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Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Badlands, Not A Bad Plan B

When I initially asked for these past three days off of work, my intention was to join the "Special Idiot" spring trip; to run and explore a few Escalante canyons, and soak in the therapeutic red rock, and desert sun. BUT, additional possibilities and commitments became a factor and the original five consecutive days off turned into two. Still needing to feed the "wandering and let's explore a new place" gene, I decided that a quick road trip to the South Dakota Badlands could be nourishment enough.

After waking at 3:15am, packing up, and gassing up, I was on the road heading North East into new territory. After the token stops at Crazy Horse and Mount Rushmore Memorials, I turned East onto lonely Highway 44. Ahhhh-hhhh. Driving into open space with only a handful of other motorists, Badlands National Park was less than two hours away. At approximately 30 miles West of the park entrance at Interior, South Dakota, one begins to see the "Bad Lands". Salty dirt spires and plateaus scattered along each side of the asphalt lanes provide an other worldly experience.

After checking in early at the Cedar Pass Lodge, I explored the easy hiking trails with my camera strapped around my neck. The photo opportunities were endless, and I captured way more than a few. Following six miles of stretching the legs, I hopped back into the Tacoma to drive the national park road, and although I was alone in the cab, with wide eyes and jaw dropped, the conversation in my head went like this: "Geeeeezzz..., Really?..., What???..., soooo craaazeee..., Wooow...., and... Seriously?" The Badlands are desolate and vast and beauticious. It's the kind of place where one can clearly imagine not only seeing a massive herd of bison rambling across the grasslands, but sensing the ground's rumble and motion from dozens of one ton burly creatures driving their hooves into the white clay Earth: and visions of Native Americans perched on top of cliffs and spires as they witnessed their first sight of a white man traveling by wagon or horseback are easily rendered as well. The main road merges with the gravel "Sage Creek Drive" to encircle the park, and offer a 360 degree view of Bison, yellow bellied birds, big horn sheep, prairie dogs, and the geologic wonders of deposition and erosion.

In short, I'm in awe. I'm easily swayed to adoration of things that are raw and rugged, and like Utah's canyons, the Badlands have experienced relatively little human impact. Like so many of the travels I take, I left with a desire to learn more about the history of the place and its peoples. The "Crazy Horse" biography that's been sitting on my book shelf for years will finally be read, and "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" will undoubtedly be on the next library pick up list.

Other than a little hiking, and biking, there isn't tons to do in the park, but if you're ever in the area, I do suggest a drive through. For those of us that are Earth bound, it may be the closest feeling to, being on the Moon, that we will ever experience. As for me, I am as rejuvenated as any two days away could offer. Having the opportunity to take in the beauty of one of our National Parks, drive through open country, and listening to random radio features such as a Lakota radio station, Tina Turner's "I don't have the time, for your overloaded lines", and NPR's Science Friday were SPECTACULAR alternatives to going to work. The 36 hour trip was certainly worth the mileage.

I threw this video together the night I got home. Enjoy the scenery!

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