Here’s what I saw:
I drove in from the southern entrance off Highway 44 and headed north to the main entrance near Pinnacles Overlook.
Badlands are generally areas of loose sandstone and dirt which is easily shaped by rain. They are called “bad lands” because they were difficult to travel through, and not easily worked for pasture or farmland. I like to think that their labyrinth of mounds and canyons made it easy for outlaws like cattle rustlers and stage coach bandits to hide out, but I haven’t found any evidence to support that.
I got to see the bighorn sheep I missed in Rocky Mountain National Park. There were only ewes (females) and kids (babies) in the groups I saw. They were fearless of traffic and people.
It was cool to see the area wet. The dirt soaked up the rain and both of them trickled down the hills and accumulated into creek beds which were undercutting their banks and reshaping routes. The mud felt like oversaturated fine grained cement.
Badlands NP is famous for prehistoric animal fossils.
I asked a ranger about the process of acquiring a dig site, and her explanation was surprisingly simple. Off-trail backcountry hiking and camping is permitted, and she said that teams scour the area each year in the hopes of stumbling on some recently uncovered plant or animal fossils. There are certain layers of soil which have been identified as “fossil rich”, and the researchers focus on places where these layers intersect areas of high erosion. If you find something you let the park know, and they come out and have a look. If they decide that both you and the site are qualified, you get to dig.
My first dream job was to be a dinosaur paleontologist, so who knows, maybe I can live that out someday.
Between Wind Cave NP to Badlands NP I drove through Crazy Horse and Mount Rushmore too, but the low cloud cover made it impossible to see either.
Oh well, next time.