Badlands National Park | May/June 2021

Distinctive landscapes, mixed grass prairies, and baby wildlife

Badlands National Park, South Dakota, May 31 - June 3, 2021, 2021 NANPA Regional Event

Just the Facts

  • Date:  May 31-June 3, 2021
  • Leader: Sandy Zelasko
  • Cost:  $495 NANPA member; $695 non-members.
  • Location:  Wall, SD
  • Last date to register: May 15, 2021
  • Maximum number attendees:  12
  • Nearest airport: Rapid City, SD (RAP)
  • Car rental: Wall, SD, is approximately 55 miles from the airport. Participants will need their own transportation for this event.
Prairie dogs, Badlands National Park, South Dakota, © Sandy Zelasko

Event Overview

Sandy Zelasko will guide you into picturesque Badlands National Park and its surrounding attractions in South Dakota. Badlands National Park is known for distinctive landscapes, native mixed grass prairies, protected fossils and breathtaking skyscapes. We’ll start our days in the field at dawn to take advantage of early morning light and active wildlife, and likewise, end each day’s activities at sunset to capture vibrant sunsets while immersed in the park’s geographic features.

This late spring visit coincides with an active baby wildlife season. Newly born bighorn sheep romp atop perilous pinnacles, black-tail prairie dog pups frolic near their burrows, and bison “red dogs” follow their mothers as the herd moves through fertile prairie meadows. These are just a few of the abundant wildlife species in the park. A wide variety of photo opportunities including both scenery and wildlife are available.

About Badlands National Park
Once the site of an ancient sea on the Northern Great Plains, the South Dakota Badlands have been transformed over thousands of years into the land you see today. Layers of sediment still erode leaving behind multi-colored rocks, boulders and pinnacles of stone. Scoured canyons and isolated buttes stand as testament to the power of wind and rain. A loop road travels through the northern portion of the park providing access to unusual geologic formations and favorite wildlife haunts.

Badlands began as a National Monument in 1939, but it took until 1978 to gain full recognition as a National Park. Today its total area encompasses 272,756 acres (379 sq. miles) of sharply eroded buttes, wilderness area, and the largest undisturbed mixed grass prairie in the United States. Here, efforts to reintroduce the black-footed ferret, one of the most endangered mammals in the world, have been successful. The National Park Service co-manages the three units in the park with the Oglala Lakota tribe.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota, © Sandy Zelasko

What to Expect

Nature photographers at all levels of experience are welcome. Sandy knows the area well and will assist you in finding the best photographic opportunities. Assistance will be available in the field for those who wish to improve their photography skills.

Conditions in the field will vary. A small amount of hiking on boardwalks over rocky areas is required, but most walking will be on level, well-worn paths. The workshop is wheelchair-friendly.

We will photograph breathtaking landscapes and wildlife such as bighorn sheep, prairie dog, pronghorn, bison, mule deer, birds, flora, and more. We will concentrate on getting the best possible images while adhering to responsible wildlife guidelines set forth by the National Park Service. We will be extra careful not to disturb our subjects and practice ethical wildlife viewing.

2021 Badlands NP Regional Event Cancellation and No Refund Policy: NANPA will not offer any refunds for registrations for this event regardless of when the cancellation is made or the reason for the cancellation. NANPA reserves the right to cancel any event or activity due to insufficient registration or any unforeseen circumstances. NANPA will offer refunds if NANPA has to cancel the event. It also has the right to substitute presenters if those originally scheduled cannot attend. Registrants may purchase event insurance as part of the registration process through NANPA’s partner, Allianz. More information on this option will be shown during the checkout process for the event registration.

NOTE:  If you do not purchase event insurance at the time that you pay for your registration, you will NOT be able to go back and purchase it with Allianz later.

If you choose to purchase travel insurance separately, you can do so with your own insurance carrier, or NANPA members can receive a special travel insurance rate through USI Affinity/Travel Insurance Services.


Best Western Plains Motel
712 Glenn Street
Wall, SD  57790

Hotel reservations must be made by phone. Do not use the hotel website. Contact Debbie at 605-279-2145, and tell her you’re with NANPA for our group rate: $142.99 – $147.99/night plus 9% tax.

Group lunch on Thursday is included in your registration fee.  All other meals are on your own. 

Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, Badlands National Park, South Dakota, © Sandy Zelasko

Leader: Sandy Zelasko

Sandy Zelasko, a self-taught photographer doing business as Sandra Lee Photography since 1992, devotes her attention to wildlife conservation through land acquisition. She unselfishly shares her wildlife photography to educate, organizational skills to fundraise, and her curiosity to study environmental issues where wildlife preservation is a key factor.

Zelasko’s passion for wildlife was her motivation to partner with the Friends of Hellhole Canyon Open Space Preserve’s 2019 Capital Campaign, successfully acquiring 541 acres as crucial property for a wildlife corridor in north San Diego County. Currently she advocates for the complex restoration needs at the Salton Sea, California’s largest inland lake ecosystem, in the Imperial Valley of Southern California and on the Pacific Flyway.

At her office in Valley Center, CA, Zelasko continues to build a portfolio of conservation endeavors. She leads many photographic workshops across the western US, instructs aspiring photographers about the art of photography, judges numerous photo competitions, and shares photography-related programs for inquiring organizations across the country. She is the active president of North County Photographic Society, the largest photography club in San Diego County.

Latest Publications & Exhibits:
North County Photographic Society – 2019 Member Exhibition
Wyoming Wildlife Magazine – February 2019
Expressions Magazine, North American Nature Photography Association – 2019 Top 250
Natures Best Magazine – 2018 Wildland Smith Rice International Conservation Story, Highly Honored


Photo Locations

Photo locations will depend on conditions in the park at the time of the workshop. Wheelchair friendly throughout the park. The following locations may be visited:

Pinnacles Overlook – A great spot for sunrise or sunset and close to lodging in Wall, SD. HDR, focus stacking, and backlit subjects are just a handful of things you can concentrate on here. All size lenses will work, telephoto for long distance landscapes and wide angle for maximum depth of field. Dozens of baby bighorn sheep frolic within photographic range. They can be found nursing, honing their balancing skills, and playing with others. If the action is good, video is recommended.

Robert’s Prairie Dog Town (or another complex with the best photo opportunities, babies etc.) – There are many prairie dog towns within the park, but this is the most recognized one. Sandy will pre-scout for the best photo opportunities. We will begin photographing black-tail prairie dogs from our vehicle until they are acclimated to our presence. Then we will photograph from the ground so we are eye level with these cute balls of energy and can better blur our backgrounds.

Badlands Loop Road – All kinds of possibilities on this road, from landscapes to the occasional coyote hunting in a prairie dog town. The road has a number of easy, spacious pullouts and a few boardwalk overlooks. We will stop at a number of them as light and weather allow.

Cedar Pass Area – We will stop at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center to wander through the interactive exhibits, see the park film, Land of Stone and Light, and to pick up any maps, souvenirs or books in the Badlands Natural History Association gift shop. Rangers will be available to answer any questions. Restrooms available. Next door is the Cedar Pass Lodge gift shop and coffee shop/restaurant.  Cliff Shelf Nature Trail – Our hike here is approximately a half-mile loop passing through a juniper forest which overlooks a portion of the Badlands Wall, a 100-mile ridge spanning across the park and the White River Valley to the south. Humans have used the Cliff Shelf area for more than 11,000 years. 50+ plant species and over 100 bird species have been identified in this small area. Bighorn sheep can frequently be found along with the occasional bobcat. Mostly easy hiking with boardwalk, stairs, and a 300-foot elevation gain.

Door, Notch, Window and Fossil Exhibit Trails – Interesting geologic formations and landscapes. Easy walking on both dirt and boardwalk trails which let you experience the Badlands Wall with views into steep eroded canyons. You’ll feel immersed in the broken Badlands landscape on this 1-mile hike with 50 feet of elevation gain (we will not be hiking the entire Notch trail).

Pig Dig Exhibit – A wayside exhibit describing the history and scientific significance of the Pig Dig Quarry. Near the Conata Picnic Area where we may break for lunch.

Sage Creek Rim Road – We will travel this road to see wild bison herds, pronghorn and other wildlife. There are specific spots along the road where we will stop for landscape photography also.

The ghost town of Scenic – A gas station and limited convenience store with restrooms available. There are some photographically interesting opportunities such as the old jail and historic buildings.

Preliminary Itinerary

Monday, May 31, 2021: Arrival and hotel check-in. Meet-and-Greet at 6:30 pm with a short presentation on Badlands NP, what to expect. Note: May 31st is Memorial Day.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021: Early morning photo session at Pinnacles Overlook, then travel through the park to various locations. Break for lunch. Resume photographing in the park through sunset.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021: Early morning photo session then travel through the park to various locations. Break for lunch. Resume photographing in the park through sunset.

Thursday, June 3, 2021: Early morning photo session at Big Badlands Overlook. Afterwards we make our way through the park to Cedar Pass Lodge dining area for breakfast and final discussion, Q&A, etc. Workshop ends at noon.

Please note: We’ll change the schedule if local conditions dictate better photographic opportunities during the event.

Authorized permittee of the National Park Service