Many of us have heard of the Badlands but what are they and where are they? Well, they’re in the western part of South Dakota near the Wyoming border. The name maco sica (badland) was originally given by Native Americans due to the strangeness of the landscape with it’s weird spires, mounds and walls. What we had read sounded interesting so we decided to check it out and to see what else was in the area.
1. The Badlands
To get a good view of the Badlands we took Hwy 240 – the Badlands Loop Road. This one to two hour drive (depending how long you stop at the viewpoints or take short walks) traverses through the Badlands National Park.
There are plenty of places to stop and admire the view.
And several places where you can do short walks. We did the short (0.5 ml/0.8 km) Cliff Shelf Nature Trail.
An extension of the loop road is the Sage Creek Rim Road. We took this and were rewarded with a group of bison!
We also stopped and enjoyed the to-ings and fro-ings of the residents of Roberts Prairie Dog Town.
The Badlands and adjoining Buffalo Gap National Grassland are the USA’s largest prairie grasslands. Prairie once covered over half the North American continent but today it is down to 2% so such protected areas are very important.
2. Wall Drug
Wall Drug is a drug store. In Australia, we’d call it a chemist or pharmacist. But it’s no ordinary drug store, according to its self-promotion, which is evidenced by abundant billboards all along the interstate highway, it is the World’s Largest Drug Store.
After such relentless propaganda we thought – why not? And as the town of Wall sits at the western end of the Badlands Loop we called in there for lunch after our morning's bison and badland viewing.
3. Mount Rushmore
Everyone knows the image of the faces of four US presidents carved into a mountain side. Well, this is Mount Rushmore. After our bite to eat at Wall it was off to take a squiz at the famous faces, which by the way, belong to Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.
This amazing piece of 20 metre high granite stone work was created by sculptor Gutzon Borglum and his labourers from 1927 to 1941. Mount Rushmore is a National Monument. There is no charge to visit but there is a $US10 fee for parking at the site.
4. Black Hills
The nearby Black Hills area is a spectacular region of forests, canyons, rivers and wild peaks. The ponderosa pines which cover the slopes give the area its name.
We had limited time to explore the Black Hills so we chose the picturesque Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway.
There’s much, much more to the Black Hills, with Custer State Forest being a great spot for spotting bison (so several people told us), and in summer its towns and trails boom with tourists.
5. Devils Tower
Remember Richard Dreyfuss piling his mash potato into the shape of a mysterious monolith in the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind? His vision was of a mountain that he then felt compelled to go to in order to meet interplanetary visitors.
Well, that pile of mashed potato and the mountain location of the film's crescendo has a name in reality – Devils Tower, Wyoming. Yes, it really exists. It’s a national monument a couple of hours west of the Black Hills.
In fact, is was the USA’s first national monument proclaimed by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906.
The tower is a volcanic plug left behind when the surrounding sedimentary rock eroded away over millennia.
There are several trails in the park. We took the Tower Trail (1.3ml/2 km) which circumnavigates the tower.
The tower is 1558 m/5112ft high and a fabulous sight close up.
The tower has been sacred to local Native Americans for thousands of years and they continue to hold ceremonies and leave prayer flags around it.
Like so much of the US the Badlands and surrounding region has a much more extensive menu of things to see and do than what we had time for. But hopefully, what we have covered here gives you the sense that this is a part of the country that is well worth visiting if you’re lucky enough to get the chance.
Here are some useful websites to help you plan your trip.
Wall drug http://www.walldrug.com/
Mount rushmore https://www.nps.gov/moru/index.htm
Devils Tower https://www.nps.gov/deto/index.htm
And here’s Richard Dreyfuss creating the Devils Tower from mashed potato