Veering from Highway 385 onto 79, then onto the first unmarked road heading east, the Badlands are nowhere to be seen but the expansive Pine Ridge Indian Reservation offers enough gems to keep my camera clicking.  The reservation is 2.7 MILLION acres, more than twice the size of Delaware and is home to the Oglala Lakota American Indian tribe, descendants of such famous warrior chiefs as Sitting Bull, Red Cloud, and Crazy Horse.

Dry Goods Store

North of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, South Dakota

Originally part of the Great Sioux Reservation established under The Treaty of 1868, the reservation faces grave challenges. I left the reservation with photographic captures that are evocative, beautiful and especially poignant when you contrast them with the harsh reality of the human lives there. Passing the photos on to you for enjoyment, in essence taking away only the good from a place whose “bad” is in such opposition, doesn’t feel right to me. Love may be what makes the world go round, but awareness is what makes the turn worthwhile. From the Indian Youth Organization website:  “With the exception of Haiti, life expectancy is lower here than anywhere else in the Western Hemisphere (men – age 48, women – age 52), infant mortality rates are the highest in the United States, and many families have no electricity, telephone service, running water, or sewers and must use wood burning stoves to heat their homes.”  There are several grass roots organizations assisting with agricultural education and well-water management. If you’re interested in more, check out the website Running Strong for American Indian Youth.

Plains Indian Burial Platform

Surrounded by steep drop-offs to the Badlands, this is a scaffold burial platform (representational).  Edward S. Curtis photographed one of these in 1908 and Captain Lewis noted the expedition’s discovery of one in his journal dated April 20, 1805.  “I walked on shore.killed two deer, wounded an Elk and a deer; saw the remains of some Indian camp, near which stood a small scaffold of about 7 feet high.underneath this scaffold a human body was lying, well rolled in several dressed buffalow skins and near it a bag.containing sundry articles belonging to the disceased. – Captian Lewis”

Edward S. Curtis, courtesy

Edward S. Curtis 1908, courtesy

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

Longhorn Saloon, North of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

Asanpi Bleza "thin milk" in was a Brule indian whose body was discovered in 1948 by John

This took some research.  The sign was too much of a temptation to ignore so I pursued the arrow into a high plains pasture overlooking the edge of the Badlands. Asanpi Bleza “thin milk” was a Brule Indian warrior and the only known casualty of those seeking refuge in the stronghold during the Wounded Knee era. His bones were found by John Swallow, Sr. in 1948. Since Asanpi Bleza died without ceremony or burial, the family in 1948 conducted rites for him near the spot he was discovered. 

Memorial erected on sight of Asanpi Bleza's remains

Memorial erected near discovery of Asanpi Bleza’s remains by John Swallow, Sr. in 1948.

By this time I’ve traveled via dirt road completely around the South Unit of the Badlands (meaning the reservation, which is NOT part of the National Park although they are purportedly working on some agreement). There are no access points for the sunset shot I plan to capture so I head to the North Unit.  Clarification — there are no LEGAL access points. I’m aware I’ve been trespassing at certain points of the day, although I never knowingly violated posted signs. And every footfall has been VERY respectful. I’m certain that makes no difference, but I feel better about it.

The latter part of the day has been dreary and my hopes are not high for the glorious spread of slanted end-of-day rays so needed by the gray, bland Badlands. Racing around without a good map of the Park (yes, they’re open 24/7 but the entrances are not staffed this time of year, so no maps are handed out as you enter),  I find this:

The Badlands?

South Dakota Badlands. The Unexpected.

Not what you expected of the Badlands?  Me either.  A treasure indeed.

The day ends with this:

Mysterious Light Source or God's Mirror?

The Badlands

The perfect ending to a perfect day.  Since I’ve previously made a complete post based on this one shot, I won’t bore you with a repeat.  If you’ve not read about all that transpired for this to magically insert itself into my camera, click here (it’ll be worth your time).

The day actually ended with this:

Hacked and Cold

Weary Solo Road Tripper. No heat in her room. Too tired to care. Wall, South Dakota.

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