Badlands

After Baltimore and New York, the road trip with Derek (website) Morf was finally under way! 1600 miles and 3 days after meeting up in Verona, New Jersey, we hit our first stop: Badlands National Park in South Dakota where we would be spending a little over 2 days. After seeing some spires and towers in the distance, the ground suddenly drops away and unveils a sheer endless scenery of towering spires and undulating rock formations, created by erosion. The layered rock strata are simple stunning to look at and we immediately became excited to photograph this otherworldly place.

Since our campground was in the very back of the park in the Sage Creek area, we drove through the entirety of it, stopping often and marking possible photo-locations on the map we obtained at the entrance. Quickly, it became apparent that we would never get around to shooting all the possible locations (in prime light, that is), so we needed to prioritise. We decided to skip sunrise shoots and focus on sunset and astrophotography instead.

Along the way we discovered lots of wildlife: wild bison, pronghorn sheep, prairie dogs and racoon and even spent some time photographing the prairie dogs.

Prairie Dogs lined the Sage Creek Rim Road leading to our campground.

Prairie Dogs lined the Sage Creek Rim Road leading to our campground.

Conditions for Milky Way images were pristine during our time in Badlands - so we made the best of it!

Conditions for Milky Way images were pristine during our time in Badlands - so we made the best of it!

We caught a lovely sunset with a very untypical look for Badlands National Park on our first evening, up on the prairie with some bushes and lots of grass. We did make it to some rock later at night for some astrophotography, bringing Max and Abbey, two lovely people we met that evening, with us to show them the amazing dark skies. Speaking of, I’ve never seen dark skies like this before, so I spend the better half of the time just staring at the millions of stars above us.

After a (sadly almost sleepless) short night, we awoke to the first rays of the sun, got a little breakfast going and set off to explore a little more of the park and get some images in daylight as well. For sunset, we arrived at our location super early, where we soaked in the scene and picked compositions for when the light was gonna be right. This evening we focused on the typical Badlands scenery at Pinnacles overlook: the layered rocky spires and ridges. We met some nice photographers, Tristan and Mira, the later perfectly describing the landscape: “It’s like being on another planet, isn’t it?”

The eroded ridges and spires unveil the many different layers of rock and soil usually concealed beneath the grasslands of Badlands.

The eroded ridges and spires unveil the many different layers of rock and soil usually concealed beneath the grasslands of Badlands.

We were treated to a nice sunset, nothing overly spectacular, only for the sky to completely light on fire in the distance shortly after the sun went down. Satisfied (well, not so much for Derek, as his timelapse gear decided to stop working and he spent the better part of the evening trying to get it to work, only to end up in utter frustration, which was a shame), we cooked ourselves some dinner. We waited out the skies clearing up until midnight, and when it didn’t happen we returned to camp for a good night of sleep.

The Sage Creek area of Badlands is defined by rolling grassy hills with the occasional bush or group of trees.

The Sage Creek area of Badlands is defined by rolling grassy hills with the occasional bush or group of trees.

Monday we spent winding down a little: sleep in (well, 7 am), breakfast and some quality naps, reading and frisbee battle. While Derek decided to get some more timelapses in, I explored the Sage Creek area around our camp on a short hike and nearly fell over a sleeping Buffalo while doing so... I discovered an entirely different face of the park compared to what most people associate with Badlands. The park really has two parts: the rocky spires and ridges give way to rolling grassy hills with the occasional trees in the north-west.

Getting to our sunset location at White River Valley early was key for Derek setting up his timelapse and us not being too stressed. Sunset appeared to be an utter disappointment, until about 5 minutes before it actually went down: the skies and rocky faces exploded in colour and we had a blast shooting until the light was gone.

Me enjoying the spectacular colours on our last evening in Badlands.

Me enjoying the spectacular colours on our last evening in Badlands.

A good dinner later we geared up for some serious milky way photography, as skies promised to be clear that night. The weather reports got it right and we did have a blast shooting until we were simply too tired to be crawling across the ridges and spires, so we headed back for a last night in Badlands.

Badlands National Park surely surpassed our expectations in photographic terms, we consider ourselves very lucky to have gotten so many great opportunities and scenes to capture. I will keep this one in mind, especially as it reminds me of Bungle-Bungle in Australia (check it out if you don’t know it!), stirring some fond childhood memories of mine.

For now, on to Grand Teton and hopefully a shower at some point..

Until then,

David