Badlands. In geological terms it is a heavily-eroded, dry terrain. However on this particular day, the term “badlands” meant something else to me. It meant frigid weather and solitude.

After visiting my parents in Spokane for Christmas, my wife and I embarked on a long road trip back home to Phoenix by way of Badlands National Park in South Dakota. I had visited this beautiful national park before but not in the winter. So I was determined to drive far out of my way to see this place covered in snow.

That morning I set off from my motel in the town of Wall, it was foggy, windy and cold. If I recall correctly, the temperature gauge in my 4Runner said 7°F. Once I reached the Pinnacles Overlook, I setup shop with my trusty tripod, Canon 6D and about three layers of clothing.

It. Was. Cold!

For about 10 minutes I stood there doing what we photographers do… looking through the viewfinder trying to frame-up something inspiring. I was miserable, almost regretting the entire road trip I had made to see Badlands National Park in the winter. I thought of my wife back in the motel all comfy and warm. I thought of the hot coffee I would buy at the gas station when I was finished photographing. Then I thought, “Hey is that tree moving out there??”

You see, I was photographing this beautiful snowy scene with, what I thought, was a small juniper-like tree in the lower-right of the frame. But after checking my photos on the camera’s LCD screen, I noticed that little tree… had moved! As it turns out, it was not a tree… it was a single lone bison out in the badlands foraging for some food.

I suddenly felt a bit of warmth knowing I wasn’t the only one in this harsh, frigid environment. There were two of us. Except one of us had a nice fuzzy coat on while the other was wearing a hoodie.

Lone Bison Grazing in Badlands National Park