Badlands National Park

Mako Sica: Badlands National Park

Don’t Let the Name Fool You

In the ancestral lands of the Lakota people, one area within the territory is known as mako sica, and has been for hundreds of years. Directly translated, mako sica means “bad lands.” As you may have guessed, that’s where the name of today’s National Park Spotlight comes from. As the Lakota observed, the terrain of what is now Badlands National Park in South Dakota is particularly inhospitable for survival. Today, the same canyons and geological formations that made those “bad lands” difficult to cross delight and amaze visitors.

Badlands National Park

Visiting Badlands National Park

While the Lakota and French Trappers of the past never set up permanent homes in the Badlands, they did move through the area seasonally. Thanks to accessible roads and trails, tourists today can also visit and enjoy all that the park has to offer. Badlands National Park has roads that take you from one side of the park to the other, and scenic loops within the park. While the park is open 24 hours a day, it’s a good idea to check for closures that may occur with inclement weather.

75 Million Years in the Making

Faced with views of peculiar rock formations in Badlands National Park, one cannot help but wonder how such unique vistas came to be. The formations in the badlands are the product of soil deposition that began 75 million years ago.

badlands buttes with bright red stripes descend into green prairie grasses below
Geological formations. Photo credit: NPS.


Half a million years ago, rivers winding through the hills began to erode the rock. In this way, geological layers and points in time are on full display. Visitors can see the evidence of that long history as they tour the landscape.

Archaeology in Badlands National Park

a collection of various worked stones laid out on a cloth surface.
Archaeological artifacts found at Badlands National Park. Photo credit: NPS.

Badlands National Park is also the site of more recent history, with archaeology sites dating back 12,000 years. Archaeology sites in this area don’t include permanent settlements. Instead, they show evidence of campfires, hunting grounds and locations where animals were butchered for consumption.

Wildlife on the Prairie

Bighorn Sheep in Badlands National Park
Bighorn sheep below a full moon on the prairie. Photo credit: NPS.

The diverse ecology of the park includes miles of mixed grassland prairie.  Perhaps most notable of its inhabitants is the prairie dog. Prairie dogs are related to squirrels and chipmunks, and their colonies are well established within the park. While they used to be plentiful, prairie dog populations were dealt a huge blow by western expansion and colonization. Their habitats were destroyed by settling ranchers who saw them as a nuisance. On Badlands Loop Road, visitors can see Robert’s Prairie Dog Town in person.

Prairie Dog in Badlands National Park
A Prairie Dog in Badlands National Park. Photo credit: NPS.

Explore the Badlands

There’s so much more to discover in South Dakota’s Badlands, which offer a unique look at plains ecology and geological rock formations. Whether you’re on a scenic drive, or a long overland trip, Badlands National Park is definitely an excursion worth the time.

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