Thursday, March 6, 2008

Needles vs. Badlands, the Great Debate

Okay, this topic has come up twice in the last week, so it's time to set the record straight - the Needles and the Badlands are two different things. A national in-flight magazine and a major metropolitan newspaper both mislabeled South Dakota's Badlands as "the Needles" recently.

Even at their closest points, the two places are still roughly 30 miles apart, so here's the difference:

The Needles are granite spire formations that are part of Custer State Park in the southern Black Hills. They look like this -

Needles Highway runs past, around, and through the formations for a 15 mile section of the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway.

The granite rock the Needles are made of is extremely hard, which is why it's suited to carvings such as the nearby Crazy Horse Memorial and Mount Rushmore National Memorial.

It is also very rough with many cracks, shelves, and knobby outcroppings. Which along with the imposing spire shapes, makes the Needles one of the top rock climbing destinations in the country. On any given warmer day throughout the year, climbers can be spotted on many of the slender peaks. They give great scale to landscape photos.

The color of Needles granite is mostly dark grey with lichens growing on many surfaces causing surprising greens, yellows and reds. Sparkly flecks and flakes of mica also are mixed with the granite.

As I said, Badlands National Park is approximately 30 miles east of Custer State Park and the Black Hills and separated from them by grassy plains. While somewhat similar in shape to the Needles at times, the Badlands are made up of a much softer clay and stone sediment mixture.

Erosion is constantly changing the formations in the Badlands, turning jagged peaks into rounded mounds. If you visit often you can actually see the process happening over a few years time.

Badlands clay varies in color from tan to grey to yellow, with sedimentary stripes of red.

Once you've seen and felt both types of terrain, you won't confuse the two. I can see from a "spiky ridge" visual standpoint how people mix the names for each, but the actual landscapes are very different and completely separate from each other.

Now that we've cleared up the difference, I will feature each of these unique places in more detail in future posts.


Anonymous said...

Hey Chad,

Great stuff. I used to work with your photos when I was at South Dakota Magazine.

Right now I'm running South Dakota 123 ( We've been linking up a lot of your stuff and you've been getting a good number of votes. Feel free to submit your links anytime.

Chad Coppess said...

Hi Ben,

Thanks! I can use all the promotion you want to give me. I hope people are enjoying what they are seeing.


Tim said...

One more important distinction:

Needles when wet are wet rock.

Badlands when wet are the slickest substance known to mankind.

I found this out when I hopped up onto a rain-soaked mound of Badland, camera in hand, only to find myself on my butt before I even knew what hit me.

Chad Coppess said...

Ha! I know exactly what you mean. In fact I covered that in an earlier post about the Badlands. You are exactly right, I don't think you could walk on anything slicker than wet Badlands gumbo.