Tag Archives: Our National Parks

Badlands National Park: “Bad”, but uniquely beautiful

Visiting the beautiful Black Hills and the Badlands of South Dakota, travelers often wonder why it is called The Badlands. Badlands National Park in southwestern South Dakota is only one area that holds the title of “badlands”.  It is a geologic term that describes landscapes characterized by soft sedimentary rocks.  This type of terrain can be found all over the west in places like Wyoming, Utah, North Dakota, Colorado and Nebraska. 

badlands of South Dakota

Surveying the terrain & exposed sedimentary rocks: Badlands National Park

 The Lakota people were the first to call this place “mako sica” or “land bad”.  French Canadian fur trappers called it “les mauvaises terres pour traverser”, or “bad lands to travel through.” When one surveys this barren, rocky terrain with limited moisture and vegetation you can see why the title stuck. Nevertheless, the rock formations and colors in the sedimentary rock create a surreal landscape that seems not of this world.  The famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright was impressed with the uniqueness of this land. In 1935 he wrote:
“I’ve been about the world a lot and pretty much over our own country, but I was totally unprepared for the revelation called the Dakota Bad Lands…What I saw gave me an indescribable sense of mysterious elsewhere-a distant architecture, ethereal…an endless supernatural world more spiritual than earth but created out of it.” 
Badlands,flickr photo

Sunset in The Badlands (Flickr photo by Sue Vruno)

So I would agree with Mr. Wright: the Badlands create an other world atmosphere…sometimes you feel you are wandering on a different planet. The different textures and the way the sun light and clouds plays across the horizon make the rock structures seem to go on indefinitely. When I was there with my family, I remember one of my son’s commenting that it felt as if we were “walking on Mars”.

Yet even with this desolate terrain, there are a variety of creatures and plant life that are abundant here and call this territory home. The prairie and rocky terrain amazingly are able to support 60 different species of grasses.Badlands,rattlesnakes sign!

This in turn provides a food source for several animals including bison, prairie dogs, coyotes, snakes, vultures and bluebirds. When we were there, we did not see much wildlife…or snakes thank goodness…but this is the first sign we saw on the trail. Good to know! 

In addition to the living creatures, this region is rich with fossilized remains of a variety of creatures. In this desolate place, it’s intriguing to think that many of the fossils are of aquatic dinosaurs. When the formation of the Badlands began, over 75 million years ago, there was a shallow sea spanning from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada encompassing the Great Plains area. The creatures sank to the bottom of the sedimentary layer and became fossilized. All the different layers of rock also provide a geologist’s dream and include: sandstone, silt, mudstone, limestone, volcanic ash and shale. These layers create a multi-dimensional and colorful landscape.

Many travelers heading to South Dakota and points west catch sight of the popular destinations of Mount Rushmore, Devil’s Tower’s and many more in that neck of the woods. Yet, the eerie and majestic beauty of the Badlands is worth adding to your trip agenda. For more information check out the National Park Service link to The Badlands: https://www.nps.gov/badl/index.htm 

Put your traveling shoes on….Julie E. Smith

 

The Quiet Majesty of the Grand Tetons

“In and around the lake
Mountains come out of the sky and they stand there –Roundabout by YES

The Teton Range: Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Looking at the majesty of the Tetons, I was reminded of those lyrics by YES from so many years ago. I have always liked that those words seem to bring the mountains to life. A life of their own and as they stand there, if they were so inclined they could get up and walk away to another place.

The Teton range has been “standing there” for millions of years, but was established as Grand Teton National Park in 1929.  About 13 million years ago, two blocks of the earth’s crust shifted on a fault line, tilted one up and the other down forming the range we view today. The highest peek: “Grand” reaches to a height of 13,770 feet.   The area surrounding the range includes a lush valley with crystal shining lakes, groves of aspen trees and alpine meadows. The park is 484 square miles and includes the range and most of the nearby area of Jackson Hole.  Not to be confused with specifically the town of Jackson, Wyoming. This flat valley surrounded by the towering mountains was visited by many trappers in the 1800’s. The area was named “Jackson’s Hole”  after Davey Jackson: a trapper from that time.  In time, the apostrophe was dropped and it just became Jackson Hole. Both the town of Jackson and the geographic namesake of the area are linked historically and are “next door neighbors” sharing the same inspiring landscape.

Antler Arches-Jackson Wyoming

Many visitors to the Park also spend time touring the town of Jackson and many hotels, restaurants and shops are found closely to the Park. Jackson is also the home to three popular ski resorts, so it is even busier during the winter months. We were there in summer and there were some visitors from the Park, but their peak season is ski season. When we went to the Grand Tetons, we stayed in Jackson and had the opportunity to explore both. One of the most unique features of Jackson was the Town Square: decorated with cowboys statues and arches made from antlers. On first view, it seems a little morbid…but come to find out the elk shed their antlers every year. Most of the antlers used in the construction of the archways were collected from the area in the woods. Otherwise, that would have been quite a few elk to shoot! Here’s a photo of one of the arches. They do have quite an impact: it gives the town square a real rustic, western feel.

Jenny Lake-Grand Teton National Park

There are three entrances to the Park, the southern entrance is only 4 miles north of Jackson.  If traveling from the north, via Yellowstone National Park, the two parks are only 31 miles apart.  Nevertheless, the Tetons are frequently overlooked by the notoriety of Yellowstone.  Both parks have their own unique features, but personally I liked Grand Teton better. The majestic beauty of the mountains and the quiet solitude of the shimmering lakes gives one a wonderful sense of calm…good Zen.  Yellowstone provides a great showcase of unique geographic features: erupting geysers, bubbling mud pots and breathtaking waterfalls.  I don’t deny these are all part of an awesome park adventure, but the majesty and serene landscapes of the Tetons should not be missed.

With the varied terrain there are also different hikes suited to different skill levels. Yet, the easy to moderate level hikes provide a great day hike through sparkling streams, alpine meadows and loads of photo opportunities. We took a relatively short hike and ended up at Jenny Lake. Since it was an easy hike, we were not alone on the trail, but not crowded by any means.  I am always amazed by delightful conversations with fellow park goers. We had asked two women if they could take our family photo and they were happy to oblige (most folks usually are…) Come to find out they were also from a  Chicago suburb; very close to where we lived. Small world.

Moulton Barn on Mormon Row-Grand Teton National Park (photo by PhotoJeepers)

Some of the most iconic photographs of Grand Teton National Park include the antique barn on Mormon Row Historic District: the Moulton Barn. The barn stands as a picturesque back drop to grazing bison and antelope. It also reminds the viewer of the challenging life of farming that took place on these rugged lands. The area was settled by Mormons in the late 1890s. The community was established and 27 homesteads were built to form a close knit community. Most of the farmers grew hay and oats and had limited livestock. In the mid-1900s, Mormon Row was acquired to expand Grand Teton National Park and in 1997 the district was added to the National Register of Historic Places.  Several iconic barns still stand today and are widely recognized in photographs with the Teton range as the backdrop.

Grand Teton National Park: a magnificent, must see park for travelers to the west. Put your traveling shoes on. Julie E. Smith