We’re now up to day 2 (June 13) of our trip to the Badlands of South Dakota. On our first day we’d hiked the only real trail of the park, and we’d driven to the other side and seen a bunch of wildlife.
Now it was time to start branching out.
What we decided to do was to explore up the creek at Saddle Pass and see just how far up it we could get. Here’s the topo map of the area.
The red line shows the parts of the Castle Trail that we’d done the previous day. The orange line shows the trails we hadn’t done, and that short orange line heading due south is the Saddle Pass Trail, which does the 150-200 foot climb between the two main levels of the Badlands. What we did was park at the Saddle Pass parking lot, and just head upstream (the blue line).
It was a fairly easy hike. After all, we were following a stream bed. There won’t be a lot of challenging topography there.
There was a fair bit of water in the stream, too, because of all the (unusual) rain the Badlands had been getting. Of course, going barefoot was perfect for that.
Here’s my son as we came up to that first main split in the stream.
You can see that it is a broad, wide streambed there.
But we were not alone.
A head poked out and looked us over.
And then it started to move.
And headed down.
Eventually it just took off up one of the side canyons.
From there we just kept hiking. The canyon floor got steadily narrower. The canyon walls got steadily steeper.
Eventually, we got to this major rockfall.
As you can see, it really wasn’t much of an impediment. It was very interesting, though, to traverse with bare feet. On the backside of it, however, was this:
[This is a stitched photo. Click for the larger version.]
Obviously, the rockfall had dammed up the creek, and there were who knows how many years of silt collected behind the dam.
I stepped in it. Carefully.
It was about a foot deep, as you can see from the mud marks on my leg.
We decided not to go any further. (I am kind of regretting that decision. We could have gone farther; it just would have been pretty mucky. My son was wearing long pants, though, and would not have cleaned up as easily as I would have.)
Here’s the view backwards, taken as I was standing foot-deep in the muck.
Anyways, we turned around. We did try going up another side canyon off the main flow, but it ended rather quickly at this “waterfall” (ok, watertrickle) and pool.
So we continued headed back to the parking lot.
But we were still not alone.
About halfway down, a mule deer came down the slope.
It is just amazing how these animals manage the steepness.
This time, the wildlife did not go up a side canyon, but just let us drive it downstream.
We were able to track it ahead of us, literally. It was leaving muddy tracks all along the stream bed.
And that was when we realized that we really were not alone.
Another set of tracks started showing up alongside of the deer’s. (And these tracks were not there on our upstream journey.)
Here’s a fairly good picture showing both sets of tracks. (The fine, clay-silt of the Badlands is really good for making tracks.)
The deep set of hoofy tracks is clearly the deer. But those other tracks look like a . . . cat.
A cat that was stalking the deer?
Afterwards, we talked with some rangers. The lack of claw marks really does indicate a cat of some sort (bobcat?), but they really are more nocturnal, so it wasn’t clear what was going on here.
Shortly after that, we got near the road. We heard cars stopping, so we figure that they were all watching the deer cross the road, but that’s about it.
I do rather regret not trying harder to get to the top. Maybe we would have made it. Or not.
Regardless, it was really a lot of fun exploring the area, and the wildlife was just a bonus.