Before coming to Badlands National Park in South Dakota, I had thought that it would be harsh, desolate, dusty and dangerous, and that I would primarily see nondescript gray stone formations. French trappers in the 18th century called the region a “bad land” when they first visited it, and I’m sure that many others have called it much worse names as they attempted to travel through it. I got some sense of the challenges that one might confront on a 10-mile hike that I did that wound through and up and over various formations and grasslands. However, in the case of my trek, I knew that there was a cold bottle of water and a car with air conditioning waiting for me at the end. What I found on this visit is that while the land can be harsh, desolate, dusty, dangerous and there is a great deal of gray rock, it is also stunningly beautiful. One time in particular stands out where I experienced the raw, natural beauty and force of the badlands and nature.
One of our days at Badlands a strong thunderstorm rolled through southwest South Dakota. I had planned to get up very early in the morning to go into the park and shoot sunrise, but not at 0300 when the full force of the storm hit. What a brilliant light and sound show that we witnessed. Since I was up anyway, I decided to make myself a thermos of tea and head into the park. As I drove on the road that winds through the park I watched the incredible light show out of my front window and climbed up to one of the wonderful overlooks in the park called Panorama Point. The brunt of the storm had passed over me, but was still roaring in the near distance. It was now 0345, and as you might imagine, I was the only one at the overlook. In the dark and a light rain I walked out to the point and took in the incredible show occurring in the west. As the time approached 0500 I looked back to the east and even though the sky was black, there was a sliver of open sky right at the horizon. If this held, there would be just enough room for the rising sun to come through and illuminate the vista spread out before me.
In a spitting and blowing rain I watched the first rays of the day hit the bank of magnificent rock formations in front of me against a deep blue backdrop as the rain fortuitously turned to a drizzle and then stopped. I started taking photos, one of which is above, and simply took in the extraordinary scene that unfolded before me as I watched periodic lightning flashes in the distance. But the show was not over, as a small shaft of rainbow light then pierced the middle of the scene. It would not last long, as the rising sun slowly disappeared into a dark cloud bank and then disappeared.
I stood there for some time after that, still alone at the overlook, the storm likely deterring most from venturing into the park, and just took it all in as I watched the light show continue on the horizon. As the storm moved farther off to the west I packed up my camera gear, put it into the car, and then started to drive around the park, wondering what other surprises and beauty would await me around each corner.
Photos from this stunningly beautiful park are below.
Click on photos to open gallery in Flickr –