Monday, September 04, 2006

The jagged edge

North of Kansas, the traffic thins. Grazing fields stretch from house to far-away house; views seem a million miles long. Rolling prairie gives way to the sandhills of northern Nebraska: earthen moguls fringed in black-eye susans.

Life here is about nature’s seasons. Man shaped by land that is shaped, if not tamed, by man.

Then prairie again, and then The Wall, the harsh and ragged, rugged battlement that is The Badlands.

Early explorers found The Badlands a desolate place. They are sand castles sculpted by time: jagged walls of shale upon ash upon earth, a history of sea and jungle and volcano, of water and sun and wind. Millenia ago, some previous residents were caught in floods, and their trapped skeletons have made the Badlands a paleontological playground of prehistoric animals. Camels, pre-cursors to horse and even a hippo-like creature once roamed its plains.

What remains today are the batter-like folds, spires and arrow heads of raw rock. “Pictures don’t do it justice, do they?’’ says the woman next to me. Such declarations are common amid the majesty of our national parks, but the words ring true all the same.

“It’s wild, isn’t it?’’ says Kerry Crosier from Laper, Mich., who is visiting for the fourth time. Like nothing I’ve ever seen.’’

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