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Wednesday, September 25, 2019


In the days before European settlement, prairie grasslands covered the Great Plains from west-central Canada to Texas. There were few trees, and those few were only found growing near water. Today, with development, fencing, plowing and planting food crops, it’s nearly impossible to imagine the scene that greeted the first settlers.

This summer, on my way to do some research Inga’s story in Laramie, Wyoming, my sister and I drove the length of South Dakota, from Sioux Falls to Rapid City and Custer. Along the way, I tried to imagine what the pre-settlement land as a potential setting for a future novel. And then, we made a stop at the Badlands National Park.

The formations found there, and in the surrounding area, are unique.


As we hiked a trail or two, I became confused. I felt that I was seeing grasses I had seen in remnants of native Tallgrass Prairie (usually found in the eastern part of the Great Plains) and species of grasses common to Shortgrass Prairie (usually found in the west regions). When we arrived at the visitor’s center, with its informative displays, I got my answer. Within the Badlands National Park we find the “largest extent of native mixed grass prairie in the park system,” with more than sixty species of grass growing there.

The Park provides a series of educational signs along the route.

Wisps of scrub and a few scraggly trees grow atop and sporadically along the sides of the eroded outcroppings. As we meandered through the park, we noted so subtle, and some not-so-subtle, variations in the colors of the formations. Granted, some of the subtle changes may have been affected by the varying light conditions.


The explanation for the spectrum of colors is that the Badlands were deposited in layers over millions and millions of years, over many historic periods with different environments including tropics, woodlands and meandering rivers, and seas. Oldest layers are at the bottom, more recent ones on top.

At one time, streams and rivers carried sediments from the Black Hills. This caused building up of the rock layers we see today. About 500,000 years ago, the Cheyenne River captured streams and rivers flowing from the Black Hills into the Badlands region. After this, the deposits stopped and erosion from winds and weather dominated.

The land is fascinating, and has made a unique backdrop for a variety of novels. My problem will be developing a fresh plot that rises to the grandeur of the Badlands.

Ann Markim

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  1. Magnificent pictures of an incredible area. My friend did a tour there and took loads of pictures I was very envious.

    1. Thank you. I hadn't been there since I was a child, so I was awed by the landscape.

  2. We visited there at least a couple of times when I was a child and at least twice since I've been married. I've always been fascinated, and love, the landscape there. Ever changing and so beautiful. I can't imagine though what pioneers traveling through the area thought. Thanks for sharing your info and the beautiful I want to take a vacation :)

  3. Thanks for your comment. Even in the few hours we were there, the changing light had a huge impact on the appearance/colors.

  4. I've seen the Badlands once. It looks like a moonscape and kinda scary. I can't imagine hiking around in there even though it does have its own strange beauty. I would be one of those people they find in a future archeological dig...the headlines would read, "Another lost ancestor found curled in a fetal position hugging a metal flash containing the last molecules of some alcoholic beverage."
    This was such an interesting and informative article, Ann.

  5. Thanks, Sarah. I admit, I stayed on the trails for fear of rattlesnakes.

  6. What a wonderful trip that must have been. I confess, I find the geology of places like the Badlands fascinating.Thank you for taking me along on your journey. Doris