When the Badlands Aren’t So Bad

Thunder in BadlandsIf you were driving a stagecoach or on horseback and came across this expanse of arid rock, you might call it a “miserable gully,” but if you’re interested in geological features and you have plenty of water, this 244,000-acre national park in South Dakota is worth exploring.


I’ve been to Badlands National Park several times in my life, but the most interesting and rewarding experiences have been the times I’ve stayed in the park. Last summer, we stayed in brand new cabins with AC.

Cabin IMG_1963

When the sun’s rays are not quite as intense, the light colored formations are not as blinding. I no longer have to squint.

And when the sun sets (as late as 8:30 p.m. in the summer), the spires take on their own personality. There is an evening program every night at 9 p.m. followed by night sky viewing through large telescopes. Every morning, just before it gets really hot, there is a ranger-led walk at 8:30.


Be sure to check out the Ben Reifel Visitor Center where, besides learning about the rock formations and nearby floral and fauna, you can see real paleontologists working on fossils.

Badlands Visitor Center

The gift store at the Cedar Pass Lodge is one of the best in the area for finding unique and quality South Dakota items, everything from books to jewelry to herbal tea.

If you’re hungry, check out the Cedar Pass Restaurant. In addition to the Sioux Indian Fry Bread and Taco, the restaurant includes South Dakota steak and fish and many gluten-free items.

Trip taken July 2013.

4th of July in South Dakota

I’ve experienced the 4th of July in many places across the country. I’ve seen small town parades in Duxbury, Massachusetts, and far away fireworks in San Francisco. I’ve heard the Declaration of Independence read from the Old State House in Boston and seen George Washington ride by in Williamsburg, Virginia. But of all the places I’ve been, I think Fort Pierre, South Dakota’s 4th of July celebrations is still one of my favorites.

Located across the Missouri River from South Dakota’s capital city of Pierre, Fort Pierre is a tiny town still largely untouched by time. Locals shop at the small grocery, and real cowboys check in at the Silver Spur. Traffic means more than a couple of cars, and bad parking means you might have to park a block away. Beyond the town, the grasses grow tall and far.

At 11 a.m. on the morning of the 4th, the parade begins. Kids line the route ready with plastic bags to gather the candy thrown by the people in the parade from the antique cars and tractors, horses and floats, politicians and trucks. Water hoses and water balloons cool the spectators in this hour plus parade.

Fort Pierre Parade 2 Fort Pierre Parade 1

Fort Pierre Parade 5 Fort Pierre Parade 4

At 7 p.m., the rodeo begins at the Stanley County Fairgrounds in Fort Pierre. Unless you really want to look like a city slicker, you might want to dress in your best western attire. Jeans, boots, big belt buckles and cowboy hats are a norm at the Fort Pierre Rodeo.

Fort Pierre Rodeo

After the calf roping, barrel racing, and bronco bucking events, there is a fireworks show for the spectators.

Trip taken July 2013.