We’re continuing our trip to the Badlands. The hike my son and I took along the Castle Trail only took up the morning, so in the afternoon (June 12) we went for a drive looking for wildlife.
It was there in a field of yellow.
But first, two more pictures from our Castle Trail hike. As I mentioned, they had had a lot of rain there, so there was a lot of mud (which they call gumbo). However, between the rains it was hot and sunny, so it dried up and cracked into these fine, delicate sheets.
That was really fun to step on. I could feel the papery texture containing just a hint of moisture, then it would all crack beneath my weight.
Upon picking up my foot, it was all broken up into little tiny fragments.
By the way, you can see just how messy it was by looking at the glops on my feet and legs (which were much easier to clean at the end than shoes and pants).
Anyways, on to the drive.
Here’s the official map of the park.
[Click if you want to see the larger version.]
Cedar Pass and the campground and the visitor’s center are way off in the southeast, so you have to head west to really see the rest of the park. We planned on working our way to the Roberts Prairie Dog Town and the Badlands has a herd of bison that usually hang out at the Sage Creek Campground (at the far west side). So it’s a great drive for seeing everything.
In the middle is the Conata Basin, which has a feature they call the yellow mounds. It’s a different kind of field of yellow.
In this area they pulled out something like 19,000 fossils. (It was an ancient mudhole that the animals got stuck in.)
The Badlands is well-know for its mammal fossils. The deposits are around 17-60 million years old, and they find the precursors to dogs and horses and pigs and camels there. In fact, the Badlands is rather different from other National Parks in that they allow everybody to go off-trail anywhere in the park if they wish.
That way they have a better chance of having somebody find exposed fossils (the cache of 19,000 was found by a visitor). Then, they ask folks not to touch the fossil (because how it lies conveys information) but to take a picture or two and document where the fossil is (preferably with more pictures of the surrounding area). That way they can sent a paleontologist to evaluate and extract the fossil.
Here is my son on one of the yellow mounds.
He is standing on an elevation marker.
That illustrates another reason that the Park allows unlimited roaming.
See how the marker is sitting above the ground? The rocks are so fragile that, even without anybody walking on it, it erodes about one inch per year. So having humans walk around on it really won’t change anything.
Near that marker was a previous marker that had clearly been eroded out.
My son and I love going off-trail (partly just to get away from people and the “standard” attractions—you’ll see more of that later). So, even here near the Conata Road, we went up over the mounds to a more isolated place.
Here I am on one of the yellow mounds.
And here is my son who has worked his way up a different one.
The texture underfoot on these mounds was really interesting. Again, it’s a rather soft rock. The rain gets into it and erodes it, making it look like it has good traction, but the rain also leaves it rather crumbly, so one really has to watch one’s step.
From there we continued toward the Sage Campground.
The Pinnacles is known as an area with bighorn sheep, and we found this mama just by the side of the road.
Unfortunately, by the time I got my camera out, the kid had moved behind the mother.
At the Pinnacles Entrance road, we were unable to go any farther on the Sage Creek Rim Road. Remember all that rain? The road was closed because that gravel road had washed away and they were trying to fix it. [Side note: the paved road at Cedar Pass was down to one lane as they were doing major repairs on it. Then it was closed completely two days after we left, since they’d found even more erosion and a cave during their repairs.]
But we thought we might be able to still get to the Roberts Prairie Dog Town by heading north, then west, and then south again and maybe coming in from the other side.
That didn’t work either; they’d closed the road from the other side, too. So we resigned ourselves to not seeing prairie dogs. But we were able to head toward the Sage Creek Campground, and along they way we saw this guy off in the distance.
We never really saw a “herd”, just the occasional individual bison in the distance.
Then on the way back there was another bison just hanging out in a field of yellow.
This photo gives a pretty good view of what the west part of the park looks like. It’s not as stark and castle-like as the east end, and much more prairie-like (though with some pretty good topography).
Here’s that same bison through my zoom lens.
After I finished photographing the bison I started putting away my camera, glanced across the road, and saw . . . this:
We suddenly realized that there are prairie dog towns everywhere; we didn’t have to go to the “official” prairie dog town. On our way out we were so intent on looking for bison that we didn’t even see them. But they are scattered throughout the fields, like this.
So let me finish this with some more pictures of prairie dogs. After all, they are cuter than just about anything.