Some of our best days in the Badlands have been spent collecting rocks. As any geologist could tell you the Badlands are a great place to find and study rocks. Of course, collecting anything within the Badlands National Park is completely forbidden. The Buffalo Gap National Grassland which surrounds the park does allow rock collecting and even has some very large areas allocated for that purpose. Because the Grassland does also include some private land, you need to make sure you are on public property or obtain permission from the landowner. The eroding layers of Badland reveal rocks which were trapped within the Badland formation. These eroding structures which are scattered throughout the Grassland create rock beds which continually churn out new rocks. Well, not really new rocks, just
ones that haven’t been seen for quite some time. The most sought after rock in this area is the Fairburn Agate. It is a stunning banded agate that typically has a holly leaf pattern of banding and particularly bright colors. It is the state rock of South Dakota. Other rocks you might find more easily include Banded Jasper, Rose Quartz, Prairie Agate, Chalcedony, Bubble Gum Agate, Fairburn Agate, Puddingstone Conglomerate, Petrified Wood, Water Agate, Black Agate and Moss Agate. Many of these are very colorful stones that make a beautiful souvenir in their rough form. Others will benefit from spending a month in a tumbler, which will sometimes reveal even more beauty.
The closest place in the BGNG is an agate allotment located off Highway 44 west of Interior. We loved this spot because we got to take our van off-road. Just follow the “two tracks” right over the mounds. If the ground is dry you’ll be able to go a long way in. Pick a hill and start looking. Beware, if there is moisture in the ground. The locals call it gumbo when the baked clay gets wet, and apparently it’s not too easy to get out of. If it has rained recently, then proceed very cautiously. The top layer of clay dries quickly and can be deceptively dry in appearance.
On our most recent trip we followed some advice from a seasoned South Dakota rock hound and headed to the Railroad Buttes area of the grassland. His name is Bob and he calls himself Rockman. The link to the directions and advice can be found here. His directions are for those traveling from the Rapid City area.
Here is a link to his homepage. We particularly enjoyed rock hunting in this area because there were just so many beautiful rocks. The kids had their backpack brimming with rocks. Even after doing some quality control we still ended up bringing home ten or fifteen pound of rocks.