Friday, September 4, 2009

Badlands Redux

I wanted one more chance to catch the morning light in the Badlands.  So we took the southern route back to Wisconsin via I-90. 

We left the Quality Inn in Spearfish, SD, before dawn and pulled up to the Pinnacles entrance to the park around 8am.  The Ranger inside the booth had his back to us.  After a few minutes, he turned and said: "Oh, I'm so sorry.  I didn't hear you pull up.  I hope you weren't sitting there too long."  Then he paused and leaned out of the booth to give our car the once-over.  "You have one of those quiet cars.  How do you like it?"

"We love it.  It's great for creeping up on wildlife," I said.

Well, today's your lucky day, he said.   There's a herd of Bighorn Sheep just up the road on the right.  We drove slowly, but didn't see them.  Then we doubled back and looked to the west.

At first we thought the white patooties in the grasses were pronghorn.  Nope.  They were sheep - but too far away for my telephoto lens.  I was surprised to see bighorn sheep in the Badlands.  I associate them with the desert and Rocky Mountains, not America's prairies.  (According to the NPS website, the Badlands sub-species went extinct due to over-hunting back in the 1920s.  Four decades later, the federal agency started a translocation program.)

We had plenty of time, so we pulled off the road and watched, and waited.  After an hour or so, the Pinnacles herd turned around and headed towards us - giving us a close-to-the-car photo opportunity. 

The sheep ignored us and the big lens sticking out of the Prius window. 

By this time, the sun was high in the sky and the light was getting harsh.  I wanted to see the black-tailed prairie dogs one more time.

We headed west on Sage Creek Road to check out the Roberts prairie dog town.  We knew we'd arrived when we saw the craters and the bison grazing along the horizon.


from the Journal of the Lewis and Clark Expedition
September 1804:  they "discovered a Village of an animal the french Call the Prairie Dog" 

Black-tailed Prairie Dog
Cynomys ludovicianus 

Cyno = dog
mys = mouse
ludovicianus = of Louisiana


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