Thursday, September 28, 2017

Les mauvaises terres a traverser (The Badlands)

The "flowers" bloomed from earth that looked more like gravel than quality soil. The wispy yellow blooms seemed out of place when set against a jagged and unforgiving landscape. It was a little like pinning a boutonniere on a grungy work shirt. It made you look twice to make sure it wasn't a mirage. 
Our unplanned trip to South Dakota wasn't a tourist trek. We had made the 12-hour drive to be with Randy's brother, Lyle, in the hospital. But on our way back to Kansas, we drove through Badlands National Park.
Closeup, the unyielding land seems anything but beautiful or productive. But the sweeping landscapes of peaks, gullies, buttes and prairies help you overlook the unforgiving soil.
It's another one of those "you've-got-to-see-it-to-believe-it" places. It's also a place where amateur photos just don't capture how beautiful it truly is (kind of like Grand Canyon photos).
But, of course, that didn't keep me from attempt after attempt!

In some places, it looks like I imagine the surface of the moon to be - full of craters and crevices.  But instead of the totally "black hole" of space, a blue fall sky provided the backdrop for the stark environment.
In other places, it was almost as if the rocks formed cathedral spires, like architecture from the natural world.
In fact, architect Frank Lloyd Wright wrote in 1935: "I've been about the world a lot and pretty much over our own country, but I was totally unprepared for that revelation called the Dakota Badlands. What I saw gave me an indescribable sense of mysterious elsewhere - a distant architecture, ethereal ... and an endless supernatural world more spiritual than earth but created out of it."
It's amazing how much the landscape changes from one overlook to the next - from browns, to reds to yellows and tints in between. The Lakota Indians knew the place as mako sica. Early French trappers called the area les mauvaises terres a traverser. Both mean "bad lands."
By mid-September, children are back in school and families aren't on a summer road trip. But there were still plenty of people exploring the terrain - from those on motorcycles to private cars to buses to campers - all of us in awe of God's creation. 

“The Bad Lands grade all the way from those that are almost rolling in character
 to those that are so fantastically broken in form and so bizarre in color
 as to seem hardly properly to belong to this earth.”
— President Theodore Roosevelt

Authorized as Badlands National Monument on March 4, 1929, President Franklin Roosevelt issued a proclamation on January 25, 1939, that established Badlands National Monument. In the late 1960s, Congress passed legislation adding more than 130,000 acres of Oglala Sioux tribal land (used since World War II as a U.S. Air Force bombing and gunnery range) to the Badlands to be managed by the National Park Service. 
An agreement between the Oglala Sioux Tribe and the National Park Service governing the management of these lands was signed in 1976. The new Stronghold and Palmer Creek units added lands having significant scenic, scientific and cultural resources, according to the National Park Service. The park consists of nearly 244,000 acres of sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles and spires blended with the largest, protected mixed grass prairie in the United States.

More than 11,000 years of human history pales to the eons old paleontological resources. Badlands National Park contains the world’s richest Oligocene epoch fossil beds, dating 23 to 35 million years old. The evolution of mammal species such as the horse, sheep, rhinoceros and pig are studied in the Badlands formations by scientists.
The only animals we saw were big horn sheep, some of which grazed near the roadways. Well, I take that back. We also saw prairie dog towns, and several photographers flocked to those areas to play hide-and-seek with the rodents. However, I can see prairie dogs as I drive toward WalMart in Hutchinson, so we skipped that stop.
I also imagined a bird perched on top of the rock when I saw this formation.
And I thought an animal could have been crouched inside this "cave."(On the lefthand side of the shot.)
 The Badlands wasn't all massive rock formations. There were also some areas of plains.
But it was time to return to our own home on the Kansas plains. So we left the Badlands behind and hit the road.
Our only tourist stop in Nebraska was a quick gaze from the overlook of the Valentine National Wildlife Refuge. And then we headed the car south to our home near the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge.


  1. 'Badlands' seems the perfect name, but then they still have so much magnificence.

    1. Yes, there is definitely the starkness that makes you think "badlands," but it's also beautiful.

  2. Badlands is certainly spectacular in its starkness. It look very remote.

  3. You wrote an excellent narrative. Nice job! Danny in San Antonio 11/5/22