Thursday, June 9, 2011

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Badlands National Park, South Dakota is one of those unique landscapes that still exists and date back to about 75 million years! We’re not talk about centuries but million years… Apparently as per geologists (mentioned in the Badlands National Park information guide) the earth’s climate at that time was warmer than it is now and a shallow sea abundant with life covered the region we call the Great Plains -stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada and from western Iowa to western Wyoming.
The Badlands that we visit now is the bottom of that sea and is made up of a brownish black sedimentary soil called Pierre shale. We visited the place after a rainfall and walking over this place we realized that the soil had a tendency of getting stuck to your shoes… something like clay. This layer is a rich source of fossils, for once the creatures in the sea died they sank to the bottom of the sea and over time became fossils.

Badlands as you’d find out is all about canyons, towering spires and flat topped tables. Despite their complex appearance and similar compose, they are largely a result of two basic geologic process of deposition and erosion. A quick look at the buttes will show that the Badlands were deposited in layers. These layers formed soft, sedimentary rocks, composed of minute grains of sand, silt and clay that have been cemented into solid form.

There are a lot of observatories along the 240 loop road which offers splendid sight of the various formations of the Badlands all alone the way. And each sight is different from the other… some have the canyons some the buttes and if the sun’s out the color combination is simply a treat to the eye.
There are a lot of things that can be done at Badlands:
-from Wall, SD take exit 110 and drive on route 240, take a right onto Sage Creek Road for route 590 and then along Sage Creek Rim Road. There are a few wildlife overlooks on this route. We saw those huge American Bison and little Blacktailed Prairie dogs, apart from the Bighorn Sheep.

-attend the night sky program where a park ranger will assist you with locating constellations, stars and planets. Carry your telescope if you’re one of those interested in star gazing else a binocular should be good.
-visit the Tipi village, located across from the Ben Reifel visitor center to experience the Oglala Lakota Sioux culture.
-take the hiking trails along the badlands. There are quite a few interesting trails from 20 minutes (Door Trail and Window Trail) to Castle Trail which lasts for 5 hours and it 10 miles long.
A few things to check before planning for a trip:
-check the weather before you start for Badlands, sunny bright days will give you a spectacular view of the site, cloudless nights will ensure that you get to see either the sunset or sunrise and if you’re lucky the Milky Way too. If you visit the site just after the rains (when the day is overcast) the red bands on the Badlands are quite vivid and offer an amazing sight!
-decide on the availability of the route that you’d want to travel along; sometimes a few routes are closed due to weather or other reasons.
-wear good trekking shoes to protect your feet from cactus spines and gear up well for the treks –water, whistle, compass and a first aid kit.
-beware of rattlesnakes. They are usually found in cracks and crevices or thick grasses. Wear closed toe leather shoes. Be careful where you place your hands and feet.
-keep a safe distance from the wildlife and avoid coming too close to the prairie dogs… they look cute but can be dangerous.
-be careful when exploring buttes. The rock surface is very unstable.
-your cell phone is not going to work in most part of the park; be prepared and be attentive. Avoid exploring on your own; a party of minimum three people would be a good idea.

Spending at-least two days at Badlands would be good as per what I’ve explored. Do visit the Ben Reifel Visitor Center where a ranger would be more than happy to assist you with an itinerary. However, like I mentioned earlier, please check (via phone, email) the weather and availability of trails/routes before reaching Badlands.

No comments: