Late last year I took some time to travel north to South Dakota and visit Badlands National Park. I wanted to do some photography in the area and get to know the landscape intimately, and at the same time scratch an itch to visit since it had been about 30 years since I first visited and I didn't have a lot of memories from the time.
I drove north on the first day, working my way up I-35 from Oklahoma and most of the way through Kansas, and made it to Grand Island where I was greeted by construction along I-80 and a round of thunderstorms moving through the area. After staying the night I woke up early and drove northwest through Ravenna and Broken Bow, moving into the Nebraska Sandhills. I really enjoyed this area, especially around Valentine. It's very beautiful if you're into rolling hills and sparsely populated areas that aren't developed, which fits me to a T. I was also really intrigued driving through the Rosebud and Pine Ridge Indian Reservations and observing life as I drove through the towns of Mission and Wanblee. I've always been interested in the history of the area, studying and reading a lot about Wounded Knee and the relationships between the Plains Tribes and the U.S. Government.
As I drove to the east towards Wanblee, the landscape began to change and I was super excited to see the first signs of the barren desert of the Badlands. It's amazing how you can go from a beautiful sea of buffalo grass to a landscape void of any plant life in the blink of an eye.
Along the way it was really amazing the amount of round hay bales that dotted the landscape, and if you're a photographer and you're missing the standard round bale photograph in your arsenal, this is the place to capture it. Of course, I had to stop and get mine. I also made it black and white for art's sake.
I arrived in the Badlands around 11am after about a 5 hour drive and stopped in the very small town of Interior. With the main stop in the town being the gas station/convenience store, it serves as a gateway into the park from the south entrance.
As you enter the park from the south towards the east, you have a restaurant and souvenir shop that appear to stay pretty busy during the day even in the off-season and nearby there is a campground for those who are traveling via RV. The road then forks two ways, one to the northwest that takes you through the park, and one that takes you to the northeast that clips the park's east side. When I first arrived there was no doubt I was going into the heart of the park. The road winds through the park with many unique views and seemingly unending vistas. Being there in the middle of the day for me though was a problem with the harsh sunlight that is not conducive to great landscape shots, so after scoping the area out I went to the KOA that was south of Interior about three miles and checked into my cabin. By the way, this KOA was top notch and the cabin I stayed in was very well kept. If you looking for a place to stay in the area for a night or two I definitely recommend.
Later that evening I ventured back out into the park for evening and night sky shots, and it was amazing because most of the tourists had left the park for the night and it seemed like I had the whole park to myself. The feeling that came with this was awesome, and the photos that it allowed me to compose I felt came out as well as I could have ever hoped for.
Wildlife was abundant as well as I traveled through the park the next day. Bighorn sheep and prairie dogs were the main attraction as I drove through, and they were very accessible for photos.
Overall, I spent three full days around the park, which ended up being a little much even with the goal of doing strictly photography. It takes about an hour to drive through the park and for a tourist most of it can be experienced in a day. I spent a good half day though to the west of the park in the vehicle accessible grassland getting off the highway and spending time well off the beaten path. This is a great way to get to know the land and have a little fun along the way if you're staying the area for a few days.
Here is a collection of shots I captured from the trip. It's a beautiful place that will feed the soul. Prints of these photos are available in the store.
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