All Aboard!! Badlands National Park

Ever since I saw photos from friends’ vacation at the Badlands, I’ve wanted to go. If people thought I was crazy to take the train in an indirect route, those friends drove all the way from the East Coast. Direct, but speedy, it wasn’t.

I didn’t know what to expect. I just saw photos and was enamored with the notion of taking equally cool photos. I didn’t know whether the cliffs went up or down.

I didn’t expect the Badlands to be so vast and sudden to the landscape.. yet so contained. It felt like I was still driving on flat midwestern plains when the ground suddenly opened up and dropped into crevices. Then half way through, it felt the other way around.. I descended down and was looking up at the colorful array of the buttes.

I was startled to see so many motorcycles. It took a while to realize, belatedly, that I am in South Dakota the time when it seems the most people in the year: Sturgis motorcycle rally. What a backdrop it was, with the swarms of motorcycles thundering by the ancient sandstone landscape.

I climbed up Saddle Pass.. and the shape felt exactly like it was called, a saddle. Steep at times, I found myself glancing below my toes nervously. I know it’s bad when I adjust to sling my camera across my chest so I free up both hands and knees. I didn’t hike beyond the actual climb. A true disadvantage of traveling alone is needing to plan my hikes so that I end up back where I left the car. The path was surprisingly solid. I don’t know why I had the impression the ground would be softer, I just did.

I was determined to hike more of the park, though. The landscape leveled out to grassy plains on the western end. I started using every pull over to explore for walking paths. The loop road that traversed the park took less than an hour to cover and, yet, with 244,000 acres of natural wildlife, I itched to explore the place more. Especially given its claim as the largest expanse of protected prairie ecosystem in the American national parks. Near the west entrance, I found myself looking at the flat plains, hankering a good walk.

I found a nice wide lot perfect for parking the car. I pulled over and stepped out to examine if there were signs of any beaten paths to follow. I had barely walked five steps when I levitated, jumping up a good distance into the air, as a rattle snake snapped at my flipflopped toes.

Right then, my desire to hike disappeared and I scampered back in to the car to drive back for the day.

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