North America

Photo Postcards: Life and Death in America’s Badlands


As my car rounded each turn of Badlands Loop Road in America’s Badlands National Park, my jaw dropped and so did my driving. I couldn’t help myself for stopping at countless overlooks to take photos of the timeless landscapes of eroding canyons, crumbling spires and distinctive buttes around almost every corner of the park’s North Unit. I photographed this sedimentary layer cracking not far from the road along with holes in the ground.

The contrasts here are incredible. A spectrum of colors in the disintegrating layers of rock testify to an ancient land shaped by the merciless forces of nature over the millennia. Geologists believe the sediments date back millions of years, but the erosion began in the Badlands only about 500,000 years ago when the Cheyenne River pulled in the streams and rivers flowing from the Black Hills and then began cutting like a knife through the rock layers.

Each year the Badlands erode about one inch, so in another 500,000 years, geologists theorize the Badlands will be gone. This photo above shows the contrasts not only between plant life cycles and geological time, but also life and death in one of America’s most beautiful national parks. It also reminds us that nothing can hold back the uncontrollable forces of time and nature.



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