|About the Site|
|Badlands National Park|
Although the Badlands is rightfully known for the formations of the spectacularly eroded Wall, where little vegetation can be found, most of the land in Badlands National Park is made up of grassland prairie. Badlands National Park contains 170,000 acres of grasslands. It is the largest expanse of prairie and natural grasslands which can be found in the Nation Park System.
At this point in time, about 50-60% of the park is made up of mixed-grass prairie. The rest is made up of rock, small areas of woodland, particularly along areas where moisture can be found, and scrublands. There are some 400 species of plants in the park. Badland's grassland prairie contains 56 (other sources indicate 30 or 60) species of grass, as well as varieties of prairie wildflowers. A total of 300 varieties of plants and wildflowers are found in the park.
Grasslands such as the ones in the park once stretched from Canada in the north almost to the Mexican border, and from the Rockies in the West to Indiana. These prairies one covered about 1/3 of the land in North America, once the most extensive plant cover on the continent. The prairies in Badlands National Park are preserved much as they existed before the arrival of European explorers and settlers when the Sioux peoples dominated the area.
A large portion of the grasslands in various areas in what is now the national park were damaged when cattleman moved their animals into the area for grazing purposes. Settlers who had been attempting to raise crops in the area which also damaged the grasslands. In 1939 the area was declared a national monument and livestock and plowing were no longer allowed. As a result, many of the prairies's natural grasses returned and can be seen in the park now.
North America features three different, distinct prairie regions: tallgrass prairie, shortgrass prairie, and mixed grass prairie. Badlands National Park is located in the mixed-grass area. Both tall grass and short grass prairies are found in the park. Varieties include buffalo grass (the shortest of the common grasses), western wheatgrass, blue grama, and needle-and-thread. These grasses provide nutrition and support a number of animals.
For potential visitors, ParkVision recommends "Story Behind the Scenery" guides and "Trails Ilustrated" maps.
The grasses present in the park have adapted to the arid environment and the scarcity of water by reaching maturity early in the summer season. The area receives snow in the winter, but not an enormous amount. The area averages about 24 inches of snow each year. However, wind across the plains blows the winds into drifts as deep as 12 feet.
The picture below looks out across the lower prairie late in the day toward the town of Interior. This small town is the closest town to the park. Interestingly, the town was originally 2 miles southeast of its present location, but it was moved to accomodate the arrival of the White River Division of the Chicago Milwaukee, and St. Paul railroad in 1907. The arrival of the railroad made Interior a significant shipping pot for cattle and grain. At one time, people visited the park by riding the train from Rapid City to Interior. The town is currently very small, with less than 70 residents, but at one time it thrived with 2 hotels, 2 limber companies, a bank, barbershop, 2 general stores, curio shop, hotel, cafe, blacksmith, a livery stable, lumber yard, hardware store newspaper, and a band and a bandstand. The population reached 200 at one time. The town was also known for a famous rodeo, started in 1919, the fifth town to establish an annual rodeo after Chicago, Calgary, Cheyenne, and Belle Fourche.
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- All photographs ©Patrick Holleran, Shannon Digital Imaging, 1994-2013
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