I never expected to see Bighorn Sheep in the Badlands but the animal has been re-introduced as of 2004 with, being brought in from Taos, New Mexico. Eleven healthy lambs were born in 2009 and evidently they did pretty well in 2008 when we visited the park as we saw these two just off the Badlands Loop Road.
Large males can be well over 300 pounds and their massive horns can weigh up to 30 in themselves! These majestic creatures made their way to North America over the Berring Land Bridge before it became the Strait from Siberia. Once numbering close to 2 million, they were hunted and decimated by disease to a mere few thousand by 1900. Conservation and reintroduction have brought their population back to healthy levels though not near their former prevalence or range.
Males are not only much larger than their female counterparts but also have the classic rounded huge horns most associated with the animal. Female do have horns but they are much smaller and only slightly bent. Males need every inch in rutting season, when the males square off to see who gets to mate. Older males generally have lots of damage and scarring on their horns from their many contests over the years. They are great climbers and you will most often spot them negotiating rocky outcroppings if they are not feeding on grass and other vegetation that makes up the bulk of their diet.
If you like nature, this is your place.
If you like it quiet, this is your place.
If you don't mind putting up with primitive accommodations in order to enjoy the prairie as it once was, this is definitely your place.
Turning west from Hwy 240 (Badlands Loop Road) onto a gravel road leads you directly into this wonderland of solitude known as the Sage Creek Basin. Sufficiently remote to slough off most of the tourists that take the whirlwind tour on the highway, those that do venture forth into the Sage Creek wilderness are rewarded with a world of bison, prairie dogs, coyotes, and other wildlife, and of course the peace and solitude of the prairie. And what's more, they don't have to share it with many specimens of the homo sapien variety.
The Sage Creek campground is unassuming, but sufficient. Backpackers will undoubtedly use it only as a starting off point - you can camp anywhere in the Basin that is not within 1/2 mile of a road. (Which of course leaves it pretty wide open!) There are no trails - but no worries, the bison have many of their own that they'll let you use. And speaking of the bison, they are seemingly everywhere, and are a fascination to watch. Just don't get too close!
There's no way you can drive through the area, and not be taken in by the signs for Wall Drug Store. This is just a few miles north of the park, and you should swing by to see what the fuss is all about. Basically, this is a huge souvienier complex that has grown out of a drug store that would draw travellers in with the promise of free ice water. You'll spend a little time here at least to see all the shops there are and all the stuff they sell. Don't forget to stop out back to collect that cup of ice water!
If you have a chance to camp or get away from the main road, take a drive out into the adjoining national grasslands. You are more likely to see the wildlife and you get a better vision of what the entire area would have been like in a prior lifetime.
This area of South Dakota had a significant involvement during the Cold War with the establishment of several launch control facilities of U.S. Minuteman Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. Be sure to stop by the visitor center off I-90, Exit 131, south on SD State Road 240 to learn all about this history. This is located right outside of Badlands National Park.
Just off the interstate on the way to the east end of the Badlands is a prairie dog town. Personally I don't like the little critters, but the kids might enjoy it.
Check out the big statue.