Great Faces, Great Places, Holy Spaces . . . Driving South from Kadoka to Pine Ridge on Highway 73 June, 1992

Directly east of Buffalo Gap National Grasslands and the Badlands National Park there is an area of the vast Pine Ridge Reservation circumscribed by the White River on the north, Black Pipe Creek on the east and Bear in the Lodge Creek on the west. Traveling south from Kadoka on Highway 73 on this particular spring day, the gently rolling green hills dotted with intermittent stock ponds soon give way to the beginning of a more broken topography which serves as a transition from the grasslands to the badlands and announce entrance to the Pine Ridge Reservation.

The gradual descent from Kadoka is marked by a panoramic view that extends as far as the eye can see. Moving down through the valley, cottonwood trees frame the White River, which during the spring flows muddy and swift and forms a long twisting path along the valley floor.

Continuing south, one begins a gradual ascent from the White River Valley to a plateau with a vast view of the prairie. The plateau is a transition space geologically and topographically; the waves of grass on the undulating plains give way to the dry ocean bottom and the beginning of that unique topographical feature called the Badlands. Scanning the horizon, one can see the end of the plains, the beginning of the Badlands and to the south and southwest the ridge from which the Pine Ridge Reservation takes its name; a multi-colored ridge of sand brown, red and white marked with dark pine. Immediately below a wide valley of buttes, ridges and tables formed of differing layers of sedimentation topped with green prairie grass unfolds. Interspersed throughout the tables are razor back protrusions of rock and sand forming ridges resembling sculptures formed by differential erosion; the effect of constant wind, rare flash floods and the unrelenting sun. Small intermittent streams carve their way on the lowlands of this valley. Driving into the valley, a herd of horses can be seen. The only other evidence of life is a large colony of prairie dogs at the base of a long plateau.

Upon reaching the summit on the far side, one travels a few short miles to Highway 44 and turning right begins the gradual descent to Wanbli, the location for most of the shooting of the movie, “Thunderheart.” The short trip from Kadoka to Highway 44 on Highway 73 serves as a transition journey. The most obvious transition is that of moving from the grasslands to the Badlands. In the transition, one experiences this space as disclosing a deeper transition of time. The buttes and the topography of the ocean floor convey a sense of pre-historic time and space, a land fixed and frozen in time. Either by historical accident or providential intent, another transition is revealed in this space, the movement from the ranching culture of the plains to Lakota culture with the pine ridges, varied mesas and tablelands which comprise the reservation. The sense of moving back in time in the space of this extended valley is underscored given the fact that there are few marks of human habitation.

The land invites the traveler to stop, to get out of one’s car and to simply be present to the space and attentive to its meaning. As I listen to the earth and feel the cool wind and the radiant heat of the sun, I experience a deep sense of solitude and a silent solemnity. In this space, one feels the presence of God, the presence of time, the awe and mystery of eternity itself. There is a compelling quality about the space; an invitation, no better the command to be still, to be silent, to wait upon the Lord. To know one’s place, to respect the magnificence of creation.

The colors of the vibrant blue spring sky, the new spring grass interspersed with the sage and remnants of the winter grass combined with the sedimented layers of beige, brown, red and orange earth coupled with the shimmering green of the cottonwood and deep green-black swatches of pine create a harmonious sense of earth tones that proclaim the renewed life of the earth.

As I make my way back to the car, I notice a hawk circling high overhead. The late afternoon sun begins to sink slowly in the west.

Back on the road I continue my journey toward the Pine Ridge Reservation. A sense of a transition ensures and deepens within me. Another climate, another culture, another time, another space. As I drive and see the approach of Potato Creek and St. Julia’s, Porcupine, I find myself  reciting,

Benedicite, omnia opera Domini.

Let the earth glorify the Lord,

praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

Glorify the Lord, O mountains and hills,

and all that grows upon the earth,

praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

Glorify the Lord, O springs of water, seas, and streams,

O whales and all that move in the waters.

All birds of the air, glorify the Lord,

praise him and highly exalt him for ever,

Glorify the Lord, O beasts of the wild,

and all you flocks and herds.

O men and women everywhere, glorify the Lord,

praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

In Christ,


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