Monday, January 23, 2017

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Always take the scenic route!
As I was leaving the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, my GPS was displaying two options for traveling west - a direct route and a scenic route. 
I felt like I had plenty of time, so I chose the scenic route. The scenic route started out as open farmland.
 Then after a while the farmland turned more rustic.
Little did I know that the scenic route would take me through the Badlands National Park .
The Badlands National Park covers 242,756 acres (98,240 ha) of sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles, spires and grasslands. 
The geography of the park was created by two geologic processes - deposition and erosion.
The formations were deposited in layers. 
The layers were composed of sediments such as sand, silt, and clay that have been cemented together into sedimentary rocks. 
The layers were deposited from the late Cretaceous Period (67 to 75 million years ago)...
 ... until the Oligocene Epochs (26 million years ago).
Different environments—sea, tropical land, and open woodland with meandering rivers—caused different sediments to accumulate here at different times.
Once the Black Hills streams and rivers were captured, erosion dominated over deposition. 
Erosion began in the Badlands about 500,000 years ago when the Cheyenne River captured streams and rivers flowing from the Black Hills into the Badlands region. Modern rivers cut down through the rock layers, carving fantastic shapes into what had once been a flat floodplain. 
The Badlands erode at the rapid rate of about one inch per year. Evidence suggests that they will erode completely away in another 500,000 years, giving them a life span of just one million years. Not a long period of time from a geologic perspective.
The park blends the buttes and spires with the largest undisturbed mixed grass prairie in the United States.
As I drove further west, the geography began to change from rustic buttes to grassland prairies.
Badlands National Park protects one of the largest expanses of mixed-grass prairie in the United States.
The mixed-grass prairie contains both ankle-high and waist-high grasses, and fills a transitional zone between the moister tall-grass prairie to the east and the more arid short-grass prairie to the west.
The native grasses of the mixed-grass prairie serve as important food sources for many species of wildlife, from prairie dogs to bison to bighorn sheep. 
I caught this family of big horn sheep grazing amongst the grasslands.
This little lamb wasn't interested in grazing, he just wanted to have his photo taken.
Outside the box
I could have spent more time driving around some of the backroads of the park, but the sun was starting to set and I felt that I needed to continue westward.

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