Badlands National Park
The bizarre landforms called badlands, located in southern South Dakota, are a product of water and wind sculpture. They are near deserts of a special kind, where rain is infrequent, the bare rocks are poorly consolidated and relatively uniform in their resistance to erosion, and runoff water washes away large amounts of sediment.
There were eons of accumulation, with intermittent periods of erosion that began when the Rocky Mountains appeared in the West and spread sediments over the plains.
The sand, silt, and clay, mixed and embedded with volcanic ash, stacked up, layer upon flat-lying layer, until the pile was thousands of feet deep. In a final phase of volcanism as the uplift ended, white ash fell from the sky, completing the building stage.
The park formations date from the late Eocene and Oligocene epochs, the Age of Mammals. Although there were no dinosaurs, ancestors of the modern day rhinoceros, horse, pig, cat, and many other species are present.
There are also early birds, reptiles, and invertebrates found in various strata. The Lakota found large fossilized bones and fossilized seashells and turtle shells.
For eleven thousand years, American Indians have used this area for their hunting grounds. Long before the Lakota were the little-studied paleo-Indians, followed by the Arikara people. Their descendants live today in North Dakota as a part of the Three Affiliated Tribes.
By one hundred and fifty years ago, the Great Sioux Nation consisting of seven bands including the Oglala Lakota, had displaced the other tribes from the northern prairie.
Homesteading did not really impact the Badlands until well into the 20th century. Many hopeful farmers travelled to South Dakota from Europe or the East Coast to try to eke out a living in this hard place.
Cattle grazed and such crops as winter wheat and hay were cut annually. However, the Great Dust Bowl events of the 1930s, combined with waves of grasshoppers, proved too much for most of the farmers of the Badlands.
The area was authorized as Badlands National Monument in 1929. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proclaimed it in 1939.
It was redesignated as Badlands National Park in 1978.
See map of the park.
(This page was updated in November 2012.)