|Traveling through Badlands National Park gives you the feeling like you're on a different planet. While the scenery has a unique beauty, it is also very eerie! Deep canyons, towering spires and flat-topped tables are everywhere you look, some reaching as high as approximately 1000 feet above the valley floor. Driving along the flat South Dakota prairie after leaving the beautiful Black Hills National Forest which were surprisingly green, prairie grasses blowing in the wind, you are greeted by this area which looks like you have just been dropped onto another planet. Not only surprising, I'm sure must it have been a real trial for the pioneers who traveled through this area. The terrain is largely the result of deposition and erosion. And while both continue every day, it began about 500,000 years ago and will be totally eroded in another 500,000 years (quite a short time in geological terms). Once a shallow sea that covered most of the Great Plains, they continue to find fossils of sea creatures, shells, alligators, dinosaurs and many other mammals. The area is considered one of the world's richest mammal fossil beds. The Park covers 244,000 acres. Like the Grand Canyon, it looks very different depending on the time of day or evening as shadows hit. A picture every where you look, the Badlands are a must see on anyone's list when traveling in the area. Home to buffalo, big horn sheep, coyotes, prairie dogs, fox, ferrets and rattlesnakes, we were lucky enough to see a Big Horn Sheep laying in the shade of a shrub right along the loop through the park. Unfortunately the day we were there it was very smokey which obscured some of its beauty. We passed by the Black Hills, Mount Rushmore and Wall Drug as we had been there not too many years ago. Just outside the east entrance to the Park we visited a Prairie Homestead that was settled in 1909. The buildings are just as they were back then when the Brown Family homesteaded the 160 acres. Much of the house, the cave (used to keep things cold or from freezing)and the chicken coop were all made of sod cut from the prairie grasses. The sod strips were 12-18 inches wide, three inches deep and 18 inches long. The living room was added on in later years and was constructed of lumber. Logs and wood are pretty scarce on the South Dakota prairie! While the entire home has a lumber face so it would all look the same when they built the addition, the front of the original portion of the house has a sod front. Being nice and cool in the summer and warm in the winter, it would have been difficult to live in two such small dark rooms (kitchen, living area and a bedroom). Some of the furnishings are original to the homestead, everything else is from that time period. While the government opened up this area to homesteading between 1900 and 1913, anyone who was willing to bet the government that they could live on the 160 acres (5 of which had to be farmed) for five years, most homesteaders lost the bet. The government later determined that those 160 acres would only produce enough for eight cows! While life can be hard sometimes, we cannot begin to understand what these homesteaders faced on a daily basis just to survive and it is gratifying to see families sharing these places with their children as they can't hope to identify with that kind of life. The people that run the homestead do a great job of maintaining the lifestyle of those early pioneers and you can even dress up in period clothing to tour the homestead. While we weren't willing to wear the garb as it was over 100 degrees, three women who took the tour with us were brave enough to have the experience but only one of them stuck it out while the other two shed their prairie garb. We all commented on how in the world the pioneers wore the hot and heavy clothes day in and day out. A fun experience to be sure.