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An evening rainbow begins to form over the Badlands. Click to enlarge photos.
An evening rainbow begins to form over the Badlands. Click to enlarge photos.
The full rainbow after the sun had set behind me.
The full rainbow after the sun had set behind me.
A view of the Badlands from the Sage Creek Wilderness road.
A view of the Badlands from the Sage Creek Wilderness road.
Silhouette of a bison cow.
Silhouette of a bison cow.
Mule deer grazing near Quinn Road along the north boundary of Badlands National Park.
Mule deer grazing near Quinn Road along the north boundary of Badlands National Park.
A coyote hunting prairie dogs near Big Foot Pass.
A coyote hunting prairie dogs near Big Foot Pass.
The prairies above the badland formations is often windy as evidenced by the fur of this coyote hunting near the ridge of the Badlands.
The prairies above the badland formations is often windy as evidenced by the fur of this coyote hunting near the ridge of the Badlands.
Fall colors painted the draws of Sage Creek Wilderness area in late September of last year.
Fall colors painted the draws of Sage Creek Wilderness area in late September of last year.
Early evening light accentuates the rugged formations of the eastern edge of Badlands National Park.
Early evening light accentuates the rugged formations of the eastern edge of Badlands National Park.
An impressive bighorn sheep near Dillon Pass.
An impressive bighorn sheep near Dillon Pass.
Red taillights of a passing car add to the red light of a summer storm at sunset.
Red taillights of a passing car add to the red light of a summer storm at sunset.
The evening sun paints the yellow mound area of the Badlands in brilliant colors with passing storm clouds as a backdrop.
The evening sun paints the yellow mound area of the Badlands in brilliant colors with passing storm clouds as a backdrop.
Ten petal blazing star flowers cling to the edges and sides of the badland formations.
Ten petal blazing star flowers cling to the edges and sides of the badland formations.
The late afternoon sun breaking through the clearing storm near the Pinnacles area.
The late afternoon sun breaking through the clearing storm near the Pinnacles area.
More badland formations with the White River valley in the far distance.
More badland formations with the White River valley in the far distance.
A bighorn ewe seems to be napping. In reality, she is trying to dislodge some pesky insects from buzzing her ears.
A bighorn ewe seems to be napping. In reality, she is trying to dislodge some pesky insects from buzzing her ears.
The last light of the day painting the retreating storm clouds.
The last light of the day painting the retreating storm clouds.
The milky way shining over the Scenic Loop Road illuminated by a passing vehicle.
The milky way shining over the Scenic Loop Road illuminated by a passing vehicle.

Another Good Day in the Badlands

Sep 16, 2013



I think it is appropriate that the last column of this photographic series of South Dakota’s natural landmarks is dedicated to the unique landscapes of Badlands National Park. According to the National Park Service’s website, approximately one million visitors from all over the world visit the Badlands every year. And why not? The park consists of 244,000 acres, 64,144 of which are deemed wilderness acres. It is the largest expanse of protected prairie in the national park system. The park is home to American Bison, white tailed and mule deer, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, rattlesnakes, fox and wily coyotes. Hawks, owls and occasional eagles grace the open skies above the eroded masterpiece of land below. It is a perfect place for a camera-wielding nature lover like me.

While researching the history of the Badlands, I found an online booklet describing the history of Badlands National Monument. (It did not become a full-fledged park until 1978.) From that booklet, I read that early French-Canadian trappers called the region le mauvaises terres a traverser, which means "bad lands to travel across." Other traders applied the term "bad lands" to this locality as well as to any section of the prairie country "where roads are difficult...." The Dakota Indians called the region Mako Sica (mako, land; sica, bad). General George A. Custer described the area as a part of hell where the fires burned out.

Despite the seemingly bad press from the history above, I’ve grown to love the area over the years. Any trip I take to the Black Hills is almost certain to include a detour through the Badlands. I’ve learned that some of the best opportunities for photography in the state are found there, particularly in the golden light of evening or early morning. An earlier column of mine was devoted to a single morning of spectacular light on the eastern borders of the park on a Thanksgiving Day morning. I’ve also had good luck seeing and photographing the park’s wildlife. One of my favorite stories of shooting wildlife is the cold February day where I ended up racing a coyote near the Bigfoot pass. The park also has bobcat residents as well as the endangered black-footed ferret. I’ve not been able to see or photograph either of these yet, but those animals are definitely on my bucket list.

My absolute favorite time to be in the park is during and after bad weather. I’ve witnessed some of the most amazing and breathtaking light when a late afternoon or evening summer storm passes through. Twice, I’ve seen the setting sun backlight the billowing clouds and change the landscape to eerie oranges and deep reds. This spring, I was able to see a massive full rainbow form at the panoramic point overview. This rainbow lit up the eastern sky after the sun had set. I’d never seen a rainbow occur so late in the day before. In late August, I happened to be in the park when a late afternoon storm struck. I witnessed the late day sun breaking through the clouds on the west side of park with dramatic rays of light. Later, the setting sun proceeded to paint the retreating remains of the summer storm with fantastic light and detail.

Later in the night I stayed out to shoot to do some stargazing. This part of South Dakota is nearly devoid of light pollution, which means seeing more stars shine in the heavens. I was not disappointed. The Milky Way shown bright against the rugged pinnacles and once again I stood in awe under South Dakota skies amidst the rugged and torn beauty of the Badlands. It was another good day in the Badlands. They almost always are.
 


Christian Begeman grew up in Isabel and now lives in Sioux Falls. When he's not working at Midcontinent Communications he is often on the road photographing our prettiest spots around the state. Follow Begeman on his blog. To view Christian's columns featuring other unique spots in South Dakota's landscape, visit his landmarks page


Comments

04:56 pm - Mon, September 16 2013
Lisa said:
Excellent shots! Great back story.
07:57 pm - Mon, September 16 2013
Carol Van Sickle said:
My parents took me there when I was nine and it was an awesome place. It was in 1952 and it was like yesterday as that area has been special in my memory and this article helps me remember even small items of that trip and even bigger ones like when I saw Chief Dewey Beard at the trading post on the edge of the Badlalnds. That was before it was a Monument but it deserves that designation as only God could create such a spectacular place as that. One of my favorite places that I have visited.
05:53 pm - Tue, September 17 2013
Richard Pesicka said:
I used to live near Hermosa. We always went to the badlands. It was a special place to go. Having attended Kadoka High School, I can remember many a trips out there. Rock hunting etc. Just beautiful. If you have never been to the Badlands, you are missing out.

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