After my trip to Colorado I began to think of other scenic areas (not, in Georgia) that I could explore. Then, I thought of a place that I'd been wanting to visit for quite some time now. That place was... Badlands National Park located in South Dakota. 

Once I planned the trip and began telling people that I would be going to South Dakota for my next venture, they would usually follow with, "Maiya... What the hell is in South Dakota?!". Of course I had to enlighten them and explain the beauty of Badlands National Park.

The Badlands is truly a geologic marvel! It's rugged landscape encompasses 200,000 plus acres of sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles, and spires. Neighboring the park is the largest area of undisturbed mixed grass prairie in the United States-- Buffalo Gap National Grassland. I discovered this amazing place about 2 years ago during research on the most scenic National Parks in the United States. It was then that I knew I absolutely had to make a trip, very soon.

And, so it began... The long journey from Atlanta, GA to Wall, SD. I made this trip with a few photographer friends of mine, Patrick English (pictured above) and Miguel Roman. We had a 21 hour drive ahead of us. I couldn't imagine doing this drive in one sitting, so to make it easier, we decided to stop in Columbia, MO (the halfway point) to sleep-- dividing our drive-time in half. 

As you may know, I lived in Columbia for almost four years while attending the University of Missouri- Columbia... This is where I really began to explore natural areas on a regular basis. So, it was only right that I show my ATL friends around my old stomping grounds.

We would visit Cooper's Landing, Rock Bridge Memorial State Park, and my favorite... Pinnacle Youth Park (pictured below). 

Pinnacle Youth Park, also known as "The Pinnacles" is a geologic marvel located just 20 minutes  north of Columbia, MO. About 250 million years ago Boone County was covered by a shallow sea, filled with life. Through the years, Rocky Fork and Silver Fork Creeks have cut through this bedrock forming the amazing rock formations seen in the photos below. This process is called, Erosion. Just a small example of what we would experience later, once we arrive at Badlands National Park.

After we finished our explorations of the Columbia, MO area we immediately began the 10 hour drive from Missouri to South Dakota. We arrived around 1am, slept, and woke up early the next morning to see what type of beauty Badlands National Park had to offer. 

We would not be disappointed...

Erosion and Deposition are two main mechanisms that went into play in forming this amazing place. Erosion, is the process by which the surface of the Earth gets worn down. This process can be triggered by natural elements such as water, wind, and ice. Deposition, is the process by which sediment settles out of the water or wind that is carrying it, and is deposited in a new location. 

Deposition of sediments (rock) in Badlands National Park began around 70 million years ago when an ancient sea covered what is now the Great Plains. When this sea retreated, secondary rivers and flood plains left behind continued the process of deposition, which finally ended around 30 million years ago. Erosion of the sediment that we see in this area today began just 500,000 years ago and continue... Eventually, this process will completed decimate the beautiful rock formations we see today. 

Needless to say, I'm glad I had the opportunity to explore this park before it is gone forever...  

The best way to explore the park is by driving through Badlands Loop Road, also known as South Dakota Highway 240. Even though this road is only a two-laner, it stretches 30 miles and passes through some of the most amazing buttes, cliffs, and multi-colored spires Badlands National Park has to offer. 

We began our trek at the "Pinnacles" entrance (closest to Wall) of the park. As soon as we entered, we turned onto Sage Creek Road and ran into some of the wildlife found here...

The Badlands and Buffalo Gap National Park are home to many different types of animals. According to nps.gov, scientists have observed 39 mammal species, 9 reptile species, 6 amphibian species, 206 bird species, and 69 butterfly species here.  

We really had the best time driving down Badlands Loop and exploring the park. We stopped literally every two minutes. After every turn, there was a new view from a different perspective.

We didn't even have time to finish the full 30 mile loop in one day. After making it to the halfway point upon sunset, we decided to turn around and call it a night. We headed back to the cabin, looked over the crazy photos we captured, and prepared for day two. 

I was pretty overwhelmed waking up on day two in South Dakota. I knew we had a lot on our plate. We had to finish exploring the tail end of Badlands National Park, while also making the trip to Rapid City-- about an hour away from Wall-- to explore the famous Black Hills National Forest. 

Black Hills National Forest is located in western South Dakota and northeastern Wyoming. This forest consists of 1.2 million acres of forested hills and mountains. It is also home to the world famous Mount Rushmore Monument. Seeing that we drove all of 21 hours to visit South Dakota, we couldn't pass up the opportunity to explore this area as well.

We would spend about 4 hours exploring what we left off the day before at The Badlands. The beauty was just as amazing as day one.

After we finished exploring the Badlands National Park, we got food and hopped on i-90. We were now headed to Rapid City, SD to see what kind of beauty the Black Hills National Forest had to offer. 

The Black Hills definitely didn't disappoint... This amazing place encompasses rugged rock formations, canyons and gulches, open grassland parks, tumbling streams, and deep blue lakes.

We opted to visit Custer State Park-- Black Hills Headquarters.  Custer State Park is famous for its bison herds, scenic drives, historic sites, fishing lakes, resorts, and campgrounds. In fact it was named one of the world's best destinations for the array of wildlife within the park's borders and for the unbelievable access visitors have to them. And, "unbelievable" is right!

After a bit of searching and fence hopping, we managed to locate a herd of over 800 bison! By far one of the best moments of this trip.