Every time that I visit Badlands National Park, it's a different place. The seasons and weather transform the badlands, sometimes daily or even hourly. When the badlands are wet from rain or snow, they exhibit more color, especially more blues and purples. The colors are richer and the bands, or strata, more evident. This was my first summer visit, although it was even warmer my first visit which was in the fall several years ago. No matter the season, though, or conditions, the badlands are awesome to view.
The shapes that appear seemingly out of nowhere, lurching into the sky, rise from prairie. It is disconcerting in some sense to see monoliths and banded mountains where you expect to see flat, rolling grassland. The shapes are varied, some smooth and low, others sharply jagged. Some are alone and others join vast throngs of formations. The prairie nature was definitely more evident on this trip in the middle of summer.
We camped at the park, waiting for four deer to mosie through our site before we could set up our tent. In the early morning, I could hear coyotes in the distance yipping their delight at a new day. I could also hear the ubiquitous prairie dogs chirping loudly behind our tent. What really woke me, though, was the sound of thunder. I hate packing up a wet tent and wet gear. I woke up my helper and we quickly got everything packed as the wind picked up and we could see the rain coming down not too far in the distance. Of course, the rain passed quickly, and the new day felt fresh and inviting. We seemed to have the park to ourselves in the early morning light. We saw a young deer that did not seem to mind our presence as it nibbled on leaves.
There are absolutely thousands, if not millions, of prairie dogs at this park. They are fun to watch, almost comical. Remember that these are wild animals, though. This is my first visit not seeing the bison who share this land. We did see many bighorn sheep, mostly along the road way where the mowed grass provides easier access to fresh growth to munch. They were still in the process of shedding their heavy winter coats. I did see one grand specimen of bighorn "surveying his kingdom" (as another visitor noted.)
As always, bring water on hikes, wear sunscreen, and watch for snakes. The land is beautiful but can be deadly.