After driving endless miles across the plains of South Dakota, the ground suddenly drops away. Seconds ago the grassland landscape rolled gently…
…Now the ground on either side of the road is carved away in an continuous series of deep, steep-sided gullies. You’ve just entered the Badlands.
One of the first things you notice about the Badlands, is how the sides of the gullies are made up of horizontal bands: cemented sediments that accumulated over millions of years. The varying colours and thickness of these sediments represent different periods of geological history.
For over half a billion years, what are today the Great Plains and Prairies of Central North America were at the bottom of a shallow inland sea. Over that entire time, sediments gradually collected on the sea’s bed, resulting in layered deposits thousands of feet thick. Around 69 million years ago, the sea drained and its former floor became vast, flat plains.
But that wasn’t the end of the story. Other geological agents – such as rivers, the wind and glaciers – took over the depositional duties, and the plains continued to accumulate sediments. Then, around 5 to 10 million years ago, erosional forces started to replace depositional ones.
Even so, the Badlands of South Dakota didn’t truly begin forming until about half a million years ago. The blink of an eye in geological terms. At that time, streams and rivers from Black Hills were captured by the Cheyenne River, and started cutting away at the sediments their predecessors had deposited in this area.
Today the Dakota Badlands are eroding at an average rate of one inch per year. Which means that in another half a million years or so, they will have eroded themselves into extinction. So go see them while you still can!
Originally established as a National Monument in 1939, it’s unsurprising the Badlands were promoted to National Park status in 1978. Once seen, the Badlands of South Dakota truly are an unforgettable landscape.
While you’re still mesmerized by the dramatic landscapes of Dakota’s Badlands, why not sign up and follow my continuing Journeys here at Jaspa’s Journal (on WordPress or Bloglovin’), or through my website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr?
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