A Record in Rock
A 65 million-year-old layer of black rock called the Pierre Shale formed on the bottom of an ancient sea and is the oldest formation in the Badlands. Next come the layers of the Eocene and Oligocene epochs. These hold fossil bones of land mammals. Countless animals lived and died on these plains, their flesh and bones consumed by predators and scavengers. Those remains left intact were buried by periodic floods and converted into fossils. These deposits constitute one of the richest fossil beds known. The great variety of Badlands fossils has given the Oligocene the name "Golden Age of Mammals".
Of Time and the Badlands
Out of the Dakota prairie, rain, wind and frost have carved steep canyons, sharp ridges, gullies, spires, and knobs, providing a glimpse into the relentless pace of geologic change. For not only has erosion created a new landscape, it has also bared rocks laid down as sediments during the Eocene and Oligocene epochs between 37 and 23 million years ago revealing a record of the past to us.
At the close of the Eocene (about 34 million years ago), this land was a broad marshy plain crossed by sluggish streams flowing from highlands to the west. As the Oligocene Epoch drew to a close, volcanoes to the west and southwest ejected huge volumes of ash into the atmosphere. Borne eastward by the winds, the ash fell and became the whitish layer near the top of the Badlands formations. Slowly the climate began to change and increasingly dry winds blew from the north. Rainfall diminished. Grass, able to grow with less water, invaded and occupied the drying realms of forest and swamps. The animals changed too, with grasseaters and those able to withstand a more vigorous climate coming to the fore while other species disappeared. The water that today eats into the soft Badlands formations falls mostly as rain during torrential spring and summer storms. Present annual precipitation, including the storms, is only 16 inches, just enough to sustain the grass.
The General park map handed out at the visitor center is available on the park's map webpage.For information about topographic maps, geologic maps, and geologic data sets, please see the geologic maps page.
A geology photo album for this park can be found on the park's website. For information on other photo collections featuring National Park geology, please see the Image Sources page.
Currently, we do not have a listing for a park-specific geoscience book. The park's geology may be described in regional or state geology texts.
Parks and Plates: The Geology of Our National Parks, Monuments & Seashores.
Lillie, Robert J., 2005.
W.W. Norton and Company.
9" x 10.75", paperback, 550 pages, full color throughout
The spectacular geology in our national parks provides the answers to many questions about the Earth. The answers can be appreciated through plate tectonics, an exciting way to understand the ongoing natural processes that sculpt our landscape. Parks and Plates is a visual and scientific voyage of discovery!
Ordering from your National Park Cooperative Associations' bookstores helps to support programs in the parks. Please visit the bookstore locator for park books and much more.
The White River Badlands of South Dakota are considered to be the birthplace of the science of vertebrate paleontology. Badlands National Park is very active in conducting field research through partner universities. The park has a full time professional paleontologist, as well as an active agreement with the South Dakota School of Mines for fossil preparation. Badlands National Park formations date from the late Eocene and Oligocene epochs, the Age of Mammals. Although some are disappointed when they learn that Badlands National Park is not home to dinosaurs, the rich diversity of extinct mammal life becomes fascinating.
Information about the park's research program is available on the park's research webpage.
For information about permits that are required for conducting geologic research activities in National Parks, see the Permits Information page.
The NPS maintains a searchable data base of research needs that have been identified by parks.
A bibliography of geologic references is being prepared for each park through the Geologic Resources Evaluation Program (GRE). Please see the GRE website for more information and contacts.
NPS Geology and Soils PartnersAssociation of American State Geologists
Geological Society of America
Natural Resource Conservation Service - Soils
U.S. Geological Survey
General information about the park's education and intrepretive programs is available on the park's education webpage.For resources and information on teaching geology using National Park examples, see the Students & Teachers pages.