The twisted and colorful landscape of Badlands National Park in South Dakota is a unique place to make compelling photos. The Badlands are made up of layers of sandstone, siltstone, mudstone, claystone, limestone, volcanic ash, and shale. Over the course of millions of years these layers were deposited, but for the past 500,00 years they have been eroding away. The result is a landscape of narrow channels, canyons, and rugged peaks.
Where: Badlands National Park is located in South Dakota. The small tourist town of Wall is a logical base for exploring the park.
When: During spring and summer, the Badlands are at their most photogenic. In May and June, the prairie grass turns vibrant green, and you can sometimes find flowers dotting the landscape. The best thing about spring and summer, however, is the intense thunderstorms that sweep the plains, creating dramatic skies. It can be very hot in the Badlands in the summer, with temperatures often topping out over 90 or even 100 degrees Fahrenheit; so, bring sun protection and plenty of water.
Photography: The Badlands Loop Road takes visitors past the most scenic parts of the North Unit of the park. There's no shortage of gorgeous scenery along the loop, and there are plenty of overlooks where you can park and look down at the impressive formations. Most photographers who travel to the park do their shooting from these overlooks, using short telephoto lenses to zoom in on repeating patterns formed by the eroded landscape.
For more adventurous types, try getting away from the road and hiking into the badlands formations. There are few trails within the park, but the wilderness is open for free-range exploration on foot. Wide-angle zoom lenses come in handy when you are immersed in the landscape.
There are also opportunities to see wildlife. The park is home to pronghorn, bighorn sheep, bison, prairie dogs, and the most dangerous to hikers, prairie rattlesnakes (a pair of snake gaiters can offer protection). Other species can also be found here.
Learn more: There's plenty of great information available on the website for Badlands National Park.
© Ian Plant