Tourism: Badlands, and a Stronghold Table
By Joseph Budd
Native Sun News Today Columnist
Growing up in Rapid City, I do recall, events that stood out as being repeated by my folks.
One, was they would take a trip up to Bear Butte, and hike to the summit, and this group of young adults were about 20-30 in number. It was a long hike, before parking lots were built, and long before the more recent events on Lakota prospects saw the Butte gain more respect in modern cultures. Now in today’s light, folks can still hike, but a lot more effort is brought to attention regarding the sacred land. Likewise lands around the Butte have changed hands too.
Also as a kid, we took a trip down into the badlands, primarily along the northern area, or the “loop” as they call it. Normally folks would start this run up from Wall, run south, then you could go east towards Interior, circle back via Hwy 44, then back up and circle to Wall. It made quite a day of a trip. Most of this land, is now is encompassed by the Badlands National Park, while some of it is divided up further. The Stronghold district, better known as the South Unit, gives a better perspective of this open land…and a good point within the Reservation.
For the starting point, you don’t have very far to go for a starting point than the White River Visitor Center. The location, located south of Scenic has restrooms and drinking water, but it also will help give the occasional tourists an idea on what roughing it really looks like. The road driven down, is actually the best road for the district. The few that pass for roads, are more familiar dual grooved tracks made by 4×4 trucks made by ranchers usually.
It should also be noted, that some lands around here, are private property, and that the National Park Service can’t vouch for you to trespass. You would need to contact the landowners should you want to drive onto their lands.
As it is, most of the district has few paved roads, places with Prairie Dogs, and supply stops are few and far away. Most of what you’d bring with you, is what you have for supplies. The nearby Ben Reifel Visitor Center, is 55 miles away, while gas and food could be found at Sharps Corner or Kyle, south and southeast of the White River Visitor Center. Camping, in the National park is privately done at campsites within the area, and one should also look at the Visitor Center as a seasonal opening location, primary from early June to Last August, and you should pick up supplies when able. It may be 2 hours away until you can get more food or gas.
For the adventure-seeker, camping is permitted 800 meters away from an establish road or trail, but, water is not advisable when found in the badlands. It is very high in salt, and can’t be purified. One should also be aware of weather conditions out here, as roads and trails can quickly bog down a car, and make getting back out difficult. Cell reception is also sporadic at times. It is recommended to travel in a group, of two or more, and to check in with the White River Visitor Center, just so someone knows you are in the area.
Part of the history for the Stronghold District, more recently revolved around the use by the Air Force using it as a bombing range for testing ordinance. They do recommend to not mess with any unexploded ordinance, and let a park ranger know where you found said item so it can be properly disposed of.
One site, that has seen a few stories circulate, revolves around Stronghold Table, itself a noted legend. The Table, noted as the last location the Ghost Dance, in the 19th century according to legend. Its location, near the Cuny Table, is a large, flat area, with a single opening said to be wide enough to only allow one wagon through at a time. Once in, it spreads out a ways, and has a natural spring nearby. The belief is that if it was fortified, it could hold out for a while against a larger army. In today’s times, young Lakota men will journey there, too fast and pray hoping to have a vision for their future.
There is a café, near the Cuny Table, aptly named the Cuny Table Café, which should have access information for the tables. Likewise, please do not disturb any objects or people at the site. As noted by the national park service, “As you travel on Pine Ridge Reservation, particularly on the South Unit of the Badlands National Park, you may find signs of religious worship. These could take the shape of prayer sticks or small bundles tied to branches. It could be simply a piece of brightly colored fabric tied to a shrub. These are signs of traditional worship by Tribal members. Please respect their beliefs and practices and leave these objects.”