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Plains Indians

Landscapes and Landmarks

LandscapesSouth Dakota's captivating landscapes play an important role in the lives of the Dakota, Lakota and Nakota. The land holds legends and history spanning back to creation, as well as hope and strength for the future.

Native American Scenic Byway

The Native American Scenic Byway extends through the heart of the Great Sioux Nation. It affords breathtaking views of the Missouri River, diverse landscapes, abundant wildlife and tribal history and culture. The route takes travelers through the lands of the Yankton, Crow Creek, Lower Brule, Cheyenne River and Standing Rock Sioux Tribes, reaching across South Dakota from the borders of Nebraska to North Dakota.

The Black Hills

Black HillsTradition centers on the pine-covered "paha sapa" or Black Hills. Many of the Sioux tribes believe the story of their creation begins in these massive mountains. At their highest point, the Black Hills reach 7,242 feet. This apex, Harney Peak, is located within the Black Elk Wilderness, named for the Lakota leader who had a great vision in the area.

Bear Butte

At the northeast end of the Black Hills, near Sturgis, stands "mato paha" or Bear Butte. This site holds great spiritual significance for several Plains tribes. Today, the butte is a state park and the site for religious ceremonies and vision quests. Visitors can hike the sacred mountain, too, but you should stop at the Visitor Center first for an orientation.

The Buffalo

Buffalo remain a central focus of the Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota people. Legend tells of the Great Spirit taking on the form of a wooly beast to feed his starving people. Today, many of the nine tribes in South Dakota maintain buffalo herds. You'll also find herds at Bear Butte State Park, Custer State Park, Wind Cave National Park and Badlands National Park.

The Badlands

BadlandsThe Badlands, a maze of buttes and spires, were originally named "mako sica" (meaning "land bad") by the Lakota. Created by millions of years of erosion, Badlands National Park now stretches 244,000 acres with approximately 120,000 acres located on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Crazy Horse Memorial

Landmarks tied to the Sioux Nation also take on the form of great leaders. Crazy Horse Memorial in the Black Hills is a sculptural depiction of the legendary Lakota leader, Crazy Horse, emerging from the side of a mountain. Crazy Horse's nine-story-high face has been completed, and work continues on the rest of the colossal mountain carving. You can see the carving in-progress and visit the Indian Museum of North America at Crazy Horse Memorial, near Custer.