Hiking the Badlands & Look Who’s Driving!!!

I gave you an introduction to The Badlands of South Dakota, as well as discussed the beautiful loop drive that is a main feature of the park in my first Badlands post.  Now, I would like to share more of our experience in The Badlands last August for your enjoyment, and so that you can plan a trip for yourself.

Let’s start with the map again.  We will just be looking at the North Unit of the park, as seen below…Badlands Map, North Unit

The Badlands Loop Road runs through the majority of the North Unit until the Pinnacles Entrance in the middle of the map.  At that point the road that continues westbound through the park turns from red to black. The change in color denotes the change in the road itself.  The red portion is paved road, the black portion is not paved.  The unpaved portion takes you into the Sage Creek area, which is more remote and has a campground for dry camping.  This road is ROUGH, we did not make it far in our diesel RAM 2500 before our guts were sufficiently stuffed into our esophagi.  However, other vehicles would do much better here (you can read about the suspension stuff in our Monument Valley post).  This area is more remote with a lot of hiking opportunities, and it is also the home of the park’s bison herd.  The Badlands are a place of extremes, and it is important to use caution when going hiking in remote areas.  During our stay, there was a hiker who had gone missing in the Sage Creek area.

We stuck to trails off of the paved road, in the eastern portion of the North Unit.  There are plenty of short trails there, and they even have a fossil exhibit trail that helps you to explore some of the fossils that are found in the area.  When embarking for the first time on foot in The Badlands, it is shocking to find that the ground is not as hard as it looks.  In fact it almost feels like a rubber track, and the surface can be crumbly in spots.  It is a unique experience.  20150817_142040

At first, we almost felt like we shouldn’t just walk anywhere, that the land was too fragile.  We were later informed by a park ranger that you really are allowed to walk anywhere in The Badlands, just don’t leave any trash behind.  So, we began exploring in earnest, and we met our first hoodoo there…20150817_160311

Those are our scared faces in front of the hoodoo.  Fear seemed like the appropriate reaction for the name.  We also found plenty of coyote scat and this guy…Prairie Rattlsnake. The Badlands, South Dakota

Wisely, we chose not to disturb the grasses in front of his face for a better photo, but if you look closely, you can see one of his eyes.  Oooh, that’s deep!

While hiking, there is really a lot of terrain that is so steep, it is really impassable.  However, there are some creatures that are perfectly created for this rugged country…big horn sheep.  Try to appreciate how narrow their paths are and the steepness of their surroundings…Big Horn Sheep, The Badlands, SD

 

Big Horn Sheep, The Badlands, SDBig Horn Sheep, The Badlands, SD

Big Horn Sheep, The Badlands, SD

While, the sheep have you intrigued with their agility; don’t forget to look behind you, because someone is watching your every move…Prairie Dog, The Badlands, SD

And make sure you are looking closely, because you don’t want to miss a bison in the distance…

Bison, The Badlands, SD

Now that you have gotten a little more comfortable with the surroundings, you can think about the people who have traveled through these lands.  In December of 1890, Chief Big Foot led his people through a pass in The Badlands just five days before their massacre at Wounded Knee, just South of The Badlands near the Nebraska border.  Chief Big Foot had a band of about 350 men, women and children who navigated through these treacherous lands in the dead of winter.  They were Lakota Sioux, and they believed in the promise of the Ghost Dancers who were dancing for their god to come and create a new world and destroy all non-believers.  They knew that their life was not compatible with the ways of white people, and that the agrarian lifestyle that was being forced on them was insupportable.  While encamped with the 7th Calvary (the same unit defeated at Little Bighorn), someone opened fire, and the Indians were massacred.  The tragedy ended the Indian Wars against the Plains Indians.

That was 1890.  In 1973, the AIM (American Indian Movement) held an armed siege at Wounded Knee that lasted 71 days.  I wish I could say that since then, the Pine Ridge Reservation and Rosebud Reservation have peacefully prospered, but that would not be true.   They have a particularly complex problem with alcohol, which you can look into for yourself (research White Clay, Nebraska), but prepare to have your heart broken.  However, while we were staying in Interior, we had the pleasure of witnessing some members of Pine Ridge performing some dances with their children as their way of preserving their culture and being involved with the next generation.  The father, on the left with the microphone, is a roofer, but he is dedicated to his heritage and to keeping his children from trouble.  Lakota Sioux, Interior, SD

In addition to the wildlife and the true plains people, there is another special feature of The Badlands…the night sky.  They have ranger led programs I believe twice a week in the summer with telescopes that allow you to better view the stars and planets.  Unfortunately, it was cloudy while we were there, but there will be a next time.  Over the past summer, they saw the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, three times!

One final note that made The Badlands special for us was that it is the only place that I have driven while towing Aunt Glady!  Need proof?  Happy to oblige, my friend…

 

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