Black Hills National Forest

Environment
Black Hills National Park
Black Hills National Park (courtesy, South Dakota Tourism)

The Black Hills are a mountainous upthrust surrounded by the Great Plains. The Hills are among the oldest formations in North America (up to 2.5 billion years). The highest point is Harney Peak (7,242 feet).

The Black Hills have four major topological features—Central Area, Limestone Plateau, Red Valley, and Hogback Ridge. The main feature is the Central Area, consisting of Pre-Cambrian sedimentary and igneous rock with granite and pegmatite. Nearby Mt. Rushmore is carved from the granite.

The Central Area is surrounded by the Limestone Plateau, which is comprised mainly of Paleozoic limestones with some sandstone and dolomite shales. The Plateau is in turn surrounded by the Red Valley, which is like a racetrack, as it is surrounded by an outer ridge called Hogback Ridge. The Valley is composed of red shales, clays, and sandstones from the Triassic and Jurassic Periods, while the Hogback is composed mainly of Lower Cretaceous sandstone. The Valley contains few trees, while the Central Area and Plateau consist of hilly and mountainous terrain generally covered with ponderosa pine forest with intervening meadows and valleys. The Hogback surrounds the central uplift, forming the foothills; it is covered with ponderosa, imparting a black appearance to the Hills from a distance. The upper Hogback contains abundant petrified wood.

The Black Hills have a fascinating plantlife. Trees and plants from Rocky Mountains, eastern woodlands, northern forests, and the Great Plains areas can be found here. Of the 1,585 plant species found in South Dakota, 1,260 species are in the Black Hills. In turn, a wide variety of birds and four-legged animals is sustained by these plants. The Norbeck Wildlife Preserve is a good place for wildlife watching. Established by Congress in 1920, the preserve covers about 35,000 acres, 25,000 of which are managed by the Forest Service. Most of the rest of Norbeck is part of Custer State Park. Norbeck is home to a variety of wildlife, including elk, deer, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats. It also contains rugged granite formations, small lakes, scenic drives, and hiking trails.

The Black Hills National Forest Visitor Center at Pactola Reservoir includes exhibits on Black Hills natural history and a self-guiding nature trail. The Visitor Center is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day weekends.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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