South Dakota: White Prairie Dogs and Wandering the Ranch

It rained early in the morning. Rain in this region is random experience. It can rain where you are standing but not 100 yards away or it rains in the far distance while you are hiking across the dry, concrete hard land in front of you. Anyway, it was that kind of rain.

When the sun came out I headed to The Prairie Homestead, an original sod home built in 1909. I was obsessed with Little House on the Prairie (the book)  and the building of the sod house described within its pages when I was younger. Now I know what one really looks like. The other claim to fame are the white prairie dogs. These are leucistic black-tailed prairie dogs, meaning they are missing pigmentation in their fur but not their eyes (unlike albinism). You can actually see the white prairie dogs from the homestead down the road to the gas station on the corner where Route 90 meets Route 240. You don't need to go to the homestead to see them.

The 1909 sod house with later addition.

Self portrait in a period mirror. You can see what the interior walls looked like.

Barn at the Homestead. You can see the butt of one of the white prairie dogs in the center of the grass.

Old farm implements.

I'm not sure how I feel about washing my bedding in the same boiler that was used to render hogs and scald chicken. But then I am aware that that is a thoroughly modern quandary.

Leucistic (white) black-tailed prairie dog.

I went to get lunch in Wall, and yes, dammit, I ate another maple donut. As I was doing this the sun disappeared. When the sun disappears the Badlands change. New colors appear. And sometimes the landscape itself just disappears.

I went back to the ranch for the afternoon. It was the last day of my trip. I wanted to explore the ranch before I had to leave. I wanted to see if I could get to the banks of the White River, the river that first began carving the Badlands into what they would come to be 500,000 thousand years ago.

Leucistic (white) black-tailed prairie dogs.

Badlands under cloudy skies.

In the sun these colors are not so intense. It needs to get gray for the purples to explode out of the ground and into your eyeballs.

The two lady burros and Mr. Burro out grazing.

And then the entire Badlands disappear.

Bones of the Badlands. At the ranch.

Yes, again I took an afternoon nap. It's the best thing ever. When I woke up the sun was out again. It was as if that wall of gray that obscured the world an hour before had never existed. I drove down to the original 1880 homestead that you can rent if you want. It has no electricity. On the way down I saw no less than fourteen killdeer. They really liked the dirt road and didn't want to give right of way to me. They only did so under loud protest. 

From the homestead, I wandered through high grass, burrs, and brush to the backs of the White River. And then a Bald Eagle and I scared the crap out of each other. It was right above my head and exploded out of a tree. And no I didn't get a photo. Yes, I'm still kicking myself about that.

Little sparrows flitted through the underbrush. They too refused to be photographed.

Hay rolls by the homestead.

The White River

The White River. It really is that color.

Some kind of Sulphur butterfly with burrs. Once again I was covered in burrs.

Black Saddlebags dragonfly

I drove back up to the guest house. I had the place to myself for most of the late afternoon and evening. I wandered the top of the butte taking photos and then sat in the porch of the guest house reading and watching the sun go down. It was a perfect evening.

One more look toward the Badlands.

One more visit with the chickens.


And then the sky did this.


  1. ok...let me say this fore I forget it...."and yes, dammit, I ate another maple donut".....ok, first of all, this statement should be framed and hung on a wall...( in Wall perhaps?), of all your journeys...I enjoyed and resonated with this the most....AMAZING photos and journalism , you are amazing...I enjoy following your blog!

  2. I think I need to have T-shirts made with "and yes, dammit, I ate another maple donut" on them. Hahahaaha.

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