Series: Take A Moment and Enjoy A Sunset

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Time for a sunset!  I photographed this one from the back of our campground in South Dakota.

First, the eastern clouds lit up behind me, creating a gorgeous, dramatic sky.

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As the eastern sky slowly darkened, the western sky started to blaze.

And then the sun set.

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I took this last photo walking back to our campsite.  It turned out pretty cool, so I’ll add it as a bonus.

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“Clouds come floating into my life,
no longer to carry rain or usher storm,
but to add color to my sunset sky.”

Rabindranath Tagore, Stray Birds

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Balancing Act

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My last post shared the new-to-me Brewer’s Blackbird, and we have another blackbird as well at the campground, the Red-winged Blackbird.

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Red-winged Blackbird (male)

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I enjoy photographing these birds on dried reeds for the nice contrast and seeing their great balancing acts.

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Red-winged Blackbirds (female and her mate)

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Most of us know these territorial birds found abundantly across much of North America.  They are certainly quick to let us know they are around with their loud calls!

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Brewer’s Blackbird

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Sooooo…..I was lounging (being lazy) in our campsite and noticed blackbirds coming and going from the pine tree in the site next to us that was presently empty.  When the male perched atop the tree and started singing, I knew it was a different species of blackbird.  It got me up and out of that chair too!  😉

Welcome to my lifer list #232 Brewer’s Blackbird!  A common blackbird that resides and/or migrates over three-quarters of the U.S., it is rare to find along most of the east coast including where I live.

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Brewer’s Blackbird (male)

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Brewer’s Blackbird (female) picking up nesting materials

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Right after taking the above photos, the male swooped down and suddenly began mating with the female.

I shot 18 photos, but who wants to see that many of birds doing it. 😅  I’ll share three in this slideshow.

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And like any other wildlife mating session, it was over just as quickly as it started.

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“Mr. Proud-of-Myself”

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Then zip zip, both took flight and were gone!

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Badlands National Park – Bighorn Sheep

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This is the last in my series sharing the Badlands National Park from our recent visit, with this gallery of photos of bighorn sheep, specifically female (ewes) and lambs.  (Get ready for super-cuteness a little further down!)

We did see a herd of males (rams) at a great distance; but by the time we reached the area on the scenic drive loop, they were gone.

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Bighorn sheep (four ewes, two lambs)

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There were about 2 million bighorn sheep before their decline due to European expansion into the American West, causing bighorn populations to plummet to just 20,000 by 1940.

Conservationists stepped in to defend and protect the species.

In 1964, the Badlands received 22 bighorn sheep translocated from Pike’s Peak in Colorado.  The park later received a second population in 2004 from Wheeler Peak in New Mexico.  The Badlands National Park now serves as home to about 250 bighorn out of the 80,000 which exist in the United States today.

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Bighorn sheep feeding

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Bighorn sheep are grazers, eating grasses and shrubs.

After descending to grasslands to quickly eat large amounts of vegetation, bighorn sheep will then retreat to cliffs away from predators.

Once safe on the cliffs, bighorn sheep regurgitate their food and chew it as cud before digesting it fully.

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Bighorn ewe feeding

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Badlands NP have fitted many bighorn sheep with numbers and GPS collars so that park rangers can monitor their positions.

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Bighorn ewe #50 fitted with a GPS collar

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Bighorn ewe fitted with GPS collar (# tag on other side)

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Bighorn ewes give birth during the spring, and hide their lambs on narrow, rocky ledges at higher elevations in order to protect them from almost all predators.

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Bighorn ewes and lambs

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After breeding, the ewes and lambs live together in large herds.  Lambs nurse until they’re about six months old.

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Young lamb nursing

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If the lamb is female, it will stay with its mother’s herd throughout its life.

However, if the lamb is male, it will leave its mother’s herd at about 2-4 years old and seek out to live with a bachelor group led by a dominant ram.

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Momma with her little lambs

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When we came upon the location where most of these photos were taken, there was a pair of lambs exploring the cliffs.  I think my heart skipped a beat quite a few times!

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Two lambs exploring their home of cliffs

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“Follow me!”

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Lamb climbing up side of cliff with ease

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“Hey, let’s go down there!”

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The little lambs really did look like they were having fun.  I could have watched them and this herd for hours.

A few more of my favorites….

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Bighorn ewe keeping watch

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Young bighorn down below with others

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Bighorn ewe close-up

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Bighorn ewe high up above the herd, keeping watch

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Little lamb sweetness

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If you missed any of the series, here are direct links:
Badlands National Park – Landscapes
Badlands National Park – Birds
Badlands National Park – American Bison Part 1
Badlands National Park – American Bison Part 2
Badlands National Park – Prairie Dogs
Badlands National Park – Pronghorn

I highly recommend the Badlands NP in the spring time with all the young wildlife activity and plant growth taking place.  And, if you love to bump along dusty unpaved roads, I can only imagine the additional wildlife to be seen.

We relocated over a week ago to the west side of South Dakota, now camping near the Black Hills National Forest.  There’s lots to see and do in this area, and we’re here until the end of June.  Plenty of time to explore…..and chill!

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Badlands National Park – Pronghorn

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Not as easily to find as the prairie dogs and bison in Badlands National Park, so it was a thrill to get a quick sighting of pronghorn on Sage Creek Rim Road.

While we were stopped to watch bison in the distance on my husband’s side of the car, I turned to look out my window to find a male and two female pronghorn coming up a hill cautiously alongside my side of the car.  Right place right time!

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Male and two female pronghorn

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Pronghorn are found only in North America.  They are frequently called antelopes, but they are not nor related to the antelope.  The pronghorn is the only living member left of the family antilocapridae and is most closely related to the giraffe.

Pronghorn have horns, not antlers, hence their name.  The male’s horns are 12-20 inches long and curve in towards each other.  The female’s horns are usually straight, short spikes between 3-4 inches long.

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Female pronghorn beginning to run

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Pronghorn are the fastest land animal in North America, and the second-fastest land animal in the world, following the cheetah.

Pronghorn can run at speeds close to 60 miles an hour.  Although pronghorn are not as fast as cheetahs, they can maintain a fast speed for a longer period of time than cheetahs.

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Male pronghorn beginning to run

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After a short run, the three pronghorn stopped and looked around.  Feeling no threat from the five cars now sitting along the road watching them, the pronghorn continued their trek casually away from all of us and towards a herd of bison.

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Female pronghorn

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Pronghorn moving on, bison in the distance

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They were beautiful, and I truly felt lucky to see them!

More wildlife to come from Badlands National Park…..the rock-climbing Bighorn sheep!

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Badlands National Park – Prairie Dogs

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On the Sage Creek Rim Road, a fun area to see is Robert’s Prairie Dog Town, where a colony of prairie dogs live in a complex underground “town” of entrances, tunnels, sleeping chambers, storage areas, and back door escapes.

The largest ever recorded prairie dog town located in Texas encompassed a 100 mile by 250 mile area and contained an estimated 400 million prairie dogs.  That’s 25,000 square miles – an area greater than the state of West Virginia. 😲

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Just a small view of Robert’s Prairie Dog Town

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Prairie dogs are members of the squirrel family and are only found in North America.

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Prairie Dogs

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The prairie dog species found in the Badlands is the black-tailed prairie dog, the most common prairie dog of the five species.

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Prairie Dog Pups

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Prairie dogs were once a major part of the American landscape, originally ranging from Canada to Mexico.  Before 1800, it was estimated over 5 billion prairie dogs roamed the American plains.  Today, it’s estimated there’s a healthy return of 10-20 million prairie dogs roaming.  What happened?

In the 1800s, homesteading settlers viewed prairie dogs as disease carriers and grazing area destroyers for their cattle.  We now know these assumptions to be untrue.  Regarded as vermin, settlers killed prairie dogs in large quantities with poison and by recreational shooting.  How sad.

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Prairie dog on the look-out
(“Now where did those kids go?”)

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Prairie dogs are about 14-17 inches long and weigh 1-3 pounds.  They eat most all species of plants with an occasional insect.

Prairie dogs serve as a keystone species so their survival is important to many other species of wildlife.  That includes them being a major prey for a large array of predators that include golden eagles, hawks, fox, coyotes, badgers, and the endangered black-footed ferrets.

Fortunately, prairie dogs can run up to 35 mph at short distances to one of their many entrances for a hopeful escape.

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Prairie Dog nibbling grasses

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In addition, prairie dogs communicate to each other what predator is the threat!

Scientists believe that prairie dogs have one of the most complex animal languages ever decoded.  The prairie dog’s “bark” is a simple squeak or yip, but it means much more to a prairie dog’s ear.

On a basic level, prairie dogs can signal different threats.  For example, they can communicate the difference between a coyote and a domestic dog.  In fact, scientists think that prairie dogs may have developed such complex language from a need to respond to a diverse array of predators, all with different hunting strategies.

In addition to identifying specific threats, prairie dogs can further communicate size, shape, color, and speed.  A prairie dog can say so much more than, “A human is approaching!”  They can get as specific as, “A tall human in a blue shirt is approaching rapidly!”

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Prairie Dogs

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And for sure, they are so darn adorably cute too!

More wildlife to come from Badlands National Park……the fast pronghorn!

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Badlands National Park – American Bison Part 2

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Have you ever heard of bison wallowing?  Or maybe you’ve seen bison rolling from side to side in the dirt?  Yep, that ‘dust bath’ is called wallowing.

There are actually several explanations on why bison do wallowing.  Not only does it give relief to biting insects, it helps bison shed their heavy winter fur.

Wallowing is also sometimes seen as a social behavior associated with play, group cohesion, and male-male conflict.

During mating season, sexually mature males will urinate in the wallow before rolling on the ground to advertise their scent and strength.

Here’s a series of close-up shots of a bison wallowing, shot from my car window.

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“Are you ready?”

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American bison wallowing

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American bison wallowing

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American bison wallowing

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American bison wallowing

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American bison wallowing

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“A little dirt doesn’t hurt!”

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More wildlife to come from Badlands NP…..prairie dogs next!

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Badlands National Park – American Bison Part 1

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It was super-rewarding that we were able to take the unpaved Sage Creek Rim Road off of the Badlands NP scenic loop.  That is where the park states the best wildlife sightings could be found, including the American bison.  You could stop anywhere along this road; in fact, several times we had to stop to allow wildlife to cross the road in front of our car!

In prehistoric times, it is estimated 60-70 million bison roamed North America.  By the early 1800s, there were roughly 30 million.  Horrifying, by the late 1800s, the European settlers hunted them almost to extinction to fewer than 1,000 bison. 

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American Bison

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Badlands National Park played an important role in the recovery program of the bison.  In the 1960s, 50 bison were introduced to Badlands National Park; in the 1980s, 20 more were added. Today, there are about 1,200 bison freely roaming the plains within the Park.

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American Bison heading to a herd

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Bison are the largest mammal in North America.  Males (called bulls) weigh up to 2,000 pounds at 6 feet tall, females (called cows) weigh up to 1,000 pounds at 4-5 feet tall.

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American Bison (male and female)

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American Bison close-up (male and female)

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They are not only big, but bison are also fast; they can run up to 35 mph (56 kmh). 

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“Running Wild, Running Free”

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Bison primarily eat grasses, weeds and leafy plants, typically foraging for 9-11 hours a day. Their average lifespan is 10-20 years.  These photos show bison shedding their winter fur.

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American Bison

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As bison wander through the grasslands feeding, they stir up insects.  Several bird species will follow the bison, eating the exposed insects.  Some may even land on a bison to look for insects there too. 

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“Hitching a Ride”

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“The Gang’s All Here”
(bison, birds, prairie dog)

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The history of bison and Native Americans are intertwined.  Bison have been integral to tribal culture, providing them with food, clothing, fuel, tools, shelter and spiritual value.  

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American bison grazing a prairie dog town

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The American bison was named the national mammal of the United States on May 9, 2016.

Although many people interchange the two species, the American bison is not a buffalo; and they are not closely related.  Old World “true” buffalo (Cape buffalo and water buffalo) are native to Africa and Asia.  Bison are found in North America and Europe.

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American bison walking amongst prairie dog home entrances

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American bison close-up

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Advice from a Bison:

Stand your ground.
Have a tough hide.
Roam wild and free.
Have a strong spirit.
Let the chips fall where they may!

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More to come on….Badlands NP, American Bison Part 2….

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Badlands National Park – Birds

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Our primary purpose was to drive and enjoy the Badlands National Park’s scenic loop with stops at all twelve overlook points for photos, and hopefully be able to transverse the unpaved Sage Creek Rim Road side road.  There were also several trailheads, but we opted to stop at only a couple of the shorter hikes.

That being said, I wasn’t really expecting to see much in birds, let alone photograph any.

So I felt pretty lucky to capture three birds.  And, dare I say, two are new lifers?  Yes! 💃

As we entered the park and stopped at the immediate first overlook point, I saw my first new lifer, a Western Meadowlark, singing its heart out on a post away from the crowd.  S/he gave me so many awesome photos, I was tickled yellow!

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Western Meadowlark (Lifer #230)

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That was just too easy, I happily thought!

I photographed another Western Meadowlark perched on a stop sign in a windy breeze as we departed another overlook point.

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Western Meadowlark shot from my car window

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I was hoping one of those would have flown to the ground for a habitat shot.  But they both were too busy with singing.  There were so many meadowlarks, we could see and hear them out our windows as we continued our drive.

A few more overlooks, and I scored my only Western Meadowlark habitat shot.

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Western Meadowlark

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At another overlook with trailhead, I spotted down the hill my next new lifer, a pair of Lark Sparrows.

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Lark Sparrow (Lifer #231)

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 Lark Sparrows

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By this point, I was indeed a happy birding gal!

For the third bird, it was at yet another viewpoint.  While walking back, I spotted a flash of blue in the tree above our car.  That was pretty special!

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Mountain Bluebird

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It was definitely a win-win birding day for me…..for just a planned scenic drive.  😊

More wildlife to come from the Badlands National Park….bison next!

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Badlands National Park – Landscapes

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We’ve rolled into South Dakota for a stopover to visit the Badlands National Park.  It had rained the night before and was cloudy during our visit.  But that didn’t deter our enjoyment of the surrounding beauty as we drove the park’s Highway 240 scenic loop that offered many pullovers for incredible views.

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“I’ve been about the world a lot, and pretty much over our own country; but I was totally unprepared for that revelation called the Dakota Bad Lands.  What I saw gave me an indescribable sense of mysterious elsewhere….a distant architecture, ethereal….an endless supernatural world more spirited than earth but created out of it.”  — Frank Lloyd Wright, 1935

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The Oglala Lakota people were the first to give the site of modern-day Badlands National Park a name.

They called it mako sica, which translates to “land bad”, because its rocky terrain, lack of water, and extreme temperatures made it difficult to traverse.

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The Badlands striking geologic deposits contain one of the world’s richest fossil beds.  The saber tooth cat once roamed these lands.

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Every twist and turn along the scenic loop afforded striking landscapes.

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For wildlife lovers, it is suggested to take the park’s Sage Creek Rim Road (gravel road) off the main scenic loop, which was towards the end of our drive.  Wildlife did not disappoint.

These next photos were taken from Sage Creek Rim Road.

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Bison roaming the prairie, “tan” spots are Prairie Dog home entrances

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“Let sculptors come to the Badlands.  Let painters come.  But first of all the true architect should 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 it as they lived in it and deserved to call it their own. Yes, I say the aspects of the Dakota Badlands have more spiritual quality to impart to the mind of America than anything else in it made by man’s God.”  — Frank Lloyd Wright 1935

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Herd of Bison

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There is also a southern unit of Badlands National Park located on the Pine Ridge Reservation and managed in cooperation with the Oglala Sioux Tribe.  Due to Covid-19, it was still closed in accordance with Oglala Sioux Tribe ordinances.

More to come from the Badlands NP…..the wildlife!

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