You folks may have noticed a dearth of posts for the past few weeks (aside from a few I set up in advance). The reason is that I was gone on another trip out west with my son. It’s now time for me to write about it.
We starting out in the Badlands of South Dakota.
But I need to start with a picture of the door of the “Welcome” Center for South Dakota along Interstate 90.
Yup. That’s really welcoming, isn’t it? Seriously, how could it possibly matter. What was the person thinking that had it put up there? (Of course, they have no legal basis for doing so.)
I ignored the sign. The elderly ladies staffing the information booth said not a word.
After we arrived and got settled into our campsite, it was time to do some hiking (June 12). We started at the main hiking area, where there were some guests to greet us.
The Badlands is well-known for its animal life, and in the evening programs we heard lots of folks asking where they could see bighorn sheep. Well, they were waiting in the parking lot for us. I guess it was a matter of timing.
[For all pictures, click on them for a larger version.]
That’s a small bluff right off the parking lot. The sheep in the back is master of all he surveys. The one in the foreground had just descended off the cliff.
And kept coming . . .
And kept coming . . .
Let me show you a map of the main hiking area for the Badlands.
The main parking area is on the right, with the Door, Window, and Notch Trails. But if you head west, there is the Caste Trail. You can then take the Medicine Root Trail to Saddle Pass, and loop back on the Castle Trail. Which is what my son and I did.
What you need to know about the Badlands topography is that it basically has two (relatively flat) levels with embedded highly-erosional features. The higher level is on the north side of the road, and the lower lever is on the south side. However, there are the remains of an even higher level that stick up hundreds of feet on the higher level. Those are the “castles”.
Here is my son as we started out on the hike.
We’re at one of the erosional places, with castles in the background.
The flat hiking surface is mainly what is sometimes referred to as “gumbo”. You can see it here.
At this point the remaining “castle” had pretty-much eroded away.
You can also see that the surface is extremely barefoot-friendly. There are only really problems when it gets wet. (And it was pretty wet in spots—they’d had about 12-15 inches of rain since the first of May. Normal annual rainfall is 16 inches, with only a couple of inches each month.)
By the way, my sons and I were here nine years ago on a Boy Scout trip. I think I managed to take the above shot at the same place we took a picture of my two sons back then.
At the Badlands Visitor Center, they always tell you to wear close-toed shoes for hiking. And everywhere there are signs warning about rattlesnakes (though it’s pretty clear that any danger is greatly exaggerated, and many of the rangers say the same thing). But one sign did warn about prickly-pear.
And as you can see, it was blooming very nicely. (Check out the bee in this one that is just starting to open.)
And there were big ones, too.
They were very easy to avoid . . . if you stayed on-trail.
Which I didn’t. (We actually did a fair bit of bushwhacking between the Medicine Root and Castle Trail.)
And I wasn’t alert enough.
I managed to stab my foot (always my left foot for some reason) three times. Prickly-pear is awful: it goes in easily and comes out hard. And it has a lot of spines. I had to do some careful digging both during and after the hike (but I did learn my lesson to look out more carefully).
Eventually we made it to Saddle Pass (that was only about 3 miles or so).
Here’s a stitched-together panoramic shot from atop the castle at the edge of the pass.
[Again, click on the picture for the full-size version.]
That’s the road and the Saddle Pass parking lot at the bottom.
Let me say a few words about the “passes”. The passes are locations where it is possible to get between the two main levels of the Badlands. The road uses most of them (Cedar Pass, Norbeck Pass, Bigfoot Pass), but not Saddle Pass, which allows descent between two castles (hence the “saddle”).
There is an easy trail up the right (west, and taller) castle of the saddle. My son and I went up the harder left (east) castle.
And here I am at the top.
On the right is the upper level of the Badlands as we look west along the castles.
The surface was really fun for climbing on, and especially so for bare feet, where you could really get a grip on the crumbly rock.
Looking the other direction we see my son, who managed to find a saddle of his own to sit in.
[This is also a stitched, panoramic shot. Click for large version.]
On the right is the lower level, and behind my son on the left is an extension of the castle that extends into the upper level.
On the way back, the trail was mainly on the flat surface of the upper level. You get a better feel in this shot what it all looked like.
I did mention the gumbo, didn’t I. This close-up of my feet from the previous picture gives you a feel for how it sticks.
The Badlands gets rain, but it is generally a fairly desert environment, as we saw with the prickly-pear. There were also a few places with yucca, which was blooming.
This hike was a great start to our visit (despite stabbing my foot with the prickly pears). We were out there much longer, though.