Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park is a park with many faces. Besides the moonscape scenery, there is wildlife, hiking and even fossil hunting.


It seems odd to actually have a place called Badlands as a destination. Intuitively, that seems like a place to avoid and I suspect that in days gone by it was. But Badlands National Park in South Dakota, about 50 miles east of Rapid City, is an awesome place to visit. Our three days was not long enough.

The Badlands are really the sediments of the bottom of an ancient sea that covered much of the North American continent for millions of years during the Tertiary Period. After the ocean receded, rivers like the White River began to erode the sediments away leaving hills of essentially hard-packed mud.

The process still happens today, forcing the wall of the badlands inexorably northward. Managers have measured an erosion rate of about an inch a year and it is estimated that from 100,000 to 500,000 years from now, the Badlands will be gone.

Scenery rules in the park and each overlook should be explored for possibilities. As you drive the loop road from the northeast entrance to Wall, South Dakota, the scenery changes at every turn. Steep knife-sharp serrated ridges and pinnacles along the top of the wall fall off into deep canyons.  Further from the edge the sharpness gives way to wide valleys bordered by softly rounded hills. Little vegetation grows on these austere slopes but the palette of colors displayed in the soil makes up for it. Bands of reds and purples intermix with gray, yellow and green revealing the layers formed over millions of years. On the west side, brush and cottonwood filled draws added color and contrast as the land settles into the wide prairie of the Badlands Wilderness Area.

When we headed to the park, I told my wife, Cathy, that although we would likely see wildlife, Badlands was a scenic destination not a wildlife park. While I was right about the former, I was off the mark on the latter. We saw a surprising amount of wildlife both in numbers of species and individuals. From bluebirds to bison we consistently saw animals. The Roberts black-tailed prairie dog town was by far the largest of many that we saw on our trip.  Bighorn sheep were amazingly abundant, often grazing right alongside the road.

In fact, it was stepping out of the truck to photograph a large bighorn ram that led us to really discover the third attraction of the park. About thirty yards off the road I looked down and nearly dropped my camera. Laying right on top of the ground was an inch-long piece of fossilized jaw with three teeth in it. The bighorn was forgotten and Cathy and I began an immediate search which yielded dozens of more fragments.

The badland sediments were lain down during the rise of mammals which date back about 65 million years. As the wall moves northward each year, more fossilized remains of animals trapped in the sediments are uncovered including many new species, making the park a premier site for paleontology.

We left the fragments in place but took photos and reported our find to the paleontology lab at the visitor center. About 500-600 visitor “finds” are reported each year. Most are relatively insignificant like ours, but one led to a dig that lasted over 20 years and yielded hundreds of nearly intact specimens.

Badlands National Park is a must-see if you travel to South Dakota. If you want to find out more about our visit to Badlands National Park, visit my blog at: http://www.nature-track.com/nature-blog.html

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Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program. Go figure. 


"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), The Best of Nature is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 

here

Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center (425 Capital)

Perfect Light Photo Supply

Work Wearhouse

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho