Badlands National Park: WOW! …Plus Wall Drug

Badlands National Park has great beauty. it also has interesting— and amusing— wildlife, such as three curious prairie dogs that posed for Peggy. With winter and hibernation coming, these guys have obviously been putting on the pounds— or at least ounces! (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

The Lakota people, who have occupied the area for hundreds of years, called it mako sica. To early French fur trappers, it was known as  les mauvaises terres. Both names mean the same thing: Badlands. If you can’t hunt it, fish it, farm it, or mine it— what good is it? Fortunately, our tastes have changed. We have come to appreciate areas for their natural beauty and Badlands National Park has an abundance. BTW, where there is a will there is a way. People have finally found a way to make money off of beautiful places. It’s called tourism.

Speaking of tourism, we stayed in a small campground near Wall Drug, a tourist attraction that has mastered the art of pulling people off of the road. It started with offering them free ice water in the 60s and 70s by advertising on 3,000 small wooden road signs throughout South Dakota and neighboring states. I first came across the signs in the 60s. It was impossible not to be curious. This time, Peggy and I found the small wooden signs had been morphed into numerous billboards as we crossed South Dakota on I-90.

Wall Drug still uses come-ons to lure travelers off the road with large billboards along I-90. The small, original drug store has turned into a massive tourist attraction with the drug store occupying maybe 1,000 square feet out of the 76,000 square feet the attraction now claims.
Wall Drug advertises that its store has something for everyone. Including Jackalopes.
Peggy found one to ride.
One of the billboards along I-90 advertised “Come to lunch— or be lunch at Wall Drug.” This smiling T Rex was apparently offering the latter. As an aside, numerous fossils have been found in Badlands National Park, but not dinosaurs. The area was part of an ocean at the time dinosaurs roamed the earth.

The term wall, in Wall Drug, comes from the primary feature of the Badlands, a hundred mile wall from which the Badlands have been eroding at an inch per year for the past 500,000 years or so creating mesas, ridges, and gullies with unique structures of considerable beauty. The 31 mile Loop Road the National Park features takes visitors along the wall and down into the Badlands, providing a great introduction. We will feature views from along the Loop Road today.

Erosion, cutting through some 45 million years of geological history between 75 and 30 million year ago, has left behind unique structures of great beauty. The upper right corner shows the wall from which the Badlands have eroded. Look carefully and you will see vehicles parked at one of the many pull-offs along the 31 mile Loop Road that winds its way through the park.
One thing that is guaranteed along the Loop Road: Great variety. Compare this picture with the one above. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
What caught our attention here, was the contrast between the green trees and the white ridge. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
The erosion here had created a mesa left standing alone above the smooth mounds below.
Rabbit bush added a touch of yellow here to complement golden hills above. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Jagged peaks are also found along the 31 mile drive.
A close up of one of the peaks along the way.
Pink and mauve top off yellow hills. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Another example. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
I liked the tiered look here and the way erosion had cut through over 40 million years of geologic history.
We wondered how long it would be before the finger rock on top of this peak fell. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
One of the pull-offs along the road is dedicated to Chief Bigfoot of the Lakota tribe. He was ill when he reached this site on the wall. His followers helped him down. Not long after that, he and some 150 member of his tribe, including women and children, were massacred at Wounded Knee. it was one of the darker moments in US History.
I conclude today with this photo of the Badlands taken near the Visitor Center. Peggy and I will take you for a drive along Sage Road in our next post. It’s noted for its wildlife. Get ready for buffalo, turkeys, big horn sheep, and a raucous town of prairie dogs!

27 thoughts on “Badlands National Park: WOW! …Plus Wall Drug

  1. This post brings forth many memories, Curt. I first visited in 1964 [the free ice water signs go back to 1936]. In 2018, we were wandering through Nebraska where Alie had what we thought was a bad cold. But she wanted to divert up to South Dakota to see the Badlands which she had missed because she was ill on a previous trip. About the time we hit the border, her “cold” disappeared. It turns out the state flower of Nebraska is goldenrod [Who knew?]; she was allergic to it, the flower disappeared as soon as we hit dry South Dakota and so did her sneezing. By unusual coincidence, while reading your post tonight, I am wearing a belt purchased at Wall Drug, not necessarily a bargain but it is real leather which is hard to find these days.

    • Peggy and I were just at a dinosaur bone museum in Hill City, South Dakota that was crammed full of fossils. It was fascinating. I’ll do a post on it, but it will be a while before I get to it. Thanks, Margy. -Curt

    • Thanks, D, Peggy and I are fans of so-called badlands, wherever they are found. Petrified Forest NP in Arizona is another great place to find them. BTW, I went to Amazon and downloaded your book onto my Kindle but it hasn’t shown up. I’ll go back and try again. I’m ready to read it. 🙂

  2. Show me a prairie dog, and I’m ready to melt. I love those little critters. Of course, when they come with a landscape like that as a backdrop, it’s even better. Wall Drug probably was (may have been?) part of the model for our own version called Buc-ees. You probably came across some of those gas station/emporiums while you were here. Like Wall Drug, the big ones are travel destinations. More than a few families will say to one another, “Hey! It’s Sunday afternoon and not much is going on. Let’s go over to Buc-ees and browse the aisles.” Not only that, they really do have the cleanest restrooms in the world, and good pay and benefits for the workers. (That probably helps to explain the clean restrooms.)

    • A hall mark of ‘badlands,’ Alison. 🙂 Natures way of painting. BTW, we are getting closer to Washington and BC. I’ll try to figure out a timeframe tomorrow. We also have good friends living in the Bellingham area so we will be up close to the border. –Curt

  3. Gorgeous! Gorgeous! I can’t get over how much it looks like central Oregon. Would you agree? You and Peggy must have visited the Painted Hills and Fossil Beds and Blue Basin? Also how fabulous is it that the Badlands of ND are the site of dinosaur fossils, and so is the similar landscape in central Oregon. There must be a reason for this, and my geology-trained offspring would probably be able to help me understand. It’s so good to receive your dispatches, Curt. I hope that Iorek got all checked out and received the Blue Ribbon of approval for soundness.

    • Right you are on Central Oregon, Crystal. Of the badlands I’ve seen, they all have a similar look, whether in Oregon, the Southwest, or Oregon.

      Great fossils but not dinosaurs. Sorry if I wan’t clear on that. It wasn’t the result of the badlands, however. The area was under the ocean at the time of the dinosaurs! There are, however, places in the Dakotas that are great for finding dinosaurs.
      Glad you are enjoying the posts, Crystal. Iorek and Serafina are perking along just fine. And say thank you. 🙂

  4. I would admit the signs pulled me in to check out Wall Drug in the late 70s. The tourist shop was kind of kitschy, but the clean, cold water made the stop worth it.
    I wonder what the geologists would say about the colors?

    • Kitschy is a good word, Dave, and I’m pretty sure the Wall Drug folks would agree with you. It seems that kitschy is what they were shooting for.
      The geologists always have a lot to say about the color of rocks. BTW, while we are on the subject of rocks, have you ever been to Dry Falls in Washington, the 3 1/2 mile cliff that the glacial water came flowing over when the glacial dam in Montana broke. Water racing at 65 miles per mile and 400 feet deep. Incredible.

      • I haven’t been to Dry Falls, but I remember seeing a segment about it on PBS by a guy who has done several segments on the Pacific NW. Interesting stuff. I was in the Palouse in Eastern Washington earlier this year for a photography workshop, and one of the participants was an amateur geologist who gave us the rundown on that area. As I’m almost out of Mexico posts, I’ll probably have a couple about that trip coming up.

  5. Amazing landscape, Curt! We marveled at how many structures are around, they are so similar, yet so different. We didn’t see any wildlife when we visited the park back in 2016, probably because we didn’t hang around enough🙂

    • Different structures with different colors. Always changing with the perspective and the time of day, part of the magic. We found most of the wildlife on the side road instead of the main road through the park. Thanks for visiting Christie.

  6. Ooooh! I love the prairie dogs. They had gone missing from Eric’s favorite spot in NM… I had so hoped to see them. How very clever of Peggy to catch that charming shot. You two make me wish I had had a bunch more time to spend in the Badlands way back in the day… can’t say I regret having passed Wall Drug by though I may have had to pause to ‘fill ‘er up perhaps.
    I’m truly enjoying Peggy’s eye for the scenics. 🤗Good! More prairie dogs to come… 😏

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