At Wounded Knee

The southern portion of Badlands National Park is jointly managed by the National Park and by the Oglala Lakota. The hope was that one day this section of the park would be the first Tribal National Park in the country. Those plans have not yet become a reality. The northern unit of the park hosts the scientific interpretation of the land and holds all of the associated resources you’d expect at a National Park.

The southern unit is entirely within the Pine Ridge Reservation. At the White River Visitor Center, you can hear the historical interpretation of the people of this area, from paleo-Indians to European settlers to US Army Air Force troops in WWII who used the reservation land for a gunnery range and bombing practice. Just under 350,000 acres were acquired by eminent domain from the Oglala Lakota in 1942 on the pretext that it was “unused, unoccupied, and blighted”. 

Wounded Knee is not within the boundaries of the Park. Its history is told in signs, tombstones, graffiti and the living words of people who live in extreme poverty, mistrustful of neighbors and governments and directly impacted by changes in climate and habitat for the animals that provide their sustenance. I am grateful to Mr. Apple (age 25) and Mr. Fast Horse (age 13) for sharing their story. 

My heart aches for these people, for their wounded dignity, for their invisibility, for their spoiled livelihood. That “living off the land” was ever possible for humans in this place year-round is doubtful, especially after the buffalo herds were decimated by European immigrants. This is an area of seasonal extremes, a place to which you’d make a sacred pilgrimage, spend a time in awe, and respectfully vacate. 

To see the land as sacred, wild, and autonomous allows an attitude of humility to flourish and banishes thoughts of domination, extraction and exploitation.  It brings truer balance and harmony to the relationship. Perhaps from this new understanding, a more sustainable future will develop for our species. 

New Photo Challenge: Lens-Artists “Look Up”

I have been suffering with Photo Challenge withdrawal symptoms, but it’s good to know I’m not alone and that new challenges are always out there. The Lens-Artist group is posting weekly challenges on Saturdays, so I’ve signed up. If you’re interested in joining, HERE is more info. 

This week’s challenge is to “look up”. I just got back from a trip to Badlands National Park, where we enjoyed a marvelous sunset from atop the crest of one of the many ridges. Looking up at the sunset while looking down into the layers of colored rock was a sort of “mirrored” view. 

Thanks, Pati of Pilotfish Blog, for this challenge!

Citizen Science at Badlands National Park

Steve & I spent 5 days at Badlands National Park in South Dakota last week. One of the highlights of our adventure was finding what I think is a fossilized bone. This post is my way of reporting that find to a Physical Science Technician in Paleontology at the park. I don’t have a GPS device to help him locate the find, so I’m walking him (and any other readers) to it through this blog post. If you happen to visit the park and find this bone (or any others), please leave it undisturbed. It is essential to have it in its original place in the sedimentary layers of rock in order to determine vital information. 

I initially spotted and photographed the bone on September 22 and filled out the reporting form at the Visitor’s Center. The next day, I returned to take additional photos to help lead the paleontology team to its location.  I just got home last night, and can now download my photos to this blog and share them.

The crosswalk over Hwy 240 at the Visitors Center leads to a creek wash that starts at a lone cottonwood tree and goes west toward the rocky ridge. There is a separate rocky hill to the right of that wash. Follow the wash beyond that hill as it curves to the left.  The peak with the squared-off top is a primary landmark. The fossil I saw is in the face of a hill to the left of that peak. Click on the first photo of this gallery to see the series in a slideshow. 

I was absolutely thrilled and humbled to discover this little white tubular thing. I hope it’s a genuine fossil. Even if it’s not anything significant to science, the invitation to observe and participate in sharing this observation is significant to me.

I am a huge fan of the National Parks and happy to purchase an Annual Pass in support of America’s Best Idea. I hope that future generations continue to value, respect, and protect these places that show the unique and autonomous nature of the Earth.

*** Update 10/4/2018***
From a letter from the Paleontologist at the Park:

“That is a humerus or upper arm bone (the bone that articulates with the scapula in the shoulder).  It looks to be in relatively complete condition, albeit weathered and fractured.  It also looks like there may be additional fragments of bone eroding on that slope.  Unfortunately, I can’t see enough of them to make any interpretations on what they might be.

Based on the size of the humerus and it’s general shape, however, I would make an educated guess that it probably came from an oreodont (of the family Merycoidodontidae).  As you may be aware from your visit, oreodonts are the most common, abundant, and widespread mammal found in the fossil record here at Badlands.  From 36 to 27 million years ago (during the Eocene and Oligocene Epochs), they were an exceptionally prosperous group of herbivores that dotted the landscape, probably living together in large herds.  They would have been a key prey item for many carnivores, such as dogs and the ancestral cat-like lineage called nimravids (family Nimravidae).  As a group within the animal kingdom, the last known oreodonts finally disappeared from the planet during the Pliocene Epoch some 4 to 5 million years ago.”

So very cool! *smiles*