national parks, taken thousands of photographs, and did a ton of soul-searching. His search uncovered a deep passion for exploration; which he now believes to be the essence of the human spirit, and led to the birth of The Modern Day Explorer. You can follow him on his personal journey by visiting his Instagram, and hopefully continue to support TMDE by following us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.