The Badlands National Park headlined US news this week after it tweeted facts about climate change. What surprised me most, however was not the statements that they tweeted, nor the ensuing media storm.
Instead, I was shocked by how many people I spoke to who had never heard of the Badlands. Whether you fall on the left or the right side of politics, the Badlands National Park should be a must-see on your US destinations list.
When driving through South Dakota, the prairie seems endless. Vast swatches of long dry grass emanate in all directions, gracefully undulating atop the sand hills like a gentle rolling sea swell. Many claim that it’s boring, but I find it calming. Almost hypnotising. Then they appear: jagged pinnacles of rock layered in greys, browns, blues and even a tinge of purple. Beneath them sit pink-topped rounded mounds of lizard-skin looking yellow rock that seem to change in both intensity and colour with the time of day.
Bighorn sheep, pronghorn, and bison quietly go about their day oblivious to the strange visitors in their ecosystem. We’re told coyotes roam these parts, but we don’t see one. Nor do we see a black footed ferret, one of the world’s rarest mammals. We do see thousands of their cousins, the prairie dog, their heads held high as they natter to each other in that distinctive sqeak. And the night sky is as dark as I’ve ever seen.
This is the beauty of the Badlands.
Whether you see it from the lookouts near the road, or venture further into the formations on foot, the Badlands National Park presents a patchwork of historical artefacts. Long before human settlement, the area was teeming with prehistoric wildlife. You can see their fossils embedded in the rock face as you walk along the board walk. Then came the earliest hunters whose modern descendants, the Oglala Lokota people, still own most of the land on which the park rests. Homesteaders, fossil hunters, and the US military all used the 244,000 acres before it was designated as a national monument in 1939 and then as a National Park in 1978.
In 1935, architect Frank Lloyd Wright wrote in a letter to South Dakota newspaper editor Robert Lusk:
Let the sculptors come to the Bad Lands. Let painters come Let the truest of artists come . . . He who could interpret this vast gift of nature in terms of human habitation so that Americans on their own continent might glimpse a new and higher civilization certainly, and touch it, and feel as if they lived in it and deserved to call it their own.
You really do need to see it for yourself.
For more information: Badlands National Park official site