I had been unable to find the campground where I planned to stop near Ft. Pierce National Grassland the night before (Day 4 of my adventure), I had continued on toward the interstate. I stopped for some sleep at the first rest area that I found. Thanks to the double upgrade and having a Ford Escape sleeping in the car was quite comfy if I ignored the bright lights of rest stops.
It was a mostly clear morning through lots of wide open spaces.
I left the Interstate at Exit 131 where you will find the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site Visitor Center. I did not stop at at the Missile Site as it was not yet open and not of interest to me.
The first wildlife spotting for this area was this song sparrow which I saw along Highway 8 just off the interstate.
At the Entrance to the Badlands, I purchased an America Beautiful Pass. This is one of several passes available from the National Park Service. The America the Beautiful pass is ticket to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites. The pass is good for one year from the date of purchase and as of September 2015 the cost was $80. The Park Service offers even lower or no cost options for seniors, military members, and those with permanent disabilities. More about the various passes available can be found here.
I recommend stopping at the visitor center and picking up a copy of the Badlands National Park Official Road Guide to better understand the sights you will encounter as your drive through the park. The geography varies through the park. The guide helps explain why as well as pointing out some of the historical features and sights. My personal favorite park was the Yellow Mounds area.
Though the Badlands 244,000 acres protect an expanse of mixed-grass prairie is home to a variety animal species including bison, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, and black-footed ferrets it is the land itself that takes center stage (at least for me). Both eastern and western birds can be found in the park with over 206 species having been documented in Badlands and 67 species known to nest there.
In some cases the wildlife was completely unperturbed by humans. For example, the rabbit was sitting less than a yard off the boardwalk to the Big Badlands Overlook. It was there as I walked out to the overlook and still there when I passed by on my way back some 20 minutes or so later despite half a dozen or so folks walking by and stopping to take a photo.
Despite not venturing away from my car and scenic overlooks my wildlife spotting included: song sparrows, turkey vultures, wild turkeys, horned lark, western meadowlarks, rabbits, prairie dogs, bison, and pronghorn.
I was enchanted by the Badlands and was glad that missing Ft. Pierre meant that I had more time to explore. A few of my favorites are here in the posts but many more can be found on here.
Of all the places I visited on my trip, the Badlands scored at the top for being accessible to all people including those with mobility limitations or traveling with small children or others for whom walks and hikes are inconvenient or impossible. There were numerous places to stop and enjoy the views with little or no walking. In addition scenic overlooks were often only a short walk from parking areas, many had paved pathways and benches at the end. One aspect I liked is that the overlooks were kept as open as possible with only minimal necessary guard rails or other separations from the view.
Another aspect of the part that I loved was that it was, at least in mid-Sept, uncrowded enough to find places to be alone and soak up the silence and listen to the land.
Be sure to have some snacks and water along with you so that you don’t find yourself needing to rush through your visit. The water would be especially important during hot weather. One final note, the dust from the Badlands is likely to linger long after your trip; it gets into all sorts of nooks and crannies and there is a great deal of it in the dry season.
I will be visiting the Badlands again. It is a place I long to see in many seasons and in a variety of weather and lighting conditions. I only spent a bit of time exploring the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands but will do more of that in the future.