Saturday, July 16, 2016

Badlands National Park

"From the floor of it, strange formations of bare earth towered up all around them, hundreds of feet high. Their sides were steep, sometimes overhanging, cut and whittled by the winds that blew forever. No vegetation grew on them, not a tree nor a bush nor a blade of grass. Their surface looked like dry caked mud, except in places where it was stained with different and brilliant colors. The floor if this sunken land was scattered thick with petrifieid shells and skulls and bones." - Laura Ingalls Wilder, These Happy Golden Years.

Had I not just visited Badlands National Park, I don't think I would have had any understanding of what was being described as I read These Happy Golden Years. But with my road trip still on my mind, as I cruised through these pages I immediately knew what was being described before in was confirmed.

Joe and I knew that we'd stop at Badlands, but unlike Yosemite, Yellowstone or the Grand Canyons - a mental visual didn't pop up to let us know what we'd be seeing. I'm currently in an online book group reading about the National Parks, so one evening, we checked the index and found a picture, instantly we both thought it looked incredible.

After we stopped at Wall Drug and stocked up on supplies to camp over night (water, ramen, cliffbars and toliet paper.) we headed into the park. Like most National Parks, there are road routes to drive through, we wanted to visit the visitors center so we went clockwise around the park, stopping every so often to enjoy the views.

The visitors center offers a video and walk through exhibit. We wandered through learning about the land but opted the skip the video. I doubled checked with the ranger about camping at the Sage Creek Campground and hiking nearby. He informed me that its open hiking over there and most of the trails were made by bison (!).  We started the drive along and realized how hungry we were, rather than driving completely around the park to set up camp and eat ramen, we decided to stop at the only bar/restaurant for miles.

We were the only ones in there with the owner (who shared his snack with us) and the bartender who made our chicken tenders and fries while we enjoyed a bud heavy & bud light. This place had a lot of character but most of its value is literally taped to the wall. Visitors tape a dollar to any open space (and we did too) after feeling full we headed back onto the road to the campground.

It wasn't until we turned onto the unpaved road that we realized it would be unpaved until we reached the campground ( nearly 13 miles) Budget trucks aren't awesome on unpaved roads.

The campground looked like a modern day wagon circle; with cars parked in a circle around a green space - with tents inside.

A bison had wandered up on the hill and the outline could be made out very clearly. Luckily I had the foresight to buy ice for the beer that had been given to us in Madison, it doesn't get much better than a cold beer as the sunset.

The stars came out and I can honestly say that I have never in my life seen as many as I did then.  For the first time ever I could see a strip of the milkyway in person.  It was absolutely incredible.  We pulled our sleeping pads & bags out of the tent and ended up sleeping right under the stars.

Throughout the night I was woken up by coyotes, which startled me at first, but was just incredible. By a stroke of luck, we had set up our camp in the shadows of the truck, which gave us a little more time to sleep. Once up, we broke down camp, made breakfast (but it was far too early for me to eat)  and started the drive back out of the park.  The road continued to be unpaved, but we trucked along.

Along the route, there was a Bison just relieving a scratch on a post.  We sat and watched for longer than we should have, but he couldn't care less about us watching him.  Naturally we took a series of photos, but for whatever reason, neither of us thought to snap a video.

The paved road was a welcomed warmly as we started to make our way to see Mount Rushmore!

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