For over 11,000 years the badlands region of South Dakota has been inhabited by native people. The soft sedimentary layers of soil once under a body of water are easily eroded, currently at the rate of 1 inch per year, which leads to deep winding valleys and buttes striped with color.
Originally authorized in 1929 by President Coolidge it was officially signed as the 77th national monument by Franklin Roosevelt ten years later in 1939. It was later renamed The Badlands National Park in 1978. It also includes the largest protected mixed grass prairie in the country.
The region is a beautifully magical area that I’ve always had a connection to. Bison, prairie dogs, big horn sheep, deer, and antelope are plentiful.
Yellow Mounds Area
The yellow mounds area is located near the more norther part of the park and is the oldest exposed land in the park. The soil is more eroded here exposing brighter layers of yellow and red. This is where you find many of the fossils found in the park.
Sunset in the Badlands
Much of the rock formations are quite light and it’s difficult to photograph them in the midday sun. The contrast is too high. But in the hour before sunset the light is finally right to capture the amazing views of the Badlands.
A short backpacking trip
Unlike most national parks, there is no restrictions on staying on trails. The entire park is open and camping is allowed everywhere. You only need to be a half mile away from any road or trail and out line of sight. So even though there was a threat of lightening storms, we parked the Rialta at a trailhead and headed out into the open grasslands. The tall grasses were full of prickly pears and thousands of grasshoppers that kept us company through the night.
After sunfall, the winds picked up. We could swear we could hear herds of bison moving in around us and deer and sheep grazing at the tent lines. But it was just the rain fly flapping loudly in the breeze.
On our sunset drive I was lucky enough to run across a family of bighorn sheep lounging on the cliff sides. I still haven’t seen a male, but these guys were pretty exciting to see.
Near the southern entrance of the park is a preserved prairie homestead with a group of friendly prairie dogs. I remember visiting 20 years earlier but my favorite part, the two seat outhouse with mannequin reading the Sears and Roebuck catalog, was a pile of lumber. The mannequin had moved to the tractor.
The Homestead Act of 1862 gave away native lands to any person who agreed to “improve” them. 160 acres could be filed for, then over the next five years crops needed to be planted, and then the deed could be obtained. The act was passed by Lincoln after the southern senators seceded from the union. Previously they had blocked the act in favor of populating the new territories with slave owning plantations.
The act in all gave away more than 160 million acres of native land, nearly 10% of the country’s land mass. This aggressively dislocated the native people. Where one day they could be on an ancestral home and the next any stranger could claim it and oust the residents with military protection. The ensuing conflicts would only fuel the federal genocide of the native population.