Cities Journal

The Very Good Badlands Of South Dakota


Don’t let the forbidding name fool you or keep you away. The Badlands’ barren buttes and spires confounded 19th-century pioneers because the rugged terrain made travel difficult. One century later, federal officials took a more charitable view of this panorama, designating it a national park in 1978, the same year that Bruce Springsteen’s “Badlands” first hit the radio.

Most tourists pass through these parts on their way to or from Mount Rushmore, some 90 minutes west. Nevertheless, the Badlands National Park, an easy detour off Interstate 90, is well worth a visit.

Rising from the grasslands of the high prairie are 244,000 acres of miniature mountain ranges, ridges, pinnacles and unusually shaped formations, rich with fossils and carved by erosion. You can also view them from lookouts along a loop road, or venture from your car for short scrambles amid the beautiful treeless landscape.

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