Babylon Badlands: True Religion

There was a time 10 years ago, when Scenic, South Dakota was for sale–yes, all 10 acres of the town and 36 acres of the not-so-scenic, surrounding property.

It was originally offered up for $3M by Twila Merrill, local rodeo legend who earned a tough-as-nails reputation for never being thrown from a bucking bronc from 1956 to 1963, but with her health fading, it was time to sell.

She eventually sold the whole kit and caboodle to a Filipino church group for just shy of $800,000 in August, 2011.

Ten years later, Scenic looks unchanged. There is scant evidence that parishioners of Iglesia ni Cristo (Church of Christ) are welcome at this ghost town, although the pastel-colored Adirondack chairs on the porch suggest that a resurrection of activity is possible.

Back in the day, Scenic was a thriving hive of entertainment, with a full-scale rodeo arena, a racetrack, a manicured baseball diamond, a theatre and a dancehall.

Main Street was home to a General Store,

and a requisite saloon which was thoughtfully annexed to the town hoosegow.

It should be noted that Indians were allowed inside Longhorn Saloon, but only after Twila bought the joint and painted over “NO” on the marquis.

Meanwhile, the culture crowd would gather at Sam 2 Bulls.

Off the main drag, there’s an assortment of incongruous buildings: a couple of standing churches, a few warehouses and barns, a defunct gas station, and a post office behind a dedicated monument featuring a pterodactyl that defies logic or explanation.

Leah and I rolled through Scenic, on our way to an outpost of Badlands National Park known as Sheep Mountain Table, located in the Stronghold Unit within the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

At 3,300 ft. elevation, Sheep Mountain Table is the highest point in the park.

The good news is that we could drive to the top.

The 6.5 mile road was hard-packed and serviceable all the way to the top of the table, albeit a single lane and a handful of hairpins. Once we arrived, there wasn’t much to see on the surface except tall grass, road tracks and traces of spent and unexploded ordinance scattered throughout this one-time gunnery range used by the USAF and South Dakota National Guard. The wind was blowing furiously,

which kept us anchored a careful distance from the ledge overlooking the Cheyenne River Valley.

But there was much more to explore on the other side of the table, which we could reach by hiking 2 miles or driving the rutted terrain…

so I drove…pitching and rolling along…

until we arrived at an open plateau with dramatic vistas to the west…

and the White River Valley to the east.

These Badlands were once considered sacred to young Sioux braves who would trek to the tables for prayer and self-reflection as they approached manhood.

That’s when it occurred to me that Scenic, South Dakota was rightfully named, not because of the town’s location, but because of the Badlands omnipresence and its omnificent landscape. And that may also explain why the Filipinos invested in Scenic.

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