The Badlands. A surrealistic landscape of rocky terrain, colors, and unique moonscapes.
Not only are there many incredible vistas, but a veritable playground for rockhounds.
And what rock types are to be discovered is a fantastic array of choices.
Read further to learn the various rock types to be found and become excited for your Badlands rockhounding adventure.
Types of Rocks Found In The Badlands (EXPLAINED)
Quartz is discovered worldwide and is one of the most common minerals found.
Quartz crystals are formed when magma cools, and silicon dioxide cools, similar to ice forming when the water cools.
When the temperature drops, the solution becomes saturated with silicon dioxide, and quartz crystals form.
The Badlands National Park has large deposits of minerals, and quartz crystals are one of the more common minerals to be discovered.
Quartz crystals are found in a variety of colors, with clear or white being the purest.
Quartz may also be found in different colors due to varying impurities and have pink, brown, purple, yellow, and other colors.
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Buried underground, wood’s organic composition is replaced with minerals to create petrified wood.
The certification process must happen when the forest floor is buried rapidly with silt and mud before decay begins.
A river overflows with sand and silt, burying the forest floor or when volcanic ash covers the forest floor.
Minerals from groundwater replace the organic cellular structure leading eventually to forming petrified wood.
There is an abundance of petrified wood to be discovered in Bullion Butte and Sentinel Butte.
Be aware it is illegal to remove any fossilized wood from Badlands National Park.
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The South Dakota state gemstone is the Fairburn Agate, and agates are plentiful for rockhounds to discover in The Badlands.
Agates are formed when volcanic rocks develop cavities, similar to Swiss cheese, then slowly filled with the siliceous matter deposited in multiple layers on the walls.
Agate stones can be discovered in gray, white, pink, black, red, and yellow layers, depending on the groundwater seeped into the cavity layers.
The most prized, Fairburn Agate, will have unique parallel banding of colors from orange to red.
The best agate beds for a rockhound can be discovered behind the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands French Creek Campground, across the creek to the rockhounding area.
The areas about 12 miles east of Fairburn are often the most productive.
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Chalcedony is a mineral similar to quartz brittle, hard, blue-tinged, and has a waxy appearance.
Various places in the Badlands will have “spikes” of chalcedony above the ground as they have resisted wind and rain erosion that eroded the surrounding environment.
Similar to quartz, it has a different crystalline structure and has a separate name designation.
Rockhounds discover striking blue chalcedony east of Scenic S.D. in and around the Badlands.
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An opaque form of Chalcedony, Jasper may have a variety of impurities to give it a red, brown, yellow, or green color and a rare blue.
The distinctive red jasper color is due to iron inclusions, and due to all the impurities, jasper is often referred to as a rock and not a stone.
The best rockhounding for rich jasper stones is along the White River, a tributary of the Missouri River.
Look along the river beds, gravel bars, and eroded banks.
Since jasper is a relatively hard quartz-like stone, it may be carried great distances in a stream without wearing down, so any stream bed can be a potential target for exploration.
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Discovering fossils is an exciting change from typical rockhounding for semi-precious stones.
The Badlands National Park has one of the richest beds of fossils in the United States and provides many areas for fossil discovery.
Among the fossilized remains to be discovered are rhinoceroses, horses, camels, rabbits, crocodiles, plants, and carnivores.
The areas rich in fossils are the Brule and Chadron Formations, made of layered sedimentary rocks around 30 million years old.
The formations are more prominent in the White River areas of the Badlands.
Be aware any removal of fossils from the boundaries of The Badlands National Park is strictly prohibited.
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Geodes are spherical rocks with hallowed cavities created by tree roots, mud, or even animal burrows.
Over time, the geode is formed when the outer edges harden into a spherical, bumpy rock shape with a perhaps rattling sound when shaken.
The geode is usually lined with crystals, and a rockhound never knows until the geode is cracked to reveal the surprise inside, usually some form of a crystal lining.
Although geodes can be basketball-sized, the large ones found in the Badlands are more lemon-sized or smaller.
But the good news, they are plentiful to find and fun to collect to discover what is inside.
Look along the base of cliffs where soft clay erodes and allows the geodes to tumble down to the bottom and in relatively large numbers.
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Best Badlands Rockhounding Locations
- White River/Scenic Area – A few miles south of The Badlands National Park, known as the “Wall,” a spine of narrow buttes, begins. Several small streams furrowed the scarp face until the Badlands were created. Erosion ate at the Wall to eventually leave rocks resistant to deterioration and created a rockhound paradise.
- Fairburn Area – The home of the famed Fairburn Agate, for great rockhounding, go about 14 miles east of Fairburn to the Kern agate beds. There are many gorgeous specimens of agates to be found, including white quartz, rose quartz, petrified wood, or even a Fairburn agate. Be aware the route may be on some rough roads, but the Ker agate field is worth the journey.
- Buffalo Gap National Grassland – The Buffalo Gap National Grassland surrounds The Badlands National Park and has many rockhounds areas. The runoff and resultant depositing of rocks from The Badland National Park has some great rock fields open to the public for discovery. Keep in mind that much of the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands is on private property, so make sure you know rockhounding on private property and have permission.
Remember, if you are rockhounding within the boundaries of The Badlands National Park, it is explicitly illegal to remove any petrified wood, fossils, rocks, or minerals.
However, the surrounding badlands area has many locations open to the public for collecting rocks.
In addition, several private properties, such as the Kern agate field, are accessible for rock collecting.