South Dakota: Badlands, Bighorn Sheep, Porcupines, and Pronghorn


Sunrises over the wall of the Badlands at dawn.


The Badlands. Just the name evokes so much: Difficult terrain, dessicated wastelands, dire circumstances, and, also, undeniable beauty.

Badlands National Park have been an almost mythical destination in my head based on a photo of Traveler Two brought back from a trip across country years and years ago that amalgamated into a description of camping in the badlands as described by John Steinbeck in Travels with Charley (though he wrote of North Dakota). I was looking for my Steinbeckian-like moment, a profound, transformative moment, where darkness becomes beautiful. Would I find it? What discoveries were waiting out there in those alien looking, termite mound-like formations visible from the butte I was currently calling my temporary home, those spine-like buttes that expose so much time, laying the history of the earth bare in a most beautiful and shocking way?



Badlands National Park



Badlands National Park




The only way to find out was to enter Badlands National Park before the sun came up. Which is exactly what I did. The sun was a deity alighting the sky gold and pink and turning the hills blue. And the first creature I came upon was a porcupine, an animal that in some belief systems is a solar symbol, a warrior, a storyteller, and an entity equipped with all it needs to protect itself. Not a bad omen to start the day off with.



Badlands National Park



I drove northwest and northwest some more out onto the dirt of the Sage Creek Rim Road. I would see the first female bighorn sheep I've ever seen and this year's crop of babies right where Route 204 intersects with Sage Creek. I then ran into a group of Pronghorn that didn't seem to mind my lurking about. When I got hungry I backtracked and took 502, still dirt, north. I ended up back in Wall, South Dakota. Yes, I ate another maple donut from Wall Drug. Then I went back to the ranch and had a nice long nap waiting for the afternoon sun to start thinking about hitting golden hour.


Badlands National Park







I drove back into the park, drove northwest again. And this time I ran into the big boys of the bighorn sheep brigade. They were magnificent and courtly. Shortly thereafter I found the mothers and babies again, backlit against the sun. They climbed out onto the improbable knife edge of a Badlands formation, onto that product of countless years of deposition and erosion, like it was nothing. The baby sheep were nimble, confident, and quick.

Evening came. And with it another visit from the brigade of male bighorn sheep. They exude power and confidence at the same time they pull grass fronds and leaves from trees oh so delicately. They are improbable and fantastic.



Badlands National Park


Here you are looking at what is mostly called the Brule Formation, deposited between 30-34 million years ago. The Brule formation marks a cool, dry period dominated by open woodland. Three-toed horses and dogs would have lived here during this time.



The oldest rock layers in the Badlands are marine layers deposited as far back as 75 million years ago. Here you see some of the Yellow Mounds. The Yellow Mounds are the remnants of black ocean mud that was exposed to surface weathering. Atop the Yellow Mounds sits the Chadron formation. This layer is made up of sediments washed by streams and rivers out of the Black Hills between 34 and 37 million years ago. This was a hot and humid flood plain. Alligators lived here, as did Titanotheres.



Porcupine clambering down into a hole to hide in.



The hills of the Badlands up close look like this. It as hard as cement until it rains and then it turns into a slippery, muddy super glue you will never get off your hiking boots.



Bee


Me.


Female bighorn sheep


Pronghorn


Pronghorn




Male bighorn sheep arriving near Castle Trail area.



Male bighorn sheep



Male bighorn sheep



Male bighorn sheep



Baby bighorn sheep (adult females in background)



Mom and baby check out the trail ahead.



Mom and babies showing off exactly how nimble bighorn sheep are.



Male bighorn sheep



Male bighorn sheep.







Male bighorn sheep






Comments

Popular Posts