I’ve now made it to describing our third day of exploring the Badlands. This time we really went out there, and this day is among our most fun days on the entire trip.
We went back to the Conata Basin.
We were around the Conata Basin before when we visited the Yellow Mounds. This time we wanted to have some fun wandering about the terrain.
Here’s a topo map of the region.
The blue dot marks the parking lot for the Conata Basin Picnic Area, which is also one of the jumping off spots for the Sage Creek Wilderness area.
That area is really pretty flat. It’s kind of a clayish grassland (this is on the lower level of the Badlands). But as you can see from the topo map, as you head north, there are steep ridges that rise quickly. And they are fun to climb.
The minimum slope of any of those features is probably 45°. And while going up is fun, one always needs to be concerned about being able to get back down again . . . in one piece.
Here’s a false-color relief version of the topo map that may give you a better feel for the topography.
I’ve also marked on there the route that we took, over the top of one ridge, back down the other side, and then up another ridge. In all cases we had to very carefully choose one of the legs of the ridge to find something that would not kill us.
But we managed.
Here I am on top of that first ridge we crossed over.
I should mention that I found bare feet to be quite stabilizing. Toe-gripping is always important.
We descended again and then climbed to the top of the adjacent ridge. Here’s my son up there. Behind him you can see the other ridge we climbed over.
Just think about traversing all of that.
Let me show you another “map”. Here’s the Bing Maps oblique satellite view of the same area of the other two maps.
That kind of puts a better perspective on this stitched, panoramic shot from standing on top there.
[Click for much larger version.]
Those are really Bad Lands to try to travel over.
If you look at the colored map again, you see that we had to skirt a particular peak—it was just to steep and narrow to feel comfortable to climb over. Instead, we clung to the side of it, hoping that the crumbly soil/rock (again, at about 45° did not give way). I found my hiking stick quite valuable as an anchor.
Anyways, we found our way to a spot that looked like we could safety descend.
Doesn’t that look like a blast?
This next picture gives you a feel for the steepness.
And here’s the final descent.
By the way, we both went down together. Then my son climbed back up again and redid the descent so that I could get some pictures. Better to have the younger one do something like that. 🙂
Finally, we made it back again to the mostly flat bottom.
Interestingly enough, as we headed back along here, we saw some bare footprints headed the other direction. They were not mine! We’d headed up there by a different path. But that meant that there was somebody else out there who, at least in the sticky, muddy bottom, decided that bare feet were the way to go.
Way to go!
As I mentioned before, this was one of our most fun hikes on the entire trip. It was slow going, and it took a lot of thought before we advanced very far, but the combination of isolation and hiking challenge made it really worthwhile.
That wasn’t the end of the day, though. After we had lunch, we headed back to Saddle Pass, and climbed up the Saddle Pass trail to do the western part of the Castle Trail (which we had not done before). Here’s a reminder of the trail system.
This gave us a chance to check out the top of where the Saddle Pass Creek tried to lead us to.
Again, it is grasslands, and you can see another yucca sitting there.
Here’s the start of the creek/canyon system that eventually becomes Saddle Pass Creek.
It actually looked like we might have been able to descend it a fair bit, but we were getting near the end of the day and it just seemed a bit much (particularly after Conata Basin).
So, I’ll leave you with a close-up of that area.
From here, we broke camp the next day and headed to Yellowstone National Park.