Monday, September 4, 2017

South Dakotas Badlands: Amazing Natural Landscape

Fred at our first sight of The Badlands

The Badlands of South Dakota are a landscape like none I have ever encountered.
The region appears in the middle of a grassland prairie, sneaking up on you until you reach it's edge and then spreading out before you all the way to the horizon. 

Some of the weathered rocks look like the spires of an ancient city.
The shapes are sometimes sharp and pointed with spires that look like an intricate city carved from stone. In other places the edges are softer and rounded like sand at the beach after a storm has come through.

Others are soft and rounded like sand dunes at the beach.
The Badlands got their name from the Lakota people who called it "mako sica" meaning land bad and early French fur traders called it "bad lands to travel through" probably because of the hot temperatures, blind canyons and lack of water.

The layers of stone tell the story of the Badlands formation.
The colors are earthy and varied. Brown and tan gray and red all appearing in layers that are exposed by erosion. In several places we saw splashes of bright yellow, a bit of green and stripes of black or purple.
The browns are sandstone, the grayish white is volcanic ash, the black is the remains of a prehistoric sea. Reds and yellows are fossil soils. The Badlands are a paleontologists dream. There is fossil evidence here that this land has spent time as a sea, a tropical forest and open woodland.
Eroded by ancient rivers and now by wind and weather the Badlands are disappearing at the rate of an inch a year.

The colors were interesting and varied, each representing a moment in time.
Badlands National Park seems inhospitable but several animals call this carved landscape home. The prairie leading to the edge of the rocky formations is alive with Prairie Dog mounds. You can hear their high pitched barks and yips on the drive in as you pass their organized towns. Prairie Dogs are considered a keystone species in the park. Black footed ferrets, Bobcats and several species of snakes feed on them. Mule deer, Bison, Pronghorns and Bighorn Sheep have also found a home in the Badlands. We were able to spot some grazing pronghorns and a deer but the wild bison continue to elude us.
We are happy that we made the time to visit this amazing natural wonder and will plan to stay in the park on a future visit to enjoy it at different times of the day. It must be amazing at dawn and dusk when shadows add their beauty to the landscape.

South Dakota Highway 240 that leads you into the Badlands has another small but interesting place to visit.  The Minuteman Missile National Historic Site is located in a small unassuming building not for from the town of Wall.
The Visitor Center has exhibits that remind us of the early days of the Cold War.
There is also Delta-9, an underground missile silo with the Minuteman II missile still in it (deactivated and payload removed). If launched it would have reached the Soviet Union in 30 minutes. 
Delta-01 is a Control Center facility that can also be toured.

The deactivated missile Delta-09
The Great Plains were once home to dozens of ICBM's hiding in plain sight. Surrounded by chain link fences the underground silos must have been an ominous presence. Imagine living with that kind of destructive power on your family farm. 
Photographs of basements stocked with emergency supplies, school children participating in Duck and Cover Drills, and Backyard Fallout Shelters brought back a lot of tense memories. 
The missiles have been deactivated, well a certain number of them, and the land sold back to the farmers that once owned it. It is interesting to see those chain link enclosures being used as animal pens or secure storage for farm equipment. The small ranch houses that served as launch control facilities are homes now.

Fred at Delta-09
This was an interesting visit for us, having experienced this part of history growing up. Duck and Cover drills and worrying about nuclear Armageddon were part of our childhood. Fred had worked as part of SAC as a radar operator and air traffic controller in the Air Force. These exhibits were uncomfortable and real.
We left the Visitor Center feeling good about mutual disarmament but wondering if the Cold War was ever really over.
If you make the trip see the Missile Site first, the beauty of the Badlands will help rid you of the lingering uneasiness. 

Badlands National Park
20695 South Dakota Highway 240
Interior, South Dakota

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site Visitor Center
21280 South Dakota Highway 240
Phillip, South Dakota


  1. When we were at White Sands, we were surprised to see that our old stomping grounds, southeast Michigan, was home to a bunch of Nike missiles. Pretty scary!

  2. Yes indeed. Knowing they are there is plenty scary and then they tell you the stories of the near misses!