My Bad. I’m guilty of giving short shrift to this incredible natural wonder located in South Dakota just 560 miles from my home, a relatively short drive in the U.S. I admit I haven’t really gone TO the Badlands as much as I’ve gone THROUGH the Badlands on my way to somewhere else, namely Mt. Rushmore and the Black Hills. So, in an effort to rectify my travel transgression, I wanted to spend the night in this national park and take some time exploring the area. That’s easier said than done because accommodations in the park are few and far between and normally booked WAY in advance. Within the park, there’s Cedar Pass Lodge and that’s it. Seriously. Cedar Pass Lodge is the only place to stay in the park. OK, you can camp but we’re past that stage of life so I’m talking about places with real beds. As I write this, I checked the website for Cedar Pass Lodge and currently there is limited availability in July and August, but September is still wide open. That was not the case, however, in September, 2013, when we visited.
There were no available rooms at Cedar Pass Lodge but they kindly referred me to a bed and breakfast, the Circle View Guest Ranch. (You can check it out by clicking on it.) Luckily, they had a room available. Although the ranch isn’t technically in Badlands National Park, it’s within several miles so you have essentially the same views. The room was comfortable and we even had extra bunk beds which would be great for a family. The views from Circle View were 360 degrees as promised and the friendly burros were a nice addition, too. I admit we didn’t take advantage of any of the other working aspects of the ranch because we stayed just one night and we were anxious to get on our way. We had a generous breakfast, served in the kitchen at long communal tables, where we visited with our neighbors while we chowed down on eggs, bacon, pancakes, potatoes, fruit, juice, and coffee, then off we went to explore Badlands National Park.
The Badlands are the product of erosion at its best. It’s hard to believe this remarkable 60 mile swath of sedimentary ridges, buttes, and pinnacles, called the wall, was carved by erosion that began 500,000 years ago and continues to this day at about one inch per year. At this rate, the Badlands are projected to erode away completely in another 500,000 years. There are also mammal fossil beds found here, among the world’s richest, that are 26 to 37 million years old. The Badlands, established as a national monument in 1939 and designated a national park in 1978, receive 1 million visitors per year. A seven-day pass per vehicle costs only $15, but if you’re at least 62 years old, you can get a lifetime pass for only $10 that gets you into all U.S. national parks. Now that’s a deal!
We stopped at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center and saw the award-winning video about the Badlands, then viewed the exhibits within the center and learned that there are big horn sheep, American bison, mule deer, coyote, swift fox, and black-footed ferret within the 244,00 acres of the park. After leaving the visitor center, we did see big horn sheep on the hills but none of the other animals. We pulled over at several of the numerous viewing stops along the Highway 240 Loop Road to take some photos and enjoy the views and ended at Wall Drug, the iconic retail outlet that still offers free ice water.
So, in the final analysis, did I give the Badlands its due attention? In all honesty, for me it’s still a stop along the way to points further west but at least I feel that I gave it a fair share of my attention this time around.