The Badlands Mars on Earth

jagged mountains of the badlands in south dakota


The signs for Wall Drug begin over 300 miles away as you cross into eastern South Dakota.

They continue, in greater frequency as you near the actual town of Wall. It is a tourist trap so thick, so poignant that it should be perhaps the primary definition of the term. It is easy to be disgusted by the monstrosity blemishing this grand corner of a state who’s government is happy to play up the tourism but the history of which is full of pride and beauty. After a few days though, you realize that this is a major employer of many fine young people from all over the world, and if you don’t want to buy a “My grandma went to South Dakota and all she got me was this Wall Drug T-shirt” then don’t. Dip into one of the many bars and have a beverage, get to know a local. Or just stop in at the local Pennzoil and enjoy a fine crafted latte made for you by the same gentleman who will be changing your oil today.

In utter juxtaposition, just south of Wall and everything it stands for and which I am against, is the planet Mars. Or at least, that’s how the Badlands feel when you’re in them. I’ll leave it to photos to tell that story.

The Badlands.
The Badlands.
A pronghorn antelope
Alien life roams Mars on Earth.
yellow and brown flowers
Not everything is life on Mars in the Badlands.
silhouettes of mountains, the sun setting behind
Sun sets on the Badlands of South Dakota, as it has since prehistoric animals roamed the land back when it was marsh and water.
tan stone cliffs
What looks like rigid, unforgiving terrain is itself incredibly fragile. Even walking on these hills causes many of them to crumble beneath your feet.
small cacti
Cacti etching out a life in South Dakota's Badlands National Park.
flowery fields below a rocky cliff
The starch contrast between barren hill and fervent flowered fields
a motel sign reads Welsh: local owned, no expensive franchise
Keeping it local in Wall, South Dakota.
an old mechanic with an espresso machine behind him, a list of oil change services on the counter
This mechanic makes me a latte before changing the oil in our van.
a train meanders through the plains
Just nearby, the Badlands give way to the Great Plains, a locomotive drilling through it all.
valleys and mountains
Badlands National Park

Want More Badlands?

Read about our personal experiences living in the Badlands.