Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

More from the Badlands

with 30 comments

You didn’t think I’d go to South Dakota’s Badlands, spend seven hours there on May 31st, and dedicate only one post to it, did you? Of course not.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 27, 2017 at 4:58 AM

30 Responses

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  1. Nature provides such interesting contrasts. I’d like to see the colors after a nice rain. I remember the many fossils there that have emerged over time. Your green in the background reminded me how odd the formations are in that they just rise up out of the plains. Or perhaps the plains are composed of the debris. The textures of the first photo appeal to my sense of touch!


    July 27, 2017 at 6:54 AM

    • I’ve rarely been at such scenic places more than once. That means I haven’t gotten to see them in different seasons, with different weather, different flowers, different light, etc. I wish I could, but we can’t be everywhere all the time. One advantage of living in a less scenic place, in my case Austin, is that I’m here all year round and get chances to see all the variations that make for interesting pictures.

      I did indeed take the first photo to play up all those textures. Vertical landscapes are much less common than horizontal ones, but they work well in a case like this.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 27, 2017 at 7:17 AM

  2. The fact that there is green at all in the background tells me it was still spring, and there may have been ample rain at the time. Do you remember the temperatures in late May? Such a lovely and interesting landscape. I have heard folks complain about how boring the Badlands are, but I find them fascinating.


    July 27, 2017 at 12:11 PM

    • Of all the places we saw, the Badlands were Eve’s favorite and probably mine as well. It’s hard for me to imagine how anyone could find the area boring.

      By late May the afternoon temperatures were well into the 80s—a far cry from five weeks earlier, when we got as far as Kansas City and ended up turning back because of continuing forecasts for overcast skies, overnight temperatures below freezing, rain, and even a little snow in western South Dakota. I guess that rain accounted for some of the greenery in the background five weeks later. Even so, the area was pretty arid.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 27, 2017 at 12:38 PM

  3. I so want to go there.


    July 27, 2017 at 2:03 PM

    • It took me decades to get there. I hope you make it much sooner.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 27, 2017 at 2:08 PM

      • I’ve seen photos of waterfalls dropping into strange round depressions. I understand the whole thing to have been sculpted by a massive post ice age flash flood.


        July 28, 2017 at 11:41 AM

        • Where are the waterfalls you’re referring to?

          Steve Schwartzman

          July 28, 2017 at 1:19 PM

          • I’ve got the wrong end of the stick. I realise I am way out, talking of the scablands I think in Washington State. Sorry.


            July 28, 2017 at 4:31 PM

            • It’s easy to see how Badlands and Scablands get confused. Now I’ll have to go to the latter, which is in eastern Washington, a place I’ve never visited. Here’s more info:


              That article made me remember reading somewhere that it took decades for geologists to accept the now-standard theory for the origin of the Scablands.

              Steve Schwartzman

              July 28, 2017 at 5:58 PM

              • You are right, their origin is tainted by catastrophism, which reeked of belief in one great punitive flood in a created world. Even now, a search on the scablands brings up Creationist sites using this evidence to “disprove” science. I am glad to have infected you with this desire to visit. I want to go there myself sometime, but I also look forward to your photos.


                July 29, 2017 at 1:51 AM

                • And no doubt one reason you would want to visit the place yourself is to draw and paint it.

                  Speaking of evolution, about a decade ago I read a few books by paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould. According to the article at


                  he co-founded the theory of punctuated equilibria, “which proposes that once species appear in the fossil record they will become stable, showing little evolutionary change for most of their geological history…. When significant evolutionary change occurs, the theory proposes that it is generally restricted to rare and geologically rapid events of branching speciation called cladogenesis. Cladogenesis is the process by which a species splits into two distinct species, rather than one species gradually transforming into another.”

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  July 29, 2017 at 6:19 AM

                • I don’t have specialist knowledge in this area. I have always mused about horseshoe crabs, which look today like their fossilised ancestors hundreds of millions of years ago. My guess is that they are separate species: an ecological fluke meant the pressures on them consistently selected their shape to continue the same, but underlying this there is probably genetic drift with perhaps different genes resulting in the same phenotype. But this is unprovable speculation. I read the link you gave. It seems to conclude that punctuated equilibrium is one variant of evolutionary mechanisms not the whole story, or perhaps one perspective on more general mechanisms. Elephants isolated on new islands evolved to become miniature species, diverging sharply from their near relatives because of loss of equilibrium, but the process by which their form changed in response to new selective pressures would have been gradual over many generations.
                  And you are right about drawing and painting. I’m working too hard currently to do this much though.


                  July 29, 2017 at 8:42 AM

                • And I, likewise, have little knowledge in this area, which is why I read those books by Gould. Speaking of evolution on islands: on our recent trip we stopped at the mammoth site in Hot Springs, South Dakota. There I learned for the first time about the discovery in 1994 of the remains of pygmy mammoths on the Channel Islands in California. In any case, we can do our art without having to know all the ins and outs of our subjects.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  July 29, 2017 at 9:16 AM

  4. That second image captures the ‘gazillion’ parallel lines – wow, can you imagine that image as a jigsaw puzzle?!!

  5. What a beautiful place. The second photo’s especially interesting. The horizontal evenness of the layers makes it look almost as though someone’s painted the scene, and then “pulled” the paint with some kind of tool. Or, that there’s a gauze scrim hanging in front of it. And the contrasts among the three elements in the top photo are beautifully highlighted. I think I said it’s a beautiful place, didn’t I? But it’s more beautiful than I imagined.


    July 27, 2017 at 8:41 PM

    • It’s worth saying twice or many more times that Badlands National Park is a great place. I didn’t know what to expect—I guess I hadn’t done enough research—but I was so glad we went there and had hours to tour many of the formations. While I was tempted to extend our five days in South Dakota to spend another day there, other places beckoned and we pushed on to Colorado.

      Most landscapes are horizontal. In contrast (that’s an anticipatory pun), the vertical orientation of the top picture lends itself to contrasting the three geological elements.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 27, 2017 at 11:02 PM

  6. Wow Steve,

    great pictures 🙂

    Ben Aqiba

    July 28, 2017 at 2:14 AM

    • There are dozens of other pictures I could have shown of these wonderful geological formations. Over the next few weeks I’ll show a few more.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 28, 2017 at 6:50 AM

  7. […] in May of this year did I finally make it to the Badlands of South Dakota. Even more recently than that, I learned that Alberta has Badlands as well. Did you know […]

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