The Badlands National Park is 987.4 km2 (381.2 sq mi) of rugged buttes, spires and pinnacles formed by erosion and protected mixed-grass prairie, the largest such area in the US. It’s located in south west South Dakota and was designated as a national park in 1978 after a period of protection as a National Monument since 1939.
The climate features extremes of temperature, with scorchingly hot summers, bitter winter months, a very low rainfall and strong, all-year round winds. Although the terrain appears bare and scorched, almost 400 identified specially adapted species of plant do survive here, with grasses and wildflowers dominating the scenery. Different types of grasses grow from ankle to waist height, and they thrive due to being well equipped for the environment, able to resist the strong winds, dry weather and frequent fire. The most prolific grass is the Western wheatgrass which grows up to two feet high.
The park supports the most endangered land mammal in North America, the black-footed ferret, which was reintroduced here in the 1990s. These live alongside deer, prairie dogs, bison, Rocky Mountain big horn sheep and Pronghorn, as well as other species well adapted to living in this challenging environment.
Nearly one million people visit this park annually and the main activities are hiking and camping, the best ways to experience the full range of what it has to offer. The area is a rich source of fossils, with previous finds including the ancestors of the modern-day rhinoceros, horse and dog (but no dinosaurs!) – however, digging and removing fossils is strictly forbidden except by approved palaeontologists.