When we left Grand Teton National Park, Mickey poo-pooed our plans to veer a bit north on our trip home to catch Badlands National Park. It's just eroded dirt, he said, and to a large part he's right. The Badlands were created by wind and water eroding away the soil and softer rocks in a semi-arid region, but what was left was breathtaking. Of course, it can't be breathtaking the same way that the Tetons were. They were behemoths stretching straight from the flat valley floor trying their best to reach the sky, the rocks broken and bandaged in snow from their failed attempt to pierce the blue. Life was everywhere. We practically had to dodge the Elk just to get to our campsite at night.
But where the the Tetons were visual stunners of what happens with the earth strains upward, the Badlands were the story of what happens when the earth allows itself to be pushed along with the flow of air and water. We drove into the park from the entrance at Wall, SD, where steady rolling hills suddenly drop off into a cliff that reveals a landscape of mountains and valleys below your feet. The sudden appearance of landscape much like the above photo was a shock to the system. We arrived too late to do much but drive through the park on our way back East, but the views were amazing. I actually regret not have gotten there sooner to be able to spend more time soaking in the contrast of this landscape compared to everything I'm used to. We had also visited the still-uncompleted Crazy Horse Memorial and Mount Rushmore and, honestly, I could have done without either stop because the carving done by the elements at Badlands was much more fascinating.
Some of you may have heard me complain earlier in my trip that I wasn't getting to see the prairie. Nebraska seemed to be all plowed fields and trees and Wyoming, while fairly treeless, was more sagebrush than grass. Turns out that I has just needed to drive north from Nebraska to find the endless plain. As we drove on Wednesday, the sagebrush turned to grass and the Badlands actually includes a very large swath of native grasslands that haven't eroded away into the spires and canyons that earned the park its name. I finally got to see the tall grass swaying in the wind, and it made my trip a little more interesting because of it. I still prefer the shade of a stand of live oaks in the swamps of the South, or hemlocks and conifers in the Appalachians and Rockies, but it's nice to know that there's something out there that doesn't fit into that tree-filled world that I know.