Male Bighorn Sheep With Horns
Male Bighorn Sheep With Horns
Road through the hills in Badlands National Park
Road through the hills in Badlands National Park

When I feel caged from the chaos and noise of city life, I seek open spaces to clear my mind and rejuvenate my spirit. Lucky for me, I don’t always have to travel to distant continents to get my fix.

The Western United States is home to many iconic open spaces that offer refuge to the restless soul and an amazing travel experience. Whether you are a naturalist, spiritualist or simply a travel enthusiast, the stunning beauty and sacred energy of each of these special places cannot be denied.

The encounter can be life changing.

Sedona and Bryce Canyon are among the best of the West and my top picks for awe-inspiring, jaw dropping moments. The grand geography painted in rich reds, burnt orange and browns, the endless sea of sandstone, radical rock formations and a canyon of towering spires are etched in my mind.

Both are phenomenal destinations that are hard to forget; it was not until this year that I would discover a new rival.

During my September South Dakota Buffalo Roundup Adventure, I found so much good in so much bad!

South Dakota’s Badlands to be exact.

“Space the final frontier” were words that came to mind at first glance. The vista –  a cratered, rugged and desolate terrain against a daunting horizon. Add in an element of lighting and the vision becomes surreal. At sunrise and sunset, the landscape explodes into a kaleidoscope of pink, purple and gold for the ultimate wow factor x 100!

This incredible creation did not happen overnight. The 200+ acre park has been around before our science books existed. Paleontologists (the dinosaur guys) believe it originated 25-35 million years ago.

There are findings to substantiate the claim; the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton, nicknamed Sue, was discovered near the park in the late 1800’s.

Dramatic changes in climate over centuries resulted in erosion and patchwork layering that now give the Badlands their unique banded or “wall” appearance.

The Lakota people were the first to settle in the region naming it “mako sica” meaning “land bad”. The Badlands and surrounding plains were also once home to thousands of bison; sadly, the population dwindled and soon vanished with the arrival of ranchers, prospectors and homesteaders from the East. In hope of change and an end to white expansion, the Lakota practiced a sacred ceremony, the Ghost Dance. This group circular dance was a ritual of renewal that cleansed evil spirits from the earth – which included the white man -and fostered unity, peace and prosperity among all native people. The dance, not the harsh lifestyle, is said to have been instrumental in the resident white man’s exodus when the federal government converted Badlands into a National Monument in 1939. Badlands was later re-designated a National Park in 1978. Reintroduced to the area by the park service, bison and big horn sheep are back and flourishing. The herds have multiplied year after year. Pronghorn antelope, jackrabbits, prairie dogs, coyotes and deer are among the resident wildlife that now roam free. Two staffed visitor centers provide tourist information, interactive exhibits, trail maps and offer guided interpretive and naturalist programs.

History/Military buffs will be pleased to know Badlands is also home to a treasured landmark, the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.

This Cold War commemoration showcases a nuclear missile silo and launch control facility. Visitors can get an up-close view of ballistic missiles once set on targets in the Soviet Union when nuclear war was an imminent threat.


And, let us not forget that Bikers love The Badlands too. Who can resist the call of the open road and the spectacular scenery. Bike Enthusiasts generally opt to tie in a visit with the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, where decadent partying is second only to your favorite ride. Lots of metal, leather and merrymaking – a biker’s dream! Recognized as the world’s largest bike rally, advanced planning is strongly advised. Attendance hit a record 739,000 in 2015 during the two week August event. Be sure to reach out to the local chamber for expert advice and tips.

 An Attraction for All Ages:

  • Wall Drugstore: Located on the edge of the Badlands and founded on hospitality, this Americana family friendly destination was made famous for giving free ice water to weary travelers during a dust storm. From its homemade donuts to its 5 cent cup of coffee, the store now a shopping mecca, continues to be a tourist favorite, offering a little something for everyone. The original western artwork collection, the giant Jackalope statue (a selfie must)…and boot bonanza store should not be missed!

Where to Stay:

Frontier Motel
Frontier Motel, Wall

Accommodations are limited in the immediate park area. Below are two great finds under 8 miles from the Badlands Park entrance:

  • Frontier Cabins Motel; Wall, South Dakota:  33 rustic log cabins with kitchenettes. Rates are Seasonal: $69-$191. TeePees available upon request for $55 per night.
  • Circle View Guest Ranch; Interior, South Dakota: Family-run 3,000 acre working ranch with stables featuring 8 guest rooms & 3 cabins. Rates are Seasonal: $120 -$190. All rates include full breakfast and access to guest kitchen. Discounts for 4+ night stays.

Check out all of South Dakota’s Great 8 Attractions. Click this feature story link to learn more.

For more information and planning tips, visit the official South Dakota Tourism website.

Photos courtesy of S. Gaspers, Travel South Dakota and the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.