Badlands National Park: The Land of Stone and Light

so on mornings like this the badlands seem the quietest place on the planet a landscape etched in stone and baked to stillness by the brutal sun of summer and the harsh chill of winter at first glance nothing seems to move nothing seems to live in this land of stone and light but look closely sit and watch spend time and the movement the life becomes apparent human history in the badlands stretches back nearly 12 000 years the nomadic lakota indians arrived in the area from the east moving with the seasons following and hunting the huge migrating herds of the buffalo is very central to our culture and to our spirituality we prayed for the buffalo’s well-being because we were so dependent upon it we didn’t pray for our own well-being was for the buffalo as america expanded westward the lakota faced conflicts over land use the u.s government formed treaties with some lakota leaders defining the boundaries of lakota land repeatedly though these treaties were broken as demands for additional indian lands continued across the plains the buffalo were hunted nearly to extinction the great spirit taught us how to live in this this land here when the white man came when he came he came put up fences and prevented the buffalo from following the great spirit’s plan whatever happens to the buffalo happens to the lakota the lakota were also confined like other american indians the lakota were forced to cease their traditional ways of life settle down on reservations and become farmers and ranchers yet some lakota resisted government efforts to contain them a resistance that would end in tragedy by the turn of the 20th century the lure of land sent many westward homesteaders seeking opportunities in the wide open world of the great plains my parents came here in june 1910

they come from from europe czechoslovakia to new york that goes through the ellis island see and from there they come to milwaukee he’s seen this notice in the czech newspaper the luscious plains in the dakota and that’s why he come as in other areas being settled badlands sod busters won their 160 acre homesteads in a u.s government lottery living was hard and many homesteaders learned quickly that small-scale farming was no way to survive in the badlands they abandoned their farms to the blistering summers the winters that seemed to last forever and the eternal wind analta used to get some terrible wind storms in that time who was he and more when them winds come up you couldn’t see nothing all this area blew and it was terrible too i have spent many days exploring this region when the thermometer was 112 and there was no water it is only to the geologist that this place can have any permanent attractions he can wind his way through the wonderful canyons among some of the grandest ruins in the world at the foot of which the curious fossil treasures are found before the lakota lost their land before the dreams of homesteaders came to an end the first badlands fossils of strange ancient mammals were sent to scientists on the east coast these petrified bones contributed to the newly developing science of paleontology the study of ancient life over 150 years later the work continues the layered landscape of the badlands tells the story of powerful geologic forces and climatic change over millions of years a warm shallow sea volcanic river deposits of silts and clays then erosion a never-ending force that belies the ageless face of the badlands wearing away what took millions of years to build the badlands that we see in front of us today even though they look solid solid as a rock they’re actually eroding at an incredibly fast rate about an inch a year what this means for us is that in a hundred thousand years possibly five hundred thousand years the badlands that you now see will be totally gone which brings home the whole concept the earth is a dynamic and changing system so

in this place where sky meets earth where magnificent storms sweep across vast landscapes where wind is a constant where the environment is simply harsh a tapestry of vibrant life exists in the badlands adaptation is fundamental to existence plants and animals are able to cope with fierce and extreme conditions cold winters hot summers and precipitation that varies wildly from year to year the mixed grass prairie of the badlands may at times look dry and lifeless but in its vast tangled roots nutrients are stored occasional prairie fires replenish nutrients to the soil aiding the prairie’s health animals that rely on the grassland for food and shelter also help sustain it bison or buffalo icon of the american west once again thrive on the prairie these large animals churn up the soil allowing moisture to be absorbed their fur catches seeds which then scatter across the prairie a smaller animal that is also critical to the badlands prairie ecosystem is the prairie dog like bison prairie dogs stir up the soil rejuvenating the surface so grass may grow prairie dogs long winding burrows are beneficial to other species the burrowing owl 13-lined ground squirrel and the black-footed ferret live and abandoned prairie dog homes the prairie dog is the preferred food for the black-footed ferret as ranching and agriculture expanded in the badlands area many prairie dog colonies were wiped out the decline of prairie dogs caused the near extinction of the native black-footed ferret put on the endangered species list in 1973 captive bred ferrets have been reintroduced into the park at night in prairie dog towns scientists monitor the nocturnal ferret population we’re coming to the prairie duck towns because the black-footed ferret is obligate species to the prairie dog meaning that they they need the prairie dog for prey and for denning cover ferrets have a very distinctive eye shine which is a bright emerald green it’s a charismatic species but it’s one that a lot of visitors aren’t going to see just because of the difficulties of getting out here and seeing it but if a lot of visitors they know that there’s ferrets here i think that adds to the experience of coming to the park other native species also affected by changes in land use over time have been brought back to the park through reintroduction programs the swift fox and bighorn sheep have both seen a revival in the badlands preserving native ecosystems plants and animals together is one of the most important missions for a national park but restoration of the entire badlands ecosystem is impossible although a vast expanse of land the park cannot support the large predators that once roamed here the prairie wolf and the grizzly bear instead efforts are focused on plant restoration to support the prairie wildlife of the 21st century

my now as in times past the badlands is a destination for those seeking solace science curiosities of nature and the chance to experience a place out of the ordinary so desolate forbidding there was never a country that in its good moments was more beautiful even in drought or dust storm or blizzard it is the reverse of monotonous once you have submitted to it with all the senses you don’t get out of the wind but learn to lean and squint against it you don’t escape sky and sun but wear them in your eyeballs and on your back you become acutely aware of yourself the world is very large the sky even larger and you are very small the badlands is not a postcard of stone it is a land woven of time and space knotted with the twists and turns of human use and balanced with the fragile touch of wilderness it is the landscape’s slow dance moving to the rhythm of the wind

do do you