Clear skies and glaring sun can be deceptive on a winter day. It looks pleasant enough outside but the air is still crisp and the wind is biting. Days like these were made for spectacular car rides.
A long drive and some epic scenery seemed to be in order on a lovely but chilly day such as this. We traveled east along Highway 44 towards the tiny town of Scenic, South Dakota. The isolated little hamlet is the gateway to The Badlands. When we reached it we turned onto Main Street, which becomes Bombing Range Road on the other side of town. We made our way south, intending to begin our adventure at the Sheep Mountain Table Overlook.
After a few miles we took a right turn onto Sheep Mountain Road. This dirt road cut through rugged landscape as it led us into The Badlands.
A few minutes of cruising through the visually striking territory and we had reached the overlook. There was enough room to park the car and venture about. The view was absolutely magnificent.
Far in the distance we could see the start of The Badlands and the shadow of The Black Hills looming in the background. The girls and I took in the views from the ledge overlooking the formations.
We walked along the edge of the bluff. Normally I would've been overly paranoid about the presence of rattlesnakes in this environment, but thankfully they hadn't yet emerged for the season. Instead, we thoroughly enjoyed looking out over the rough and mesmerizing expanse before us.
The girls seemed to be captivated by the wild-looking terrain.
Past the overlook, the remainder of Sheep Mountain Road was impassable by car. On another day it might be fun to walk to the end of the deeply rutted pathway, but it would have to wait. Today the wind whipped across the top of the butte, and after taking in the scenery to our satisfaction we were grateful to hop back in the car.
We made our way back to the little village of Scenic. About 60 people make up the population of this tiny community. We couldn't help but notice a peculiar attraction as we passed through, so we pulled over to check it out. Before us stood one of the weirdest and most random things we'd come across in a while.
A man-made stone and cement monolith sat behind (what appeared to be) a pteranodon sculpture. There was no sign or explanation, just an unmarked monument to the mighty queen of the skies. The girls weren't interested in the odd tribute, but personally I'm a big fan of anything that makes you stop and say to yourself "what the heck is that?".
Across the road from the curious statue sat some of the original buildings of Scenic's historic Main Street.
The old buildings were intriguing. The Longhorn Saloon was particularly interesting -its sign was dated 1906, decorated with animal skulls, and had at one time offered "Wiskey -Beer -Wine -Soda" (among other things).
Near the saloon was the old town jail. Two cells with barred doors faced the road. It was incredibly easy to picture Main Street in full swing over 100 years ago, when this would have truly been the wild west.
We departed the little town of Scenic after taking in the sights, and made our way towards the North Unit of Badlands National Park via Sage Creek Road.
Vast countryside opened up before us. As the highway slowly climbed, we were able to view the stunning scenery. Badlands formations once again took shape around us.
There are over a dozen different pull-offs and overlooks spread along the highway through Badlands National Park. We wouldn't be stopping at all of them, but we planned on pausing at a few.
Our first stop was at the Badlands Wilderness Overlook. We had an amazing view of the unique and rugged Badlands landscape. Astounding geologic formations popped up for miles in the distance. Grasslands extended past the rocky protrusions. We took in the majestic scenery before continuing down the road.
We passed prairie dog towns and the occasional bison as we cruised along, making our way east through the park.
Next, we stopped at the Pinnacles Overlook. The dogs seemed to really enjoy the opportunities to get out and take a gander at the marvelous terrain spread before them. A path led out to a lookout point below the parking lot, but like all trails in the park it was off-limits to dogs.
Unfortunately dogs are not allowed on any trails within the North Unit of Badlands National Park. They are only permitted in "developed" areas such as picnic grounds, campgrounds, and overlooks (unless otherwise indicated).
There would be little adventure by foot or paw -we would have to explore the park by vehicle. The girls could get out at the different stops to enjoy the scenery but that was about it. However, we knew that before going, so we had saved our Badlands trip for a day when the weather was just right -sunny but cool. It was a lovely day for a car ride.
Each stop was unique along the route through The Badlands. The Pinnacles were especially striking -narrow sandstone peaks rose from the terrain, jagged and forbidding. We strolled above the wild formations and gazed out over the truly stunning scenery before heading farther down the road.
We soon came upon a delightful sight. Four bighorn sheep were hanging out on the side of a bluff, mere yards away from the road. The dogs flew into an enthusiastic frenzy of barking, excited to see these wild creatures. Quite pleased with themselves, the girls were all smiles as we drove along.
Next, we reached another incredible scene -the Conata Basin Overlook. The sweeping panorama of the Conata Basin was simply astounding.
We got out of the car and walked along the rim of the overlook. The view was extraordinary.
The awe-inspiring scenery stretched on for miles in the distance. We could see Conata Road cutting south through the formations. The dogs and I were stunned as we took in the breadth of the powerful and vast Conata Basin.
We stared in wonder at the curious world before us. We took our time appreciating the view, which was nothing short of phenomenal.
The dogs seemed taken aback by the boundless rugged country stretching into the horizon.
We lingered for a while, enjoying the amazing Conata Basin Overlook.
It was difficult to pull ourselves away, but eventually we piled back into the car. We continued heading east along the highway and were now about halfway through the North Unit of the park. We passed several other stopping points before pulling off again at Panorama Point.
We pulled into the parking area to find that we had this spot all to ourselves. In the warmer months people would be taking turns snapping photos at the vantage points, but during the off-season visitors were more scarce.
We climbed out of the car again and proceeded to be completely in awe of the view before us.
In the waning afternoon sunlight it became much easier to make out the distinct bands of color in the formations. The scenery was arresting in a way that few places ever truly achieve.
This particular stop had a boardwalk that led out towards the overlook. Dogs were permitted, so we followed it to get a better view of our surroundings.
The terrain was unique and completely untamed in a manner that seemed foreign to what we were used to. The dogs gazed through the safety bars at the edge of the overlook. I wondered what they thought of this place. They were obviously having fun, but were they filled with the same overwhelming sense of awe that I was?
Golden sunshine bathed everything around us as a cool breeze blew across the plains. This place was absolutely exceptional, and once again it became difficult to tear ourselves away from the scenery and continue down the road.
Eventually, we began to near the end of our adventure. We started to work our way north along Highway 240, getting closer to the eastern border of the park. We had resolved to make one more stop before leaving this magical place behind.
Near the northeast exit from the park was notable Big Badlands Overlook. Every stop along our trip had been special in its own way, and this was certainly no exception. The girls hopped out of the car, smiling and excited to check out the last overlook on our route.
The landscape was filled with shadows as the sun fell in the west. The dogs couldn't use the boardwalk here, but that was alright. We could enjoy the views together just the same. We walked around the area, absorbing all there was to see.
This park was filled with a dramatic majesty that couldn't be harnessed. The wild and rugged terrain was truly remarkable. We had spent the better part of a day enjoying this wondrous place. A crisp breeze blew as the sun began to set. We'd had an amazing time cruising across one of America's most unique and interesting National Parks, but it was time to head out.
A few final pictures and we were on our way. Each stop along our trip had been more magnificent than the last. The sheer magnitude of this place was astounding. The craggy expanse was unbelievably unique and at times simply overwhelming.
Although we couldn't explore much of the park on foot, that hadn't seemed to matter. We had seen wildlife and extraordinary sights along our drive through this fantastic world. We had made frequent stops during our tour and could've made even more if we'd wanted to. This was an outstanding place for a scenic drive on a cold day.
This jagged corner of the planet was as beautiful as it was intimidating. At times the scenery had been so splendid that it was a bit staggering. We'd had an awesome and memorable time driving though The Badlands.
A few short minutes after exiting the park and we had made it to Interstate 90. In The Badlands time had stood still, but out here life was changing. Everyone was headed home, and perhaps we should too. We didn't know it at the time, but the human world was on the cusp of changing forever.