Badlands National Park: Sunset

I was cooking beef pot-roast in our insta-pot and time was running out. I had miscalculate the time it would take and we were going to miss the Badlands at sunset. “Go ahead,” Peggy told me. She knew how much I wanted to catch the colors. “I’ll finish up here. We can eat when you get back.” My sweetie didn’t have to offer twice. I was out the door and into the truck. The sunset was quite impressive and the food tasted delicious when I returned. Following are some of the photos I took. Enjoy.

Next week we will be returning to our summer trip up the Rhine River. Please join Peggy and me along with our kids and grandkids as we explore the Rhine, castles, colorful towns, the Black Forest and a couple of impressive cities.

The Wildlife and the Beauty of Sage Road… Badlands National Park

Photo of big horned sheep along Sage Road in Badlands NP by Curt Mekemson.
I was getting the ‘look’ when I snapped this photo of a bighorn sheep on Sage Road.

Sage Road in Badlands National Park is known for its easily accessible wildlife population. We drove out it during our recent stay near the Badlands to see what we could find. This fellow, along with a few other bighorn sheep, was hanging out along side the gravel road. Its look seemed to say, “Don’t mess with me.” Big horn sheep were first re-introduced to the Park 1922 with more being added later. The park’s herd now numbers near 250.

This youngster is busy chewing on weeds. Bighorn stuff themselves with tough-to-eat grass like this and then retreat to somewhere high and safe where they can regurgitate it and chew it more thoroughly. (Remember your mom urging you to chew your food!) What we don’t have that the sheep do, however, is four stomachs to help in the digesting process. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Bighorn sheep checking us out.

We also found a few buffalo along the way. The National Park website, which is where I found the details on the wildlife included in today’s post, gives the buffalo’s scientific name as Bison, bison, bison, i.e. they are of the genus Bison, of the species bison, and the subspecies bison. Buffalo was derived from the French “bœuf,” meaning buffalo, and given to the large creatures by early French fur trappers. The Lakota name for bison is tatanka. Bison were incredibly important to the Lakota and other Native Americans of the Great Plains who carefully used every part of the buffalo they killed. An estimated 30 million roamed the area prior to the arrival of Euro-Americans who hunted the buffalo almost to extinction for their hides and tongues. An even darker reason is given for the slaughter: The US government wanted to disrupt the Indigenous people’s way of life to make way for the Euro-Americans. One way of doing this was killing off the vast herds of buffalo that the natives depended on to live.

Photo of Buffalo beside Sage Road in Badlands National park by Peggy Mekemson.
These large furry creatures paid zero attention to us as they grazed beside Sage road, which is what we wanted! They do look like something that would be fun to pet, however. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Don’t. The fur says pet me; the eyes say don’t even think about it. One does not want to irritate a creature that can weigh up to 2000 pounds and run fast, really fast. Sign after sign in national and state parks where the buffalo roam, warn people to keep their distance. Despite the warnings, some people insist on a closer view, which can result in a bad ending. I watched a video of a guy standing five feet away from a buffalo waving his arms and shouting. A few seconds later, he was taking flying lessons. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Peggy did not take this picture. Unlike her husband, Peggy does not take photos of poop to put in the blog. I tend to go along with the philosophy of the bison: Let the chips fall where they may.

It’s Fat Bear Week, as anybody who hangs out in social media is probably aware. The prairie dogs of the Badlands want you to know that they consider it discrimination that there is no Fat Prairie Dog Week. When their size is taken into consideration, they are willing to take on any bear when it comes to putting on the pounds/ounces!

“Bring it on bears!” this fat prairie dog seems to say as he prepares to stuff more food down his gullet in preparation for winter. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
When it seems like just about everyone wants to eat you (the fatter the better), it is wise to look both ways. Prairie dogs have a distinctive set of whistles that warns their fellow dogs of what danger exists. Is it a hawk, or a snake, or a coyote, or a black footed ferret, etc. that considers you part of their menu? There is a whistle for each. Or is it a camera carrying human who only wants a photo?The black footed ferret, btw, was close to extinction. It is now being reintroduced to areas where their main source of food, prairie dogs, live. This suits the ferret just fine. It can eat up to a hundred a year. I doubt that anyone asked the prairie dogs if they wanted to participate in the “Save the Ferret” campaign.

There is a Prairie Dog Town located along Sage Road. Park publicity and a pull-off guarantees that tourists will arrive in significant numbers to capture photos of the fat, furry squirrels. Sharp whistles warn of the two legged visitors. Here’s a fascinating fact that I read on the Badlands NP website: An estimated 5 billion prairie dogs once lived on the Great Plains in their underground boroughs. The largest of their historic towns has been estimated to cover over 25,000 square miles (64,749 kilometers)! For perspective, that’s larger than West Virginia and 9 other smaller states in the US or Croatia and 23 other smaller countries in Europe.

Beyond wildlife, Sage Road shows a different type of beauty than that found along the Loop Road, which runs along the Wall and through the badlands seen in the distance.

We loved the contrast between the golden grass on the gentle hills and green stands of trees found down in the gullies. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
The lone tree caught my attention in this photo.
Peggy captured me heading for another tree I found interesting. Given my wandering ways, she wondered if I would stop there.
I did stop, even though the stand of trees up ahead was calling to me. This is one of a number of photos I took of the tree.
Meanwhile, Peggy had found a flock of turkeys that caught her attention. This was just a few of the flock. The others had disappeared down into the gully. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
As we drove back up Sage Road, returning to our camp, we stopped for a final photo that had more of a Badlands feel to it. Late afternoon colors were beginning to seep in. I’ll feature sunset photos in my next post. I was impressed. I imagine you will be as well.
A preview of next week’s post.

Badlands National Park: WOW! …Plus Wall Drug

Badlands National Park has great beauty. it also has interesting— and amusing— wildlife, such as three curious prairie dogs that posed for Peggy. With winter and hibernation coming, these guys have obviously been putting on the pounds— or at least ounces! (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

The Lakota people, who have occupied the area for hundreds of years, called it mako sica. To early French fur trappers, it was known as  les mauvaises terres. Both names mean the same thing: Badlands. If you can’t hunt it, fish it, farm it, or mine it— what good is it? Fortunately, our tastes have changed. We have come to appreciate areas for their natural beauty and Badlands National Park has an abundance. BTW, where there is a will there is a way. People have finally found a way to make money off of beautiful places. It’s called tourism.

Speaking of tourism, we stayed in a small campground near Wall Drug, a tourist attraction that has mastered the art of pulling people off of the road. It started with offering them free ice water in the 60s and 70s by advertising on 3,000 small wooden road signs throughout South Dakota and neighboring states. I first came across the signs in the 60s. It was impossible not to be curious. This time, Peggy and I found the small wooden signs had been morphed into numerous billboards as we crossed South Dakota on I-90.

Wall Drug still uses come-ons to lure travelers off the road with large billboards along I-90. The small, original drug store has turned into a massive tourist attraction with the drug store occupying maybe 1,000 square feet out of the 76,000 square feet the attraction now claims.
Wall Drug advertises that its store has something for everyone. Including Jackalopes.
Peggy found one to ride.
One of the billboards along I-90 advertised “Come to lunch— or be lunch at Wall Drug.” This smiling T Rex was apparently offering the latter. As an aside, numerous fossils have been found in Badlands National Park, but not dinosaurs. The area was part of an ocean at the time dinosaurs roamed the earth.

The term wall, in Wall Drug, comes from the primary feature of the Badlands, a hundred mile wall from which the Badlands have been eroding at an inch per year for the past 500,000 years or so creating mesas, ridges, and gullies with unique structures of considerable beauty. The 31 mile Loop Road the National Park features takes visitors along the wall and down into the Badlands, providing a great introduction. We will feature views from along the Loop Road today.

Erosion, cutting through some 45 million years of geological history between 75 and 30 million year ago, has left behind unique structures of great beauty. The upper right corner shows the wall from which the Badlands have eroded. Look carefully and you will see vehicles parked at one of the many pull-offs along the 31 mile Loop Road that winds its way through the park.
One thing that is guaranteed along the Loop Road: Great variety. Compare this picture with the one above. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
What caught our attention here, was the contrast between the green trees and the white ridge. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
The erosion here had created a mesa left standing alone above the smooth mounds below.
Rabbit bush added a touch of yellow here to complement golden hills above. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Jagged peaks are also found along the 31 mile drive.
A close up of one of the peaks along the way.
Pink and mauve top off yellow hills. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Another example. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
I liked the tiered look here and the way erosion had cut through over 40 million years of geologic history.
We wondered how long it would be before the finger rock on top of this peak fell. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
One of the pull-offs along the road is dedicated to Chief Bigfoot of the Lakota tribe. He was ill when he reached this site on the wall. His followers helped him down. Not long after that, he and some 150 member of his tribe, including women and children, were massacred at Wounded Knee. it was one of the darker moments in US History.
I conclude today with this photo of the Badlands taken near the Visitor Center. Peggy and I will take you for a drive along Sage Road in our next post. It’s noted for its wildlife. Get ready for buffalo, turkeys, big horn sheep, and a raucous town of prairie dogs!