Originally we were going to do our usual of creating one post for all the items/days during this segment of our stay in Wall, SD; however this area is so spectacular that it merits additional photographs to show it to you, rather than just to tell you about it, so we are breaking it up into a post per day (or so), so as not to overburden the post with too many photos, which will then make it more difficult to open (especially with slower running internet connections).
Our first outing from Wall, SD - We drove through the Badlands National Park and took in the beauty of the area. It can only be beautiful to those that have an appreciation for 'natural' beauty, as the land is vast and relatively unimproved... just as it was hundreds and even thousands of years ago. We suppose that to many it can be just a scenery of jagged rocks and prairie, but for us it is a majestic painting by an old master... Father Time, on the canvas of Mother Earth, with brush strokes of rain, sleet/snow, wind, volcanic eruptions, and paints of sediments and silt, chemicals and ore from the ground. Unlike us, 'Old' around here is a matter of millions of years, so perhaps even more impressive is the fact that this is pretty much the way the settlers to the area had to deal with this land. The geography is difficult to travel through, hence the name the badlands. Can you imagine what these pioneers thought when encountering these seemingly impassible rock walls with their wagons... and yet they found a way.
This area is so spectacular that it deserves a little more than just Ohhhs, Ahhhs, and Wows with photos. So we made it a point to investigate 'how the area developed to what it is' and will share a bit of its history with you. This seems to be one of the best places to study and understand the effects of erosion. It is here that geology and the life of the past connect with the present. For approximately 30 million years layers of mud, sand and gravel were laid down by time and volcanic action of the earth. In those layers are fossils of many pre-historic animals preserved for modern study. About 1-4 million years ago erosion started to outpace the deposits leaving colorful spires resembling castles and towers in the eroded bedrock.
This area was once part of a giant salt water sea. Upheaval and volcanic activity pushed the sea floor up. As the water was drained away, it left behind broad, marshy plains. Periodically white volcanic ash covered the soil, hot winds blew across the plateaus and the terrain continued evolving. The Badlands deposits originally covered hundreds of miles surrounding the Black Hills. Rivers flowing eastward from the Black Hills cut into the deposits and with the effects of rain, wind and snow thousands of tons of sedimentary deposits were carried away, and even today the area continues to erode as each season takes its toll.
The Badlands of South Dakota were set aside to preserve approximately one tenth of the White River Badlands. The area was then established as a national monument by Presidential proclamation in 1939. In 1978 the Badlands National Monument was designated a national park, with the purpose of preserving the scenery, wildlife, indigenous plants and areas of scientific significance. It covers about 244,300 acres of the White River Badlands and is said to contain the richest fossil beds in the world.
The Badlands present vibrant colors caused by mineral deposits. The colored layers seen in the photos containing tinges of oxidized manganese show a purple cast. Iron oxide in small quantities produced the orange and tan layers. The volcanic ash dropped by westerly winds from the Rockies produced the white layers. In places where the ash fell and mixed with silt and clay in streams, it produced the dirty gray layers.
Although species of fossil horse have been found in the Badlands, the horse family (Bill loves horses) became extinct in the New World about 10,000 years ago. It was the Spanish who reintroduced the horse in the 16th century.
On the way out of the park we also stopped in at the Prairie Homestead Visitor Center which maintains the Prairie Homestead of Edgar Irwin Brown and Alice Story Brown, originally from Iowa, who had two children, Charles and Candace. By 1909 Candace had married and moved to California. Ed, Alice and their son Charles moved to South Dakota to register and build their homestead in 1909, which served as their home until 1936. Ed died in 1920 and Alice moved to California to be with her daughter, but Charles remained at the homestead until 1936, when he moved to California to be with his mother and sister’s family. Before leaving he rented the place to a Mr. George C. Carr (a bachelor) who resided the property until 1949, leaving it finding that he could no longer remain there alone, as apparently he had not found anyone he wanted to live in such confined space with, there.
This original sod home sat on 160 acres of homesteaded land, which had previously been an Indian reservation of the Sioux Lakota nation, before 1900 and through the Homestead Act, signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln on May 20,1862, (with several revisions thereafter) opened up settlement in the western United States, allowing any American (including women and freed slaves) over 21 years to be eligible to get 160 acres of land IF:
1) They never took up arms against the United States,
2) They had to build a house on the land,
3) The had to farm the land and live off of it,
4) They had to improve the land,
5) They had to live on the land for five (5) years to get title.
The Prairie Homestead just outside the Badlands National Park is typical of the homes and outbuildings that pioneers built at that time and is remarkable in that it still stands today to give us a glimpse of the conditions that these settlers lived in. This home is one of the last remaining original sod homes that is still intact today. These homes dug out sod were popular because there was an unending supply of building materials… FREE. The prairie buffalo grass sprouted from densely tangled roots, giving the top 3”-6” of soil a tight consistency. For the walls the sodbuster shaved off a belt of roots and grass12”-15” wide and 3” thick. It was cut into 18” strip lengths. These strips were laid (grass down) staggering the strips like brickwork. Two rows were usually arranged parallel, making the finished walls 24”-30” thick. Intersecting layers were secured together at the corners with a pole used to hold the beams. As the sod house grew, spaces were left for the windows, for both light and defense… large enough to let light in and be able to fire arms from, if necessary, yet small enough to keep hostiles from gaining easy access. In the Brown house, the living room part of the house shown in photo with the pot belly stove was actually another pioneer’s cabin which had been abandoned, which the Browns brought to this site and added it to their original sod dug-in home to become their parlor. These pioneers played a very important part in settling the Great Plains.
The Homestead Act had several changes since its inception in 1862 and one was that if a homesteader lived on his homestead for as little as 18 months, he/she could purchase a patent on the land for just 50 cents per acre (that’s $80.00), though that was a lot of money back then, especially in the Depression years. That’s what Ed Brown did. In 1920 Ed Brown passed away and Alice moved to California to be with her remaining children. In 1936 Charles also moved to California to be with his mother, who passed away in 1943. Before leaving the homestead, Charles rented the place to a Mr. George C. Carr (a bachelor) who lived in the house until 1949, when he felt he could no longer live there alone (and apparently had found no one he cared to share his life with there).
By 1966, the cave of this homestead (used for food storage and shelter during violent storms and tornadoes) had caved in (no pun intended) and the park service took over its maintenance, though it technically lies outside the national park. The cave was then dug out and rebuilt in the spring of 1966. The homestead is preserved as though a homestead family was living there today, along with farm animals. They even have outfits of dress of that era that visitors can wear while touring the Prairie Homestead for photo effects, but Mary refused to wear an apron and a bonnet.
We hope you have enjoyed our first day touring the Badlands National Park and the Prairie Homestead.