THE BADLANDS

// Day 4: Road

There is a hen still in the roost when we open the coop to collect eggs in the morning, which is quite startling. We don’t know about chickens so we don’t know if it is more appropriate to shoo her away or close the door and leave her to her lady business. We decide on holding the door halfway open so we can watch her until she abandons the egg to us. We leave it in the kitchen and are on the road around 8:30am. The schedule today is just to make it the whole way to Sioux Falls, SD.

We drive. And drive. And drive. We are in Missouri for days. We have to cross the entire state westward to Kansas City and then turn north until we get to Iowa. It is miles upon miles of sprawling plains in all directions, and the sky is a solid slate grey. It rains every so often.

I have had to do some emergency work on the road, so our lunch stop requires a WiFi connection to I can put some files into Dropbox. We find a McDonald’s somewhere outside of Kansas City, and then we are off again.

By late afternoon the landscape has pillowed up in places. We are rolling through hills now under this grey sky. We reach Iowa. I text my friend who has lived here and she warns me to turn back, but we must press on. The welcome center sign is home to a large white question mark, as if Iowa itself wonders what we are doing here. “Welcome to Iowa?” it seems so say. “Are you sure?”

Miles of dark brown soil, tended crops, billboards for Wall Drug that are oddly reminiscent of the series on I-95 for South of the Border. The speed limit is 80mph, so we are in South Dakota before too long. We reach Sioux Falls by 7:00pm. We are far north, so there is plenty of light left, or in our case, plenty of illuminating grey-ness. Our campsite for this evening, Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park, is evidently a premier Memorial Day destination for young families in South Dakota. Less like a campsite and more like a resort, there is a line when we arrive for families to hop onto a hayride with Yogi Bear himself. A group of kids is playing something close to baseball in an open field, bouncing children are covering a jumping pillow, and there is a general sense of chaos.

It is awesome here and I love it, and I suddenly wish we had more than just one night to spend. We set the tent up immediately, afraid that rain is imminent. It is wonderfully simple putting it up in the not-rain. We are hungry, and our phones work here, so we are able to look up a place to eat, and find ourselves at Buffalo Wild Wings scarfing down a meal. Kyle gets a complimentary pint glass for trying the new local beer on tap. Where the heck are we going to put this pint glass for the next three weeks?

Back at camp, it is quick showers and to bed for us. All the children are awake and exercising their vocal chords for long after we nod off, and music blares late into the night. Heaven.

// Day 5: Badlands

It has rained overnight and so we spend another morning packing up a wet tent. It is goodbye to Yogi and hello to the road to the Badlands. It only takes us a few hours to reach it, but it is raining without showing any signs of clearing. We have planned on hiking this afternoon, but probably won’t if the weather keeps up.

We gain another hour on the drive and have officially arrived in mountain time, so we are ready for lunch when we roll in around 11:30am. We skip on past the visitor’s center and head back out of the park to the tiny town of Interior, SD, where the internet tells us there is a delicious local dive where we will be greeted by a friendly dog named Tractor. Sadly we are not greeted by Tractor, but by a tipsy local, whose disconcerting rambling makes our meal fairly uncomfortable. We are bee-lining it back to the park as soon as we are done with our bison burgers and Cokes.

We take a stroll through the Badlands visitor exhibit, hoping we can stall long enough for the rain to move along, but it doesn’t. The ranger suggests that since we can’t hike, we take a drive along the wall. The wall separates the upper and lower plains of the Badlands, and the 26 mile stretch of road follows along as the earth cuts up and down along the way, affording glorious views of these ancient and fascinating outcrops and vistas.

The rain is intermittent, but we stop the car and hop out at every outlook anyway. The land is bizarre and tall and the rain has knocked the dust out of the air, so the colors are vivid. We have music on sometimes, but mostly we just stare out our windows at the wilderness and wonder at it quietly.

Around a bend towards the end of the drive out there are a handful of cars stopped on the shoulders. They are watching a group of big-horned sheep – some dozen or so are jumping around on some crags just off the road, and a smaller group are loitering no more than 25 yards away on the grass. I am so excited to see wildlife. We pull off and sit in the car while more come into view on all sides, apparently no strangers to cars or people. After several minutes, a group of them come so near to us that we could reach out and touch them through the window if we were so brave. I snap approximately 100 pictures before I’m willing to move along.

All said and done, it takes us a few hours to get out and back, and we have some time to kill before the lodge opens for dinner at 5:00pm. We use the time to upload pictures and then grab a quick bite before heading out. We are staying tonight at a KOA campground about 4 miles outside the park. We are worried that after all the day’s rain that the tent sites will be flooded, and note that a lot of the farmland outside the park seems to be. We are relieved to find that the campground is protected by a long embankment that has kept the tent sites flood-free, although there is a fair amount of mud to avoid.

We get the tent set up quickly, as we are again afraid of imminent rain, but it holds off for long enough that we are able to grab showers and settle in. Rain starts almost as soon as we are both inside, but it is gentle. We are asleep in no time.

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