Bruce Springsteen said it best. Trying to refrain from fist pumping to the song in my head all day (can you blame a Jersey girl?), I was very excited to be seeing Badlands National Park for the first time with my new hubby, who had been there three years prior and spoken very highly of it.
The drive from Three Flags RV Park in Black Hawk, SD (near Rapid City) was beautiful in and of itself. Rolling tan and green hills with dark green trees, steer and horses dotting the landscape. Listening to the Bruce Springsteen Live from 1975-1985 album just seemed to perfectly complement the backdrop, particularly for the cover of Woody Guthrie’s, “This Land is Your Land”. The feeling of pure Americana music and shared pride in the beauty that makes up our country truly gave me goosebumps.
As we approached the park, we could notice the land formations getting higher and rockier. It really was quite a sight to see and built up anticipation for getting to the park.
After about an hour’s drive from our campground, we excitedly arrived at the park’s gate. There, we were able to purchase an Interagency Annual National Parks pass for $80. A fantastic investment for anyone planning to visit more than three parks per year. The Badlands would have cost $15 admission for the two of us, but the park ranger told us that most major parks are usually $30.
The first overlook spot to pull over where we entered the park was spectacular in and of itself. Large, sandy rock formations that looked almost like you were on the moon abounded. While there were also boardwalk style trails you could take, children and adults alike enjoyed climbing these structures to get some unique views of the park. Given my coordination and balance, I didn’t venture too far up, but we were able to get some good views regardless. The backdrop of an overcast, gray sky also added to the other worldliness feeling that you get when visiting this park.
As we drove along the scenic route through the park, the views kept getting better and better as the rock formations grew larger.
We made sure to stop at the Visitor’s Center to learn a bit about the history of the area. The sedimentary rock of the park was formed as a result of millions of years of erosion and geologic shifts. Though we kept imagining dinosaurs roaming this type of land, we were told that the region was actually once part of a large, shallow sea that covered the entire Midwest and was largely populated by reptilian sea creatures. Still a spectacular thing to imagine! The land then underwent a few more shifts to a tropical-like environment, to a savanna, and the formations seen today formed approximately 500,000 years ago due to erosion.
We were also sure to pick up a National Parks Passport, which we knew about courtesy of John’s sister, Chrissy, who works for a parks and recreation department. It’s just a fun little book where you can obtain a stamp to remember every national park you visit!
The sky started to clear up and the park seemed to turned into a whole different “other world” as the sun reflected brightly off of the rock formations. We stopped at most scenic overlooks to get different views of everything and to explore. While we didn’t take any of the walking trails, there was certainly enough to see from these spots.
Perhaps the most beautiful part of the park was the “Yellow Mounds Overlook”, which was formed by shale deposits. Regardless of what they are, these formations were gorgeous!
Last but not least, we had one romantic mission before leaving the park. We first met due to the online dating site, match.com, and John’s profile picture had been taken here at the Badlands – a photo I had always loved of him. We wanted to see if we could find the spot where he had taken the photo so that we could take one of us there together. After a few “this must be it” spots, we finally found the overlook where John was sure the photo had been taken three years prior. Biggest goosebumps of the day!
After leaving the park, we visited the famous tourist attraction, Wall Drug, in the town of, you guessed it, Wall. After seeing literally dozens, if not hundreds of enthusiastic – and vintage looking – billboards promoting it along Route 90, we had to check it out. A conglomeration of gift shops and food courts, it has been around since 1931, when it all started with offering free ice water to travelers during the Great Depression. We were tempted with some silly souvenirs, but wound up just buying some postcards to save that precious storage space in the camper.
After a long day, we went back and grilled at our campsite, where we had reserved a week’s worth of nights, as we were growing tired of moving our campsite so frequently. We look forward to seeing what else South Dakota and the Black Hills region has to offer!
If you liked this article, please check out our YouTube video for more footage of our trip to the Badlands!