The Badlands are an eerie place. In daylight, the twisted spires and pinnacles look gray and faded, but at early light or at dusk, pale yellow, deep burgundy, and light pinks emerge. A visit to the Badlands is like a visit to another planet, one that is starkly forbidding and strikingly beautiful. Gazing over the plains from the high ridges of Badlands National Park is not unlike the sense you get while gazing out to sea. Miles and miles of open plain lie before you, with little evidence of humankind.
Though the dusty gray guise gives the landscape a barren appearance, the Badlands are filled with life. Host to bison, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, deer, fox, coyotes, prairie dogs, burrowing owls, and other prairie animals, including the rare black-footed ferret, the Badlands are a wildlife wonderland.
The town of Wall serves as the northern gateway to Badlands National Park and is a good choice for overnight stays, since services in the park are limited. Wall is most famous, however, for Wall Drug, the ultimate roadside attraction.
Purchased in 1931 by the Hustead family, the drug store languished until Dorothy Hustead thought to advertise free ice water, in verse, on road signs scattered along the highway. Hot and thirsty travelers began visiting the store the very first day the signs went up. Today, Wall Drug now serves upwards of 20,000 people a day and is a massive complex of shops and photo ops.
The White River Visitor Center of the South Unit of Badlands National Park is located on the Pine Ridge Reservation and is operated by the Lakota tribe. Displays at the center include information about the park and about Lakota history and culture. The reservation is vast, encompassing over 3,400 sparsely populated square miles.
In addition to the badlands, the reservation lands include both mixed grass and short-grass prairie. Visitors interested in Native American history and culture may well want to plan ahead for a visit to the reservation, home to the Oglala Lakota people.
© Laural A. Bidwell from Moon Mount Rushmore & the Black Hills, 1st Edition