Interior, SD. Oct 10
Rocks and Prairies. That is the Badlands of South Dakota, our current location. We left the Black Hills, a relatively small set of mountains in western South Dakota. The name Black Hills comes from Lakota Sioux words based on the fact that this mountain range appeared dark from a distance due to the number of trees on its slopes. All to the east are mixed grass prairie, so the mountains stand out. Our drive to the Badlands took us to a little used entrance at its southwest corner to the north unit.
Just before the town of Scenic, South Dakota, we took a gravel road through farmers’ fields and the Buffalo Gap National Grassland before entering the Badlands Wilderness Area. Sunflowers were one of the crops here. The sunflowers are not harvesetd until there has been a frost. That may come tonight or Tuesday night. Today the sunflowers looked black and dried out, not a vibrant yellow that we observed in Minneosta in August. The sunflowers here are primarily used for bird food.
The Badlands Wilderness area is a more restricted access area with bison, mountain goat, deer, coyote, and prairie dog colonies. Today we observed a few bison, evidently the vast majority of the herd of 1100 were farther south. A ranger later told us that the yearly round-up of excess buffalo, they try to keep 800 here, did not happen this year as the herd stayed in an area too difficult to allow for the roundup. Custer State Park evidently sells their excess bison; Badlands National Park will give them to other parks and people raising herds.
Prairie dog colonies were frequent; we probably saw more prairie dogs here than anywhere else we have travelled to. The numerous prairie dogs have allowed for the re-introduction of black-footed ferrets, previously almost extinct. The ferrets have started to thrive here. Chris spotted one coyote pouncing on prey; I spotted a second one later. The wilderness area is distinct from Badlands National Park; less public access allowed than in the park. The gravel road seems to discourage most visitors who stick to the paved Loop Road.
The Badlands were named by European settlers. The Native Americans found enough bison and elk to hunt, the water supply sufficient for their needs. The settlers found insufficient rainfall, tough prairie grass to plow up, and the ravines/cliffs difficult to penetrate. Most of them left. The Lakota Sioux were forced on to the nearby Pine Ridge Indian reservation, site of the infamous Wounded Knee massacre of 1890.
Once one leaves the Wilderness area, you enter the actual park. On the north side, usually, are the prairie grasses. The Loop Road frequently separates that prairie area from the eroded rock formations for which the Badlands are so well-known. The formations are not that different from places like Tent Rocks, NM or other rock formations of the southwest US. The formations are heavily influenced by volcanic ash that arrived by air and water from further west. The lack of iron makes most formations either white or gray. Color appears but is not overwhelming. Chris and I stopped at a variety of overlooks and trails to take pictures and enjoy the view.
The ranger at the visitor center suggested a location for good sunsets but either we misunderstood her or it just was not a night for a great sunset. We did take, and agree with, her suggestion for dinner. The Wagon Wheel Bar in Interior, SD, population 100, served great burgers and good fries. There were only three people in the bar when we arrived but it was up to about 20 by the time we left. The barkeeper was bartender, cook, waitress, hostess and cashier. She did a great job filling in for her brother who owns the place. The food was better than the restaurant at the Cedar Pass Lodge where we are staying this evening. The Cedar Pass Lodge restaurant closes at 4:30 PM now that it is the off season, we had lunch there earlier. The Cedar Pass Lodge and restaurant will be closed for the season in another week.
The Cedar Pass Lodge cabins are very nice. They appear to have the same design. Our room is neat, large, with wood walls, two queen beds with refrigerator and microwave. The cabins are nicer than our rooms at Sylvan Lake although the Sylvan Lake Lodge is more impressive than the functional gift shop/reception area for Cedar Pass Lodge.
It should be a quiet night here in the middle of nowhere. We have watched the stars and moon and hopefully the bed will be comfortable.
Ed and Chris