August 2017 – Several states boast rugged landscapes that are known as “Badlands,” and we have enjoyed two trips to the mysterious Bisti Badlands in New Mexico. But the Badlands in South Dakota are sizeable enough to have been set aside as a National Park.
The town of Wall, home of Wall Drug, sits right next door to Badlands National Park, and after just a short drive from town we found ourselves immersed in the moonscape of a windswept desert where relentless erosion has shaped the sedimentary rock into an endless array of triangles.
As far as our eyes could see, the land was rippled with peaks and valleys, natural pyramids and buttes.
Unlike Bisti Badlands, the rock in Badlands National Park is not brightly colored. There is a small section that features rolling yellow and red mounds, but for the most part the land is filled with shades of brown and beige. Despite the drab colors, it is a very stimulating place for photography, and we had fun trying to capture the essence of this desolate land on our cameras.
Badlands National Park is quite popular, and there are several overlooks where you can get an outstanding view.
For us, one of the coolest things in Badlands National Park was the large resident herd of bighorn sheep. These guys wander throughout the park at their leisure. They are well accustomed to tourists and totally unafraid of people. Best of all, it didn’t take long to spot them relaxing on the various precipices and promontories as they took in the views of the Badlands!
Like the wild animals at Custer State Park and Yellowstone National Park, this herd of bighorn sheep can hardly be called “wild.” The rangers keep a close eye on the herd and follows their movements about the Park. To help with their monitoring, some of the bighorn sheep have been outfitted with collars that carry rather bulky radio beacons, complete with a long antenna.
This wasn’t the first time we’d seen bighorn sheep decked out with radios around their necks. The whereabouts of a herd of bighorn sheep at Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area is monitored this way, and the elk that have repopulated Great Smoky Mountains National Park are tracked via radio beacon too.
But the animals seem to manage just fine despite this bulky electronic gear, and only a few in the herd were collared. As the sun set, we found ourselves very close to the herd as they munched the grasses near the road, and we were able to get some wonderful portraits at close range!
Bighorn sheep (ovis canadensis) really are in the sheep family (ovis), and they have been around on the North American continent for millenia. During our stay in Wyoming, we’d had a chance to get some fun mom-and-baby shots of domestic sheep too (ovis aries), and this made for an interesting comparison between the two species.
Pretty soon the herd began to leave the roadside and make its way across the shimmering golden grasses of the Badlands. The crowd of tourists on the side of the road murmured and held up their cell phones to capture this majestic and classic western sight unfolding before our eyes. How fabulous!
Badlands National Park turned out to be an excellent place for wildlife viewing, and one day at a watering hole just outside the Park we spotted a flock of pelicans getting a drink and a bath. What an unexpected surprise!
But perhaps the most endearing animals were the prairie dogs. These little guys are just too cute for words!
Tourists like us love them, of course, because of their funny antics as they pop in and out of their holes. But they are not so popular with ranchers because their massive dog town communities spread out for acres and acres. They dig up the grasslands, leaving very recognizable little piles of dirt outside their holes, and it’s just too easy for a horse to step in a hole by accident and injure itself.
But we couldn’t resist them!
We made our way across the Park, and at sunset the striped eroded sediment rock of the Badlands began to glow.
As we drove out of the Park the sun slowly sank out of sight and disappeared behind the hills, taking the rich golden light and dark shadows with it. Suddenly, we spotted one of the bighorn sheep standing on a ridge against the fabulous Badlands backdrop. What a classic image!
Then two of his buddies joined him.
So often we have looked around at a classic western desert landscape and said, “Wouldn’t it be perfect to see a bighorn sheep standing right there!” And there they were right in front of us!
If Badlands National Park seems a little out of the way, or if the scenery itself doesn’t lure you to the Park, perhaps the chance to see large communities of prairie dogs and a sizeable herd of bighorn sheep will. We were surprised at just how easy it was to spot these animals and how much they make an otherwise barren landscape come alive.
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More info about Badlands National Park:
- Badlands National Park – Official Website
- Campgrounds and RV parks near Badlands National Park – RV Park Reviews
- Location of Badlands National Park – Google Maps
Other blog posts from other Badlands adventures:
- Bisti Badlands NM – Mysterious rocks and an alien egg factory! 10/27/12
- Eggs & Aliens in Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness (Bisti Badlands) 05/15/17
- Solar Eclipse 2017: Time-Lapse Videos from the South Dakota Badlands 08/21/17
Other fun encounters with wildlife:
- The Day the Sheep Moved In! 08/09/19
- Wild Burros of the Colorado River – A Puppy’s View! 03/16/18
- Fall Colors and Wildlife on the Sonoran Desert Rivers in Arizona 12/22/17
- Custer State Park Burros & Bison – Close Encounters of the Animal Kind 07/31/17
- Custer State Park Wildlife Loop Road – Where the Animals Are! 07/26/17
- Black Hills National Forest, SD, RV Boondocking – Camping with Cows! 07/11/17
- Canadian Rockies – Big Mountains & Bighorn Sheep! 06/02/16
- Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum – Wild Animals in Tucson AZ 03/05/16
- Wild Horses of the Salt River in Phoenix 04/25/14
- On San Diego’s Shores – Dolphins and more! 12/11/13
- PV: Chamela to La Cruz – Dances with Whales at Cabo Corrientes 04/27/13
- Loreto: Isla Coronado & Villa del Palmar – Taming the Sea of Cortez 05/16/11
- Best Friends Animal Sanctuary & Southwest Wildlife Foundation in Utah 09/15/08
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