ANNUAL VISITORS: 971,000
The native Lakota named the area Mako Sica (“land bad”), and Col. George Custer called it “hell with the fires burned out.” This expanse of the Great Plains has a charred and unearthly sparseness. Haunting buttes, spires and mesas jut from the surface, their sedimentary stone eroded by hundreds of millions of years of wind and rain, leaving behind gray and orange bands that appear to be painted around the sawtooth ridges. While the land is seemingly barren, in the midst of it live a wide variety of creatures. The Badlands are home to America’s largest expanse of fields of blue grama and buffalo grass; throughout it roam bruising bison, and below it hide skittish prairie dogs.
It is also the home of the endangered black-footed ferret. Only 300 survive, but last year researchers headed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cloned a black footed ferret using the preserved cells of one that died more than 30 years earlier. They named her Elizabeth Ann and hope she and others so created will inject genetic diversity into the remaining population.
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