With Mother Nature having thwarted our plan of visiting Badlands the previous day, we tried again the following morning, treating our recently-repaired campervan with extra TLC.
The temperature was hovering right around zero (Fahrenheit… that’s about -18 degrees Celsius) as we set off for the national park, about an hour outside of Rapid City.
I’ve seen lots of photos of the otherworldly landscape of the Badlands in spring or summer, but I wasn’t prepared for what a bizarre and beautiful sight it would be under a blanket of snow!
We inched forward along the snow-covered main road (even ignoring the debacle of the previous day, Kokapelli didn’t handle that well in winter weather), stopping whenever one of the local residents wandered across our path.
The Badlands are known for being home to many different species of prairie-dwelling animals, and since the park was virtually empty on such a frigid day, we were treated to more sightings than usual. Aside from these bighorn sheep, we saw pronghorn antelope (Google them; they’re really cool), a gigantic porcupine snuffling around in the snow, and even a bobcat taking a nap in a sunny spot (Amity’s got those photos on her super-zoom camera, so just trust me when I say that they are adorable).
King of the hill!
Fun fact: in stark contrast to the wildlife that currently inhabits the area, fossils of camels and rhinoceroses have been found in the Badlands! And that’s not to mention the giant sea monsters (mosasaur) that used to swim around the park when it was a prehistoric ocean.
The bighorns were supremely unconcerned about the giant metal animal trundling through their space, so we got a lot of close-up views. We even caught a glimpse of a few sweet little babies!
See that little guy in there?
It was unearthly cold to match the unearthly landscape. I don’t mind the cold as much as most people, I think, but this was a different story. Zero degrees is the kind of cold that hurts. We had brainfreeze just from stepping outside, and sensitive teeth simply from breathing in.
We pulled off into a few lookout points, but it was such a struggle to return the interior of the van to a regular temperature after opening the doors even for a second, that eventually we gave up and decided to enjoy the view through the windshield with the Frozen soundtrack providing some extra appropriate ambiance.
The photo above is one side venture I couldn’t resist, despite the arctic temperatures. I followed the relatively smooth part of the ridges out as far as I could to take in the view from the middle of the canyon. Doesn’t it look volcanic there? The closest thing I’ve seen to this landscape before was during the middle of the Tongariro Crossing in New Zealand – I think I blogged that it looked like Mars or Venus!
This was definitely a top-five national park for me, but I’ll admit that we didn’t linger long. Yesterday’s mechanical troubles were still in my mind, and I was a little bit nervous about stopping too long anywhere for fear of getting stranded in the sub-freezing weather.
Despite the imminent risk of frostbite, I don’t think that the view of the Badlands in the snow could be beat at any other time of year – not to mention that fewer visitors means more animal sightings (napping bobcat, guys!!) – so I think a winter visit is definitely in order as long as you’re relatively confident in your vehicle’s ability to get you back out again.
The Details: $15 entry fee per vehicle | Open year-round with occasional closures due to weather (note: Ben Reifel Visitor Center is open year-round, but White River Visitor Center is summer only) | Website HERE