Badlands National Park, South Dakota.
“Dances With Wolves,” the 1990 epic film directed by and starring Kevin Costner, is renowned not only for its compelling narrative about Lieutenant John Dunbar’s interactions with Native American tribes during the American Civil War but also for its breathtaking portrayal of the American frontier. The sweeping landscapes and pristine natural settings captured in the film give audiences a visual feast and an authentic feel of the vastness of the American West in the 19th century.
One of the prominent natural backdrops featured in the movie is the Badlands of South Dakota. This area is now protected as the Badlands National Park. Spanning 244,000 acres, the Badlands are characterized by their layered rock formations, deep canyons, towering spires, and mixed-grass prairies. These unique geological formations, sculpted by millions of years of erosion, create a dramatic and almost otherworldly landscape.
The selection of the Badlands as a filming location for “Dances With Wolves” was not just for its aesthetic appeal. The area carries historical significance, as it was indeed once the home to Native American tribes, including the Lakota Sioux, whose interactions with Lieutenant Dunbar form the core of the film’s story.
Moreover, the vastness and isolated feel of the Badlands helped convey the solitude and self-discovery Dunbar experiences in his frontier post, as well as the raw, untamed beauty of a land not yet overrun by Western expansion. The contrast between the untouched landscapes of the Badlands and the encroachment of American settlers serves as a poignant backdrop to the film’s exploration of cultural interactions, understanding, and conflict.
In addition to its cinematic value, the inclusion of Badlands National Park in “Dances With Wolves” introduced many viewers to this rugged and beautiful part of the United States, perhaps even encouraging visits and fostering an appreciation for the country’s natural and cultural heritage.