Badlands National Park

This entry is part [part not set] of 49 in the series All American Road Trip out West 2014

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The Badlands National Park could be series onto themselves. The first thing we asked is, “How did the badlands get its name?” The National Park Service says, “Extreme temperatures, lack of water, and the exposed rugged terrain led to the name. In the early 1900’s French-Canadian fur trappers called it ‘les mauvais terres pour traverse,’ or ‘bad lands to travel through’” (


The Badlands is a national park so there is a small fee to enter. However, this is well worth the money. We arrived from the east, so we entered near the Ben Reifel Visitors Center. There, you can see exhibits about the park and see some fossil prep going on as well. As with all parks, there are plenty of volunteers to help you along the way. Have a question? Don’t hesitate to ask. 


If you are traveling I-90, take a quick detour through the Badlands on 240. We spent time at Big Badlands Overlook, Fossil Exhibit Trail, and the Pinnacles Overlook. All of the other points of interest along the rout looked great as well.

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From Google Maps (

The Archeology of the badlands is interesting too. Because of the erosion of the badlands, fossils are regularly discovered. But, that also means visitors can go off path too! Make sure not to touch one if you find one though! You are supposed to report findings to staff who will send archeologists to the area to document the discovery and excavate it. Scientist say this is a very rich site because the species here are now extinct but show a time when mammals were evolving quickly. Some of the species include ancient turtles, sheep-like oredonts, deer-like Leptomeryx, a pig like Archaeotherium, a horse like Mesohippus, which had thee toes, an a saber-tooth like Hoplophoneus among others.


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Our other favorite place was Pinnacles Overlook. It had a gorgeous view of the Badlands and we also saw a bunch of big horned sheep walking in the valley below us. It is amazing how they can walk right along the cliffs of the Badlands. 


Visiting the Badlands, you quickly see that the hills are layered sedimentary rock.

The geography of the badlands is an example of deposition and erosion. But these two simple process created a complex and beautiful landscape. While we are looking at the ancient past, the geological processes are continuing today due to wind and water erosion. In fact, the erosion of the badlands started about 500,000 years ago and will last about another 500,000 years before it is all gone. Viewing the badlands, it is easy to see different layers in the hills. Each layer represents a different period of time that sediment was deposited into the area. the oldest layer at the bottom was deposited about 68 to 77 million years ago while the top was deposited only 26 million years ago. For more information about the geology of the badlands, go to:



While ancient rhinoceroses don’t wander the prairie today, there are many plants and animals you can see today including prairie dogs, black footed ferrets, and if you are lucky a native Yucca. We didn’t see any of these on our quick drive through the badlands, but we did see big horned sheep. They were crawling all over the edges of these hills.  Maybe in another 50 million years people will be excavating them! 

Look at these Big Horned sheep!


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Regardless of your interest in the archeology, geology, or history of this region, you just can’t ignore the natural beauty. Make sure your drive down I-90 includes a trip on 240 to visit Badlands National Park.




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Chris Ashbach is one of the founders of Dan330. Chris is a pilot and avid outdoorsman who loves fishing, hunting, camping, and exploring. He loves taking kids (especially his own) on trips to share his passion of the outdoors. Chris is also a gardener, volunteers at Let's Go Fishing, and teaches Sunday school. Chris holds a MA in Organizational Leadership and is faculty at a local university in Minnesota; teaching undergraduate business classes.