Badlands National Park – Land of Stone and Light

Interior, South Dakota.

The National Park Service calls Badlands National Park the “Land of Stone and Light.” On our visit in October 2020, the western wildfires that are plaguing us again in 2021 took away some of that light in the form of dull, gray skies. But no matter, the color of the hills and valleys in the park were nearly as spectacular.

Badlands NP-3

Every image I brought home from the park captured the rugged terrain that covers over 244,000 acres. At one point, parts of the area were covered by a shallow sea. Later, winds and rivers added to the layers that are easily visible in the jagged peaks. Erosion then began working to expose the layers as the White and Cheyenne rivers created vast swaths through the valleys. The layers are visible in virtually all of the images I captured in the park on our trip through.

Badlands NP-17

Interspersed with the rugged peaks and valleys are large areas of prairie. In the opening photo, and in the upper right of the photo above, those grassy plains are visible. Given the late fall timeframe and the drought conditions, the prairie grasses are a golden brown instead of verdant green as they are after the spring rains.

Badlands NP-11

Some of the layers are quite vibrant in reds and golds, others less so, dominant in the gray stone color that most people associate with rocky formations.

Badlands NP-10

As you might expect, hiking trails attract many visitors to the park. Ranging from 0.25 miles (0.4 km) to the 10-mile (16 km) round trip Castle Trail, you can spend an hour or five walking through the park. A complete list of available trails in the park can be found on the National Park Service page called Hiking the Badlands here.

Badlands NP-9

Though we pretty much stayed on the paved Badlands Loop Road (Highway 240,) there are a couple of other paved and dirt roads to explore in the park. We didn’t see much blue sky that day, but occasionally the sun would appear through openings in the clouds and bring out the vivid layers of color in the cliffs.

Badlands NP-14

The wildlife in the park ranges from the size of bison to the small ground-burrowing prairie dogs in towns throughout the park. At one point, we rounded a corner on the Badlands Loop Road and spotted a small herd of mountain goats grazing on the prairie grasses in the valley below us.

Badlands NP-8

There are many pull-offs to stop and view the jagged peaks in the badlands and it is obvious why this place of such rugged beauty got its name. The native Lakota people called the area mako sica, translated into English literally as “bad lands.” Even the French trappers and explorers called the area les mauvaises terres a traveser. My high school French (and the Badlands National Park website) tells me this translates to bad lands to travel across.

I invite you to click on any of the images above to pixel peep in 2K HD and to view all seventeen images I processed and shared for you to view on my Flickr site. You can go directly to my Flickr album page here.

As this is being written, Lynn and I are preparing for another autumn trip through the west. I expect to gather another year’s worth of images from the western states. Invite your friends to follow along on our journeys. I always appreciate your thoughts in the comments, so feel free to tell us about your journey through Badlands National Park.

John Steiner


  1. On a US roadtrip some years back, we were in Keystone for a night or two when I saw Badlands on the map. Well straight away I thought of the song – Badlands – in Thelma and Louise ( to this day I never checked whether it was connected in any way – I presume not!!!) and had to go. We loved the landscape and the colours and were just sorry that we could only visit for a few hours – hopefully we’ll get back some day.

  2. Thank goodness humans thought of these as “bad lands” so that this beautiful place can now still be a place where nature rules! Not a sign of humanity’s influence anywhere in your beautifully crafted images.

    I hope you saved a seat for me on your upcoming trip, John – I’m looking forward to it very much!

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