Southwestern South Dakota is a land of riches in my opinion. Perhaps the crown jewel of the area is Badlands National Park. The striking landscape has some of everything, like buttes, spires, canyons, and pinnacles. Though the Lakota called this area “the land bad”, or “mako sico.” Erosion has left its beautiful and unmistakable mark, with colors of purple, yellow (shale), tan and gray (sand and gravel), red and orange (iron oxide), and white (volcanic ash). Badlands averages an inch of erosion annually.
Also, many old skeletons (fossils) have been found, as Badlands has the richest deposits of mammal fossil beds. These include camels, three-toed horses, saber-toothed cats, and an ugly rhinoceros-like creature. Within the park’s 244,000 acres, lodging can be found. This is the largest undisturbed mixed grass prairie in North America. The most endangered land animal, the black-footed ferret, has been reintroduced.
Some interesting places still exist, including lands managed by the Oglala, and Lakota Tribes, called the Stronghold Unit. A place called Ghost Dances, is a former U.S. Air Force bomb and gunnery range. Red Shirt Table is the highest point in the park at 3,340 feet above sea level. Badlands became a National Monument in 1929, and a National Park in 1978. The tribes have been here for over 11,000 years, using the area for hunting. This is the second largest Indian Reservation in America.
Unfortunately, homesteaders moved into the Dakota Territory at the end of the nineteenth century. Native lands were stripped from Native Americans, and they were forced to live on reservations. An uprising (December, 1890) culminated by the battle at the Wounded Knee Massacre, the last major clash between the Plains Indians and the U.S. Military. Coincidentally, this is when the Japanese began to migrate to America.
A standard homestead was 160 acres. For the Dakotas, the standard was increased to 640 acres, mostly to the arid, wind-swept land requiring a larger holding. Cattle grazed the lands, along with winter wheat and hay as annual crops. The Great Dust Bowl events of the 1930s forced many to leave. Then for the war effort (WW2), the U.S. Army Air Force took back 341,000 acres from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. They used the land for a gunnery range and bombing exercises.
Badlands is located 75 miles east of Rapid City. It was one of our last stops in this unique part of both the U.S. and the world. The best way to see the park is to drive the Highway 240 Badlands Loop Road. This was definitely one of the highlights of our trip to South Dakota.