The Badlands National Park in south-western South Dakota is an utterly outstanding area of landscape that, at times, can look like something from another world. The strange shapes, spires and pinnacles forged from the eroded buttes make a huge and rather sudden change from the grass land of the prairie, the largest undisturbed mixed grass prairie in the United States, which also forms part of this National Park. The park is a designated wilderness area and covers 242,756 acres of the state of South Dakota.

Native Americans have used this land as their hunting ground for over 11,000 years. First came the little studied paleo-Indians, then the Arikara people. Some time during the 19th Century, smaller tribes on the northern tribes had all been displaced by the Great Sioux Nation, consisting of seven bands including the Oglala Lakota. Displacement of native people by white settlers and resultant fighting culminated in the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890 in which over three hundred native people were brutally murdered by soldiers. This was the last major clash between Plains Indians and U.S. military forces until 1973 when there was a standoff at Wounded Knee which lead to a greater understanding of Native Americans and was part of the formation of the Native American Movement. Wounded knee is around 45km south of the Park itself, located on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

The Badlands are not only the location of various native American archaeological sites, many fossils have also been found here, reflecting the fact this area was once under water. The White-River Badlands in particular are known as a fossil rich area and they contain the largest concentration of Oligocene mammal deposits in the world. Large mammals like rhinos and sabre-tooth cats once lived here.

Today, few people live in the Badlands – those who do ranch and raise wheat. Many of the earlier settlers suffered devastation during the 1930s, the events of the Great Dust Bowl and plagues of grasshoppers made these people’s lives untenable.

However, in spite of the low human population in the Badlands National Park, the landscape is far from empty. The lush grasslands between the strange rocky outcrops contains healthy populations of bison, big horn sheep, prairie dogs and black-footed ferrets.

The Badlands are perfect for camping, hiking and otherwise enjoying the great outdoors. Though if you do decide to explore the backcountry then be sure to carry enough water with you to drink. The water found around the park is always cloudy and full of sediment – this is because, intriguingly, it is filled with particles with a slight electric charge which means that they repel each other rather than settling to the bottom.

There are two designated campgrounds in the park, Cedar Pass Campground and the primitive Sage Creek Campground. Both of these are excellent bases from which to explore the park. So if you would like to see a landscape pretty much like no other, then come to South Dakota, and enjoy some fun times in the Badlands.

Categories: Articles