Our goal when leaving Minneapolis was to reach Badlands National Park in South Dakota, where we had reserved a campsite for two nights. We wanted to explore the park and see some bison if we could! I honestly didn’t know much about the Badlands before I arrived there. What awaited me were some of the most stunningly beautiful rock formations that I had ever seen. They are truly breathtaking. After hours on the road driving through the mostly flat eastern side of South Dakota, it was a delightful shock to come upon such a natural wonder.
Badlands got its famous name from French-Canadian fur trappers who encountered this land and named it because of the difficulty that they had traversing the landscape (mainly getting from the lower prairie to the upper prairie). Les mauvais terres pour traverse -literally translated to ‘bad lands to travel through’, which is shortened into what we see constantly today ‘Badlands.’ These lands are sacred to the Lakota people, who also refer to the Badlands as ‘mako sica’ or ‘land bad.’ The land, originally belonging to the Lakota Nation, was part of the land that was wrongfully taken by the white man traveling west and settling.
We were immediately greeted by the sight of Big Badlands as we entered the park. I was in awe, thinking about the centuries upon centuries it must have taken to first create the rocks and then erode them away. I didn’t even major in geology and I was geeking out. The park has found evidence of octopi fossils, so at one time part of South Dakota was covered completely with water. They have a fossil lab at the visitor center you can visit, where they were in the process of completely exposing the skull of a titanothere, an ancient, elephant sized mammal that has been found there.
This is the first time ever that I have used a tent without the fly (for all of you non-camping inclined friends out there – the fly is what keeps the rain out!). From our campsite we had a beautiful view of some of the rock formations. The sunset was truly spectacular, with the sun setting directly beyond the rock formations. The sunrise, however, was a good competitor to the previous night’s sunset. Katie and I were both awakened by the sun at about 5 am, and were lucky enough to catch the day just as it was starting.
We had no idea what was coming to us. Lucky for us, there was an excessive heat warning issued for the park, with the advice being to avoid exercise outdoors and stay inside with an AC. Naturally that was our day to hike and explore. Since it was so hot, we decided to only do the three shortest trails in the park, Door, Window, and Notch, totaling about 5 miles roundtrip. 110 is what the heat index stated the weather felt like, and man did we feel it. During our hike I drank nearly all of my Nalgene and Camelbak, totaling about 4 liters of water. (Don’t worry Mom, I continued to hydrate extensively for the rest of the day as well). We decided to use the rest of the day to drive the Sage Creek Rim Road, through the western section of the park, which is where you are more likely to see wildlife. We were hoping to see some bison, but no such luck, they must have all bee hiding from the heat as well.