A recent eruption of the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii has been a fascinating event to follow. Fascinating to me anyways, sitting here thousands of miles away and safely watching from my computer. I'm sure it's a very different experience for the people living on the island.

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Are There Volcanoes in South Dakota?

The eruption in our fiftieth state got me thinking. Do we have any volcanoes, or possible volcanoes, in South Dakota?

East River doesn't really have obvious signs of volcanic activity. It's flat farmland (flat-ish anyways). The hills here look like they were mostly made by wind and water erosion; and the retreating glaciers at the end of the last Ice Age.

West River South Dakota, however, has the Black Hills.

Volcanos in the Black Hills of South Dakota
Bear Butte - Google Maps

Volcanoes in the Black Hills of South Dakota

The closest thing to a volcano in the 605 are geologic features in the Black Hills called laccoliths.

Some fifty million years ago, magma (molten rock; it's called lava when it comes out of the ground) pushed up the crust of the Earth in the area. Like your foot pushing up the bed sheets, the magma pushed up until it formed hills called laccoliths.

If the magma would have punched through the bubble it was making (ripped through the bed sheets) it would have erupted into a full-fledged volcano.

Volcanos in the Black Hills of South Dakota
Bear Butte - Google Maps

Bear Butte  in Bear Butte State Park near Sturgis, South Dakota is a great example of a laccolith in the Black Hills.

It's not actually a butte, meaning an area rising from the surrounding land caused by erosion. A butte is made when the land is worn away leaving a kind of big hill. Here, magma did it, then erosion took over.

Bear Butte may have actually erupted when it was formed, or sometime in the distant past, but the erosion likely destroyed the evidence.

The mountain alone in the sea of grassland has long been a sacred site for many Native Americans. It is also known as Mato Paha or Bear Mountain to the Lakota, and Noahvose to the Cheyenne people.


Elkhorn Peak, Crow Peak, Crook Mountain, and Citadel Rock were also formed by magma pushing the ground up. Devil's Tower, also known as Bear Lodge Butte, in Wyoming is a feature called a 'volcanic neck.'


An interesting bit of trivia, the gold in the Black Hills was likely created around the same time as these volcanic mounds.

These giant hills are probably the closest thing we have to a volcano in South Dakota. And if we're all lucky we'll never know any different.

Running from lava flows and ash doesn't sound like a lot of fun. Then there are the lava bombs to deal with, oh, and the always fun pyroclastic flow.

Sources: South Dakota Magazine, South Dakota GFPEncyclopedia of the Great Plains

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ben Kuhns is just some guy on the internet. He is a wannabe writer, and his wife thinks he's funny. He writes for Results-Townsquare Media in Sioux Falls South Dakota.

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LOOK: 10 Reasons to Visit the South Dakota Badlands

Returning from a weekend trip to Rapid City, South Dakota for state basketball tournaments we decided to visit the Badlands National Park.

A quick turn-off I-90 will take you into some of the most awe-inspiring scenery.

It's also fun to note that several big-screen movies were filmed in the Badlands. Dances With Wolves, Starship Troopers, Armageddon, and most recently, Academy Award winner, Nomadland.

It's a spectacular park with tons to do. If you're setting out on a hike, bring lots of water and sign the hikers' logs at the trailheads. It could save your life. It's a tough place to survive.

Here are 10 facts about the Badlands:




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