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.