High Plains in the winter – The Badlands

I’ve been wanting to see Badlands National Park for quite a bit now.

A planned trip in May of 2015 did not work out for various reasons.

There are no regrets as the trip to the Comanche Grasslands was a truly amazing trip: High Plains canyons, wildflowers in bloom and much evidence of archeoastronomy in addition to exploration of local history in general.

But I still wanted to see the park.

I love the High Plains.

Something about the solitude, the stark and beautiful terrain and the isolation calls to me.

In many ways, it is perhaps the most famous of American landscapes. The archetypes of the lone cowboy riding the range, settlers heading out west in a covered wagon and the native peoples on a horse are known throughout the world.

Yet it is a landscape ignored by my Americans.

And most outdoors people.

There are some major exceptions, of course.

Badlands National Park being the most well-known.

It is a national park not far from the interstate.

Which is why going this past December was perhaps the best idea.

I have winter gear. I am comfortable camping with the early night. And I looked forward to the chance to relax on a simple camping trip.

And I had most of the park to myself.

The trip started with by going back in time to the Mammoth Site museum in Hot Springs, SD.

A very impressive site. And still a working fossil dig.

As I found out last Fall, this area is full of fossils from the ice age and older.

After this side trip, I made my way to the Sage Creek Basin area of Badlands National Park.

I immediately saw some of the 1500 bison that roams this part of the park.

All wildlife photos were taken with a 600mm zoom lens equivalent. I am dumb but not THAT dumb. 😀

All within a mere few minutes of entering the park!

As I was making camp, other locals were curious about my presence.

I did not mind the company. I have a soft spot for vocal and curious rodents…what can I say?

I met my only visitor for the weekend as I was making camp. Sarah is an Australian engineer and is currently making her way by van across the US.  We chatted, I gave her some info on points further south and possible camp spots.  We said our “fare thee wells” as she continued her travels.

Once camp was made I took a hike on the local buttes. The Sage Creek area would be seen. More bison were spotted on nearby buttes.

The hike completed, I made my way back to camp.

Another local checked out my presence.

The night was cold but with the right gear, I settled into a restful and much needed long night’s sleep.

The following day I made my way out.

I left the rolling plains of the Sage Creek area.

The Badlands proper was reached.

Overlooks with hiking mixed in were enjoyed throughout the day as I made my way to the other end of the park.

The visitors center was reached. Checked out the exhibits, asked a few questions and was greeted by blue skies once the building was left.

A quick hike was had with the remaining daylight. Perhaps my favorite photo of an overlook was taken.

The buttes in the evening twilight were a memorable sight.

The following morning was all about the hiking.

What better way to see the famous formations of the park than to walk amongst them?

Some bighorns were even spotted!

I left the park and made my way back home. I entered the appropriately named Buffalo Gap Grasslands and saw another herd of bison.

The Pine Ridge reservation was crossed into. I saw a small group of horses that proved to be a good photo taking opportunity.

I briefly explored the Stronghold District. This area is maintained in conjunction with the Oglala Sioux.

An overlook was soon reached. The site of the Wounded Knee Massacre was below.

Time to head home.

All the photos

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L. Smith
L. Smith
7 years ago

glad you finally made it to God’s Country-South Dakota. This park is normally seen from the road but to get out among it is simply magic! After reading about your jaunt and previously this fall the Swami’s thru hike of it makes me want to go out and see it again. I am from SD and my son and I are thinking of making the hike that Cam did in the coming years. We did a 20 mile lollipop loop thru the Conata/Tyree Basins last spring and it was so beautiful. It’s hard to explain to someone who only see’s… Read more »

Nick Gatel
7 years ago

Nice big horn — my favorite animal.

Jamie Nails
7 years ago

I’ve heard nothing but good things about Badlands. Your report and pictures back that up.

I’m impressed you ventured into one of the Dakota’s in December. Ha!

Devin Quince
Devin Quince
7 years ago
Reply to  Paul Mags

I miss these type of trips and I need to just say screw it and do on easy overnight soon. Interested in an overweight old fart join you sometime? I have some amazing bourbon, mead, you name it.

Devin Quince
Devin Quince
7 years ago
Reply to  Paul Mags

Sounds great, something nice and easy.