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Visiting Badlands National Park is like taking a Science class This area of the vast American grassland was once an ancient seabed, and over time, has eroded away into intricate rocky formations of multicolored buttes, canyons and delicate spires.
Even a glancing look at the eroded buttes, pinnacles and spires in the 244,000-acre park shows horizontal bands throughout the formation, each band with its own science story much like a time machine.The Badlands feature an alien landscape of ravines, ridges and colored rock layers. Badlands National Park in South Dakota is a must-see for National Park, fossil, and geology enthusiasts.
Let the sculptors come to the Badlands. Let the painters come. But first of all, the true
architects 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
The Lakota Indian Nation gave this land its name, “mako sica,” meaning “land bad.” Located in southwestern South Dakota, Badlands
National Park consists of 244,000 acres of sharply eroded buttes (a butte is an isolated hill with steep, often vertical sides and a small
flat top), pinnacles and spires blended with the largest protected mixed grass prairie in the United States. It is desolation at its truest,
where you can look for miles and see no sign of civilization. This land of sharp ridges, steep walled canyons, gullies, pyramids and
knobs has been so ruthlessly ravaged by wind and water that it has become picturesque. The Badlands are a wonderland of bizarre,
colorful spires and pinnacles, massive buttes and deep gorges. Erosion of the Badlands reveals sedimentary layers of different colors:
purple and yellow (shale), tan and gray (sand and gravel), red and orange (iron oxides) and white (volcanic ash).
A stratigraphic column representing the different rock layers of the Badlands
This geological treasure trove was once a seabed that was
compressedinto 2,000-foot-thickrock known as Pierre
Shale. Forests flourished andwithered away. Volcanoes laid
down a thick layer of ash and rivers repeatedly flooded the
region, depositingsediment. Wind and rushing water eroded
the soil, gouging out gulleysand carving cliffs and spires.
The now dry, fragile soil continuesto erode, revealing long
buried fossils that tell of a Golden Age of Mammals some
30 million years ago.
The lighter-colored Sharps
Formation was deposited from
28 to 30 million years ago by
wind and water as the climate
continued to dry and cool.
Volcanic eruptions to the west
continued to supply ash during
this time. Today, the Brule and
Sharps form the more rugged
peaks and canyons of the
A thick layer of volcanic
ash known as the
Rockyford Ash was
deposited 30 million
years ago, forming the
bottom layer of the
The tannish brown Brule
Formation was deposited
between 30 and 34 million
years ago. As the climate
began to dry and cool, the
forest gave way to open
savannah. Bands of sandstone
interspersed among the layers
were deposited in channels
and mark the course of ancient
rivers that flowed from the
Black Hills. Red layers within
the Brule Formation are fossil
soils called paleosols.
• The greyish Chadron
Formation was deposited
between 34 and 37 million
years ago by rivers across a
flood plain. Each time the
rivers flooded, they deposited a
new layer on the plain.
Alligator fossils indicate that a
lush, subtropical forest covered
the land. Most fossils found in
this formation are from early
mammals like the three-toed
horse and the large titanothere.
The sea drained away with
the uplift of the Black Hills
and Rocky Mountains,
exposing the black ocean
mud to air. Upper layers
were weathered into a
yellow soil, called Yellow
Mounds. The mounds are an
example of a fossil soil, or
The black Pierre Shale was
deposited between 69 and 75
million years ago when a shallow,
inland sea stretched across what is
now the Great Plains. Sediment
filtered through the seawater,
forming a black mud on the sea
floor that has since hardened into
shale. Fossil clams, ammonites,
and sea reptiles confirm the sea
Storm clouds gather over the Wall, a 100-mile stretch of tieredcliffs in Badlands National Park in South Dakota.
Badlands National Parc s’est formé pendant 75 millions
d’années avec des dépôts sédimentaires qui révèlent
l’histoire de la région; cet endroit fut successivement une
mer intérieure, une plaine, un lac, de la savane…
Depuis 500 000 ans la plaine se creuse sous l’action de la
pluie et l’érosion créé ce paysage extraordinaire.