Kyle Kotajarvi

Day I: Badlands

Woo! The start of a new story.  The beginning of a new adventure.  I'm so excited.  

These posts are going to formatted a bit differently than the American West blogs, as these will be a bit more informative, rather than a recap of the entire day.  

Today, I visited Badlands National Park for the second time this year.  Badlands is one of the most interesting places I've ever visited.  The buttes and spires that rise sharply above the surrounding prairie are oddly beautiful.  These formations were created through the process of deposition and erosion.  The colorful layers you'll see throughout this post are composed of tiny grains of sand, silt, and clay that have been cemented together into sedimentary rocks. The layers were deposited during the late Cretaceous Period (67 to 75 million years ago) throughout the Late Eocene (34 to 37 million years ago) and Oligocene Epochs (26 to 34 million years ago).   The youngest layers sit on top of the older layers. 

These layers are composed of alternating layers of hard and soft sediments.  Erosion from wind and water cause uncovered layers of softer rocks or soil to wash away quickly, which results in dramatic walls formed from the harder sediments.  This erosion has been constantly happening, and the landscape is forever changing.  The Badlands erode at a rate of about one inch per year, meaning 500,000 years from now, they'll be gone.  

One person that's going to be integral part of these posts is one my best friends: Wiley Putnam.  Wiley is an incredible portrait photographer from Seattle, who will be accompanying me on this entire adventure.  We left Rochester, MN early this morning and reached the east entrance of Badlands National Park at 2:30.  It was about 50 degrees and skies were partly cloudy.  Our first stop was one of my favorites: Big Badlands Overlook.  I had stopped at Big Badlands Overlook back in April, and the difference in light from then to now made a massive difference.  It was decently windy, so the clouds overhead were racing across the sky, which resulted in some amazing shadows.  The dramatic light that we had for the first 45 minutes that we had when we first entered the park made for some very dynamic images.  The clouds broke and reformed over and over again. 

The layers in the rock are a sight to see, and they also tell quite the story.  

We stopped at the visitor center briefly to grab some maps.  After that, we just kept driving through the park.  Badlands is a “drive through” National Park — which was quite convenient for the schedule we were on.  Traveling during the offseason is nice, as you avoid the crowds, but the days are also shorter.  Sunset was at 4:30 tonight, which made for a hurried trip through the park.  Here's some shots taken along the way.  These three were taken in the direct vicinity of the Ben Reifel Visitor Center.

After driving a bit further into the park, we made a few stops near Bigfoot Pass.   These are two of my favorite shots of the day, as they lend a bit of scale to the formations of the park.  Checkout Wiley in the bottom left-hand side of the frame. 

These two were taken at Panorama Point Overlook.  Look at that form! 

Honestly, I forget what overlook I took this shot from, but golden hour sure was golden. 

Here's a random shot taken from the car.  Yes, I'm being very descriptive about my photographs.  

We watched the sunset at Pinnacles Overlook.  The sunset was spectacular.  One of the best I’ve ever seen.  At one point, the Badlands were illuminated with this pinkish glow that was unlike anything I’ve ever seen.  

After watching sunset, we exited the western side of the park into Wall, South Dakota.  Of course, we made the obligatory stop at Wall Drug.  For those of you who don’t know: Wall Drug is the most outrageously advertised tourist trap in North America. We had about an hour left in our drive to Rapid City, which wasn’t terrible, considering we’d already drive 8 hours.  We got into town, went to Culvers, and then headed to our Super 8 on Rushmore Road. 

T'was a fantastic day.  Tomorrow will be feature our longest drive of the trip, from Rapid City to Green River, Utah, but we'll also see some amazing scenery.