August 09, 2023

The Badlands. The Bruce Springsteen song pulses through my brain. We headed into Badlands National Park in southwestern South Dakota in early May during our RV road trip through the West. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the desolate beauty of the place appealed to me — so long as I wasn’t trying to cross its slag-like hills on foot. Which I wasn’t.

We spent a whole day driving through the park, taking our time and stopping at most of the pull-outs and viewpoints. Because the uplifted hills and ridges of the Badlands are devoid of vegetation and trees, it’s difficult to convey the scale in photos without people or cars. We traveled through knife-edged peaks and alkaline-white flats.

The sun glared fiercely, even though it wasn’t all that hot in early May. Badlands is a place for early mornings and early evenings, not noondays.

When it rains here, the sedimentary rock turns to mud. But it doesn’t rain often.

You could almost be on the moon, with views of gray, meringue-peaked rock all around you.

Despite the desolation, certain animals do thrive here.

What made Badlands? Uplift and erosion. Badlands was once a shallow sea, and for millions of years aquatic creatures lived and died in it, eventually sinking to the bottom and becoming fossilized. Over the eons, the seafloor was uplifted by geologic forces, and the sea receded.

A subtropical forest grew here for more millions of years, providing a home to now-extinct animals whose fossils have been found in the rock. As the climate cooled and grew drier, the trees died out and grassland took its place. The striated hills that remain are continually being eroded and sloughed away, revealing more of the fossil record.

Nothing lasts. Change is the only constant. National parks teach you the truth of these aphorisms, if nothing else. But they do teach so much else about the beauty and preciousness of our natural world.

Yellow Mounds stands out as one of the most colorful parts of Badlands, and the road takes you right through them.

Gray hills show their yellow and pink petticoats, with a green valley at their feet.

Surprisingly colorful

The views from many of the overlooks are far-reaching, as the prairie stretches into the distance.

Prairie grass grows atop flat-topped Hay Butte (seen in the distance), where bison can’t reach it. Determined pioneers would disassemble their mowing equipment, carry the pieces to the top of the butte, and cut, bale, and lower the hay for their cattle. Nowadays, only deer and bighorn sheep harvest it.

Erosion continues to eat away at Badlands’ hills. Geologists estimate that the hills will last only another 500,000 years.

Prairie and bison

Perhaps it will all be prairie then? As you emerge from the forlorn hills, you enter an iconic American vista: grasses as far as the eye can see, surmounted by the blue dome of the sky. This is a mixed-grass prairie of big bluestem, prairie cordgrass, blue grama, buffalograss, and nearly 60 other grass species — just a remnant of the great prairies that once blanketed a third of North America.

Speaking of buffalograss…We began seeing bison grazing along the road. Unlike at Devils Tower, these magnificent beasts aren’t fenced in but roam wild. Note the watchful prairie dog standing in its burrow.

This bison decided to take a dust bath and entertained us with enthusiastic rolling.

The prairie dog was unfazed by the 1- to 2-ton animal thrashing around behind it.

The bison was probably trying to shed its itchy winter coat. We later saw bison rubbing their patchy hides against trees and signposts.

One more roll

OK, done. Meanwhile, the prairie dog’s head is on a swivel as it keeps watch for predators.

Soon we rolled on and left them to their prairie spa day.

Detour to Wall Drug

We’d had an early picnic lunch in Badlands, but now we were thinking of dinner, and Wall, South Dakota, is only 30 minutes north of the park. And in Wall is a surprisingly entertaining tourist destination known as Wall Drug. Taxidermied jackalopes greeted us.

I knew of Wall Drug from the splendid, haunting movie Nomadland, whose main character, Fern, works there for a stint. We ordered burgers and a couple of their famous donuts.

One of several dining rooms, where original Western art lines the walls. Pillars are carved to represent American Indians…

…and the settlers who displaced them on the Great Plains. I wish I’d taken more pictures at Wall Drug, which was an eye-popping, kitschy, road-trip experience, with shops, arcade, shooting gallery, an animatronic T-Rex, and more.

And they serve a decent burger with rings. The donuts were good too.

Sunset at Badlands

We drove back across the prairie and through the Badlands hills as the light mellowed toward sunset…

…painting dark shadows on the hills.

Then we said goodbye to Badlands and drove back to our little house (RV) on the prairie.

Up next: A quiet day among bison and wild horses at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. For a look back at out-of-this-world Devils Tower, click here.

I welcome your comments. Please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading in an email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post. And hey, did someone forward this email to you, and you want to subscribe? Click here to get Digging delivered directly to your inbox!

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Digging Deeper

Come learn about garden design from the experts at Garden Spark! I organize in-person talks by inspiring designers, landscape architects, and authors a few times a year in Austin. These are limited-attendance events that sell out quickly, so join the Garden Spark email list to be notified in advance; simply click this link and ask to be added. The Season 7 lineup can be found here.

All material (C) 2023 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

The post A good day in Badlands National Park appeared first on Digging.

Badlands National Park in South Dakota is a place of desolate, harsh beauty. And prairie grass and bison and prairie dogs…. Read More
The post A good day in Badlands National Park appeared first on Digging.Read MoreDigging

August 09, 2023

The Badlands. The Bruce Springsteen song pulses through my brain. We headed into Badlands National Park in southwestern South Dakota in early May during our RV road trip through the West. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the desolate beauty of the place appealed to me — so long as I wasn’t trying to cross its slag-like hills on foot. Which I wasn’t.

We spent a whole day driving through the park, taking our time and stopping at most of the pull-outs and viewpoints. Because the uplifted hills and ridges of the Badlands are devoid of vegetation and trees, it’s difficult to convey the scale in photos without people or cars. We traveled through knife-edged peaks and alkaline-white flats.

The sun glared fiercely, even though it wasn’t all that hot in early May. Badlands is a place for early mornings and early evenings, not noondays.

When it rains here, the sedimentary rock turns to mud. But it doesn’t rain often.

You could almost be on the moon, with views of gray, meringue-peaked rock all around you.

Despite the desolation, certain animals do thrive here.

What made Badlands? Uplift and erosion. Badlands was once a shallow sea, and for millions of years aquatic creatures lived and died in it, eventually sinking to the bottom and becoming fossilized. Over the eons, the seafloor was uplifted by geologic forces, and the sea receded.

A subtropical forest grew here for more millions of years, providing a home to now-extinct animals whose fossils have been found in the rock. As the climate cooled and grew drier, the trees died out and grassland took its place. The striated hills that remain are continually being eroded and sloughed away, revealing more of the fossil record.

Nothing lasts. Change is the only constant. National parks teach you the truth of these aphorisms, if nothing else. But they do teach so much else about the beauty and preciousness of our natural world.

Yellow Mounds stands out as one of the most colorful parts of Badlands, and the road takes you right through them.

Gray hills show their yellow and pink petticoats, with a green valley at their feet.

Surprisingly colorful

The views from many of the overlooks are far-reaching, as the prairie stretches into the distance.

Prairie grass grows atop flat-topped Hay Butte (seen in the distance), where bison can’t reach it. Determined pioneers would disassemble their mowing equipment, carry the pieces to the top of the butte, and cut, bale, and lower the hay for their cattle. Nowadays, only deer and bighorn sheep harvest it.

Erosion continues to eat away at Badlands’ hills. Geologists estimate that the hills will last only another 500,000 years.

Perhaps it will all be prairie then? As you emerge from the forlorn hills, you enter an iconic American vista: grasses as far as the eye can see, surmounted by the blue dome of the sky. This is a mixed-grass prairie of big bluestem, prairie cordgrass, blue grama, buffalograss, and nearly 60 other grass species — just a remnant of the great prairies that once blanketed a third of North America.

Speaking of buffalograss…We began seeing bison grazing along the road. Unlike at Devils Tower, these magnificent beasts aren’t fenced in but roam wild. Note the watchful prairie dog standing in its burrow.

This bison decided to take a dust bath and entertained us with enthusiastic rolling.

The prairie dog was unfazed by the 1- to 2-ton animal thrashing around behind it.

The bison was probably trying to shed its itchy winter coat. We later saw bison rubbing their patchy hides against trees and signposts.

One more roll

OK, done. Meanwhile, the prairie dog’s head is on a swivel as it keeps watch for predators.

Soon we rolled on and left them to their prairie spa day.

We’d had an early picnic lunch in Badlands, but now we were thinking of dinner, and Wall, South Dakota, is only 30 minutes north of the park. And in Wall is a surprisingly entertaining tourist destination known as Wall Drug. Taxidermied jackalopes greeted us.

I knew of Wall Drug from the splendid, haunting movie Nomadland, whose main character, Fern, works there for a stint. We ordered burgers and a couple of their famous donuts.

One of several dining rooms, where original Western art lines the walls. Pillars are carved to represent American Indians…

…and the settlers who displaced them on the Great Plains. I wish I’d taken more pictures at Wall Drug, which was an eye-popping, kitschy, road-trip experience, with shops, arcade, shooting gallery, an animatronic T-Rex, and more.

And they serve a decent burger with rings. The donuts were good too.

We drove back across the prairie and through the Badlands hills as the light mellowed toward sunset…

…painting dark shadows on the hills.

Then we said goodbye to Badlands and drove back to our little house (RV) on the prairie.

Up next: A quiet day among bison and wild horses at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. For a look back at out-of-this-world Devils Tower, click here.

I welcome your comments. Please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading in an email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post. And hey, did someone forward this email to you, and you want to subscribe? Click here to get Digging delivered directly to your inbox!

__________________________

Come learn about garden design from the experts at Garden Spark! I organize in-person talks by inspiring designers, landscape architects, and authors a few times a year in Austin. These are limited-attendance events that sell out quickly, so join the Garden Spark email list to be notified in advance; simply click this link and ask to be added. The Season 7 lineup can be found here.

All material (C) 2023 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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