Day 8: Badlands, South Dakota
The first thing I noticed about the Badlands was the smell of the accumulated sediment of millennia. It didn’t smell bad, but the odor of dirt was overpowering. (So was the 60 mph wind that accompanied the nearby thunderstorm).
There isn’t much I can say to describe what the Badlands are like, except that they were aptly named. Craggy cliffs with jagged edges towered over everything, and the ground had cracked in some places due to the lack of rain. It was 112 degrees when we were there, and I felt like I was melting the entire time.
But it was so, so beautiful.
The view from our window.
By the time we had breakfast, the temperature was already over 90.
There was the Badlands Heritage Festival going on today, featuring demonstrations from the Lakotas who live on the nearby reservation. Apparently they have an unemployment rate of 80%. They told us about the treaty they have with the government, which builds them houses and funds their schools, in exchange for the land they illegally took.
The dancing was wonderful to see, but I couldn’t help but wonder how they could stand wearing head-to-toe traditional regalia under that blistering sun.
After the festival, we drove through the rest of the Badlands National Park, and got to experience some pretty amazing views. Caroline was able to identify a lot of the rocks we saw, interestingly enough.
We also happened upon a prairie dog town, and ended up stopping on the side of the road to peer back at (and madly photograph) the prairie dogs, many of whom were standing on their hind legs, as if to greet us. It makes me wish that Meerkat Manor was still being filmed.
We finally saw a cactus (the first one of our journey) on a trail that led to some limestone formations. Signs everywhere warned us to watch out for rattlesnakes, but thank goodness it was so hot–the snakes were probably retreating to the shady areas under the trail platforms.
Caroline and I climbed one of the taller limestone formations. Getting up was fairly easy, except for the loose gravel that threatened to unseat us, but getting down caused me to sincerely regret wearing flip flops.
Perhaps the most memorable experience of the Badlands was our bison encounter. We had seen a lone bison grazing, about 500 yards away, and were happily photographing it, thinking that we would probably never see one in the wild again.
We were soon proved wrong, as we ran into a herd of them a mile or so down the road.
Not wanting to spook or scare them, we tried stopping and waiting for them to cross the road at their own pace. This only resulted in more of them crossing the road and gazing at us stoically.
We finally inched forward at about two miles an hour, and they good-naturedly trotted off the road and onto the grass. My parents were terrified, thinking that they would topple the car if they felt threatened.
After leaving the Badlands, we drove a few more hours to Mount Rushmore. There’s something about seeing a famous landmark that makes it look not quite real when you see it in person. Mount Rushmore was no exception, though I was blown away by how the sculptor (Gutzon Borglum) managed to carve an intelligent look into the eyes of each president.
Unfortunately, it started to thunder almost as soon as we got to the monument, so we ended up leaving earlier than expected. We arrived at the hotel earlier than planned, giving us all a much-needed break.