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Badlands National Park
WHERE IS THIS NATIONAL PARK?
You will find this located in south western South Dakota It is a huge area of about 244,000 acres of the most amazing eroded buttes, tall sharp pinnacles and spires and this is surrounded by a mixed grass prairie.
WHAT IS THE BADLANDS NATIONAL PARK?
This area was once part of a giant salt water sea and volcanic activity pushed the sea floor upwards. The water drained away and left marshy plains where sabre tooth tigers and other pre historic animals roamed then died. Over time the bodies were buried in layers of river silt or sank into the marshland. Deposits continued over centuries and of course erosion from the rivers flowing down from the Black Hills also made its mark.
The area looks like a moonscape it is very striking and quite eerie. The actual Badlands National Park covers 244,300 acres of White River badlands. This area was set aside as a national Park in 1978, previously it was known as the Badlands National Monument which was set up in 1939.
HOW MUCH AND WHEN CAN YOU GO?
Being a National Park you can use your 'America the Beautiful' card to get into the park otherwise it is $15 per private car for a 7 day pass. If you live close by you may want to get an annual pass for $30.
Badlands National Park is open 24 hours a day, seven days per week. Entrance fees are collected year round.
WHY ARE THEY CALLED THE BADLANDS?
T he French trappers who explored the area in the early 1800s described the area as 'bad to cross'. The Dakota tribes called it 'mako sica' which also means 'land bad'. It must have been pretty bleak to cross as it is miles of eroded pinnacles and rocky erosion so not very welcoming back in the days of walking or travelling on horseback.
Despite its name much of the area is fertile and covered in native grasses. Settlers came and made their homesteads in the late 1800s and today the area is still used for grazing cattle and sheep. This is good feeding ground and crops such as wheat also do well.
We chose to drive the Badlands loop 240 which is a forty mile drive through the park. Along this drive you pass the most extraordinary scenery and you are able to stop at viewing points to take photos and read the interpretive signs. Sadly the day we drove through the park it was grey and raining and although this was very atmospheric, it did make seeing any distance limited and we were also less than enthusiastic about leaving the car in the pouring cold rain.
I was really hoping to see one of the bighorn sheep but they obviously decided to find shelter away from the viewing areas which was sad for us. Other wildlife in the area includes prairie dogs, jackrabbits, porcupines, bull snakes, antelope, rattlers coyotes and eagles and bison. The only ones we saw were prairie dogs, jackrabbits, antelope and a snake. We didn't get too close as we were not sure what sort it was!
The rock and erosion formations are pretty extraordinary, as I said rather moonscape like in appearance. The colours are usually quite striking if the photos we saw are anything to go by but in the rain it just looked bleak to us. This is a fossil hunter's treasure trove. Fossils found include camels, crocodiles, sabre toothed tiger and three toed horses about the size of a dog. Dinosaurs and rhinoceros fossil bones have also been uncovered.
We stopped at one visitor's pull in areas which had a wooden hut with interpretive signs and fossil remains in display boxes on a walking loop path through the area. This is the fossil exhibit trail which is all along wooden walkways so wheel chair friendly. It was chilly and pouring with rain but we donned our coats and walked at speed around the loop inspecting the various fossils in the display boxes.
This area of the USA has probably the most complete fossil finds in North America. The rocks and fossils found here have provided valuable evidence of ancient ecosystems. They have been especially valuable to scientists learning about how early mammal species lived.
THE SOUTH UNIT OF THE PARK:
About half of the park is within the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and many sites within the area are considered sacred to the Oglala Lakota. The National Park Service and the tribe work together to manage this part of the park.. This area which is south of Highway 44, is mainly undeveloped and there are very few roads in the area.
This area was also used in World War II by the United States Military as a practice aerial bombing range. Apparently there are still some unexploded bombs in the area. It is possible to visit Minuteman Missile National Historic Site to see evidence of the Cold War but we didn't head over that way so I can't tell you any more about that experience.
THE CONNECTION WITH WALL AND WOUNDED KNEE:
In December1890 a group of Minneconjou Sioux crossed through a pass in the Badlands Wall closely followed by units of the U.S. Army. The Sioux group were heading for refuge in the nearby Pine Ridge Reservation. The small group, led by Chief Big Foot was forced to camp at Wounded Knee Creek within the Reservation. The rest is history, as they say and nearly three hundred Indians and thirty soldiers lay dead by the end of the next day. The Wounded Knee Massacre was the last major clash between Plains Indians and the U.S. military as they had truly had everything taken from them.
The wounded Knee ground is not within the boundaries of Badlands National Park but about 45 miles south of the park on Pine Ridge Reservation. The very well presented Wounded Knee Massacre museum is found in the nearly of Wall.
WHAT DO I THINK?
It was very different scenery geologically. The erosion produced the most amazing buttes, pinnacles and spires. The colours, even in the rain and grey drizzle were quite stunning. Sadly we didn't see the animals we were hoping to see. I was very disappointed not to see the bighorn sheep as they are something very unusual, not seen anywhere else.
The drive along the loop road circuit was certainly worth doing. You could just drive and see the different scenic erosions from the car and by stopping at the viewing places or you could get out and walk along designated hiking routes. We didn't walk too far as it was very wet and miserable but we did enjoy the fossil walkway loop.
It is certainly worth seeing as it is so different from anything else. The closest scenery - wise to landing on the moon. It reminded me a little of Moon Valley in La Paz, Bolivia, only this was bigger and more spread out and so the scenery was therefore less immediately impressive. Flying over this area in a small plane or helicopter would be very dramatic I would imagine.
Is it worth visiting? Yes definitely for the scenery alone but if you are interested in palaeontology then this is your treasure chest. If you are lucky you might see more of the wildlife than we did. Probably if you are on foot more you would see more so hope for a better day than we had.
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