I began the day with a plan to go to a place called Sheep Mountain in the more southern part of the park. I didn’t really know what to expect there but I had read good things. It involved driving out of the park, across the countryside, though a seemingly abandoned town, and then up a long gravel road to the overlook. I was a bit underwhelmed by this overlook, though it may look better at sunset. It is the grassy edge of a cliff that allows you to view an open stretch of grassland below. There were no hiking trails in this area, so I walked along the cliff in the tall grass, listening for any rattlesnakes, and tried to find anything to shoot a photo of. Below is a photo of a hole eroding in the cliff face that looks down in the valley below. This is shot at a wide angle and the cliff is much steeper than it would appear from the photo. I kept my distance as I didn’t have confidence in the soil near the cliff’s edge.
I drove around some more in this part of the park, but there is really nothing to do here, so I headed back to the main part of the park and decided to make my way along the Badlands Loop road and check out the overlooks and plan for sunset. Below is a scene that I liked near the Panorama Point overlook. There seems to be a trail out along the top of the cliff leading into the distance, and I considered being here around sunset. I did not go on that perilous trail and the dirt those cliffs are made of is quite crumbly and slippery.
The day got hotter, I went into Wall for lunch, and then hiked in the heat of the afternoon. As it got later and I went for another scenic drive. Part of Badlands Loop road descends into a valley with yellow mounds. The soil is very yellow and I had to stop and have a look and take a photo or two. My shadow has been Photoshopped away.
The yellow mounds formed after the inland sea retreated and the shale seabed weathered into soil. This happened about 60 – 70 million years ago at about the same time the dinosaurs went extinct. The yellow layers were eventually covered up by clay as the area transformed into a wetlands. And eventually the area got cooler and drier and became an open savannah. About half a million years ago, the area stared eroding into the formation we see today as rivers began to cut channels through the landscape. So, go see it all now because in another half a million years it’ll probably be gone.
By the late afternoon, it began to get stormy. I could see storm clouds moving across the landscape in the distance and the wind was really picking up. I went back to camp to decide what to do about my tent as I didn’t want it destroyed by a storm. The wind gust kept betting stronger and the clouds on the horizon darker so I packed everything up and put it in the car. Not long after that, the wind got fierce and sent people scrambling to chase their possessions across the campground. The worst of the wind blew by with only a sprinkle of rain and as the clouds were moving off, the sun began to shine on the cliffs with the storm clouds above. So, I knew I had to shoot some photos.
The above photo was taken from the campground. I squatted down to hide the buildings just beyond the grassy hill in the foreground. A very nice dramatic scene.
The sun got lower and I headed back to some of the overlooks that I had visited along the Badlands Loop road. It wasn’t easy to find just the right vantage point with the most dramatic clouds, but I think the photo below is my best result. I cropped it panorama style to focus on the cliffs in the distance. The sun was low and filtered by some clouds making the cliffs appear to glow with warm colors.
It was a very rapidly changing scene and if you can believe it, the image below was taken a minute later looking in the other direction. I love the horizontal lines across the cliffs. You can see the National Grassland in the distance.
The sun set and it was pretty, but I didn’t feel like taking any more pictures of it. I was tired and decided to just sleep in the car and not bother with tent again. The air was cooling down and there weren’t many bugs about, so I could comfortably sleep with the car windows open. I had to get up before dawn and head for Bismarck for my return flight.
Those were my best photos of the Badlands, I think. I wasn’t at this park very long, but got fortunate with some dramatic storm clouds in the late afternoon. Thanks for reading.