Monday, June 8, 2009

The Badlands: A Befitting name

This was the first sight I was really looking forward to on my Journey and it was a great sight to behold, after 4 long days of driving aimlessly. A welcome dramatic landscape, from the boring farmland and endless highways that got me here. First day was milky white skys, which I abhore for photography-so lifeless and dull. To my surprise they are not solid rock as I expect the Grand canyon or Bryce canyon to be, rather they are like a mix of clay and rubble with some sand mixed in. They are rather fragile really and quite slippery when wet. The clay gunks up your boot treads in a hurry when wet, making for some gingerly stepping downhill. I was a little surprised the NPS allowed you to walk anywhere in the park, since they can be so protective of some parks, but there were no restrictions on hiking off trail. Very cool. The views in SD are breathtaking. You can see quite far on the horizons as in MT and WY.
As for the name, it wasn't the rattlesnakes that got to me (luckily I did not see one), but the badlands are indeed bad and uncooperative. The skys were cloudy, so I did not get to see the Milky way or look through the Rangers telescopes. It never got above 60 and I heard it was 98 degrees the week before. Camping showed me just how bad these lands can be. I saw the forcast and looked at the skys and thought I could tough out 40F at night and a little light rain and stay in the park rather than drive more and rush through the park to get a hotel. Well I was only partly right. What I did not anticipate was the intense wind. I encountered this up on the plains earlier in the day at 1880 town, where I was still in shorts from Sioux Falls, only because I didn't want to dig out my suitcase from the trunk to dress more appropriately. It was cool and windy there, but bearable. The campsite was in a great location. Triangular peaks in view, down on the low side of the badlands looking out onto the grasslands and plains. A nice setting, I wanted to experience. I later regretted that decision. Between jetlag and lots of driving and looking forward to the next day, I wasn't sleepy. Plus going to bed at 10pm is just unthinkable most of the time for me, but this was camping. Thats what you do. I think I fell asleep between 11pm and midnight, to suddenly be woken up by the front tent flapps flapping around. It did not stop and grew in intensity throughout the night. Within an hr the wind picked up mightily to 30-40mph I would guess, at least. This was testing the integrity of my tent. The entire side was blowing in above me, the poles bending and seemingly ready to snap any minute. The whole tent was flapping and buffering against itself and was really loud and annoying. IF was like a huge cold front poured over the walls down onto us and just would not relent for more than 5 seconds at a time. Just unreal. A sunami of wind. Cold damp heavy wind. I was chilled to the bone and could not retain my body heat for long. This even more complicated by my bladder purging all my water, as it does when its cold and wet. So every 15-30 min I had the urge to go. I could only bear to kneel and go outside the tent and not walk to the bathroom or even out in the raw wind, but it still found me. Every time I did this and got back in the covers, they were ice cold again. I had headgear, facial fleece, gloves, long sleeve shirt, two fleece jackets on and even a windbreaker at one point on and still froze to death. After 4 hours of this torture, I couldn't take it anymore, so I went in the car reclined my seat and covered myself up after turning on the heat for a bit (though it was lukewarm from not driving). I fell asleep for an hr or two, despite my uncomfort,sore neck and leaving my pillow in the tent. It was still blowing when I got out of the car at 7am (it was really 6am, but hit a time change on the way). I packed up and continued the expedition.
The sights were amazing. I had great light and clouds for photography and the inspiration, kept me going, despite no hot coffee or food. I did manage to get some $.05 coffee at Wall Drug. They have bilboards up everywhere, so I gave in and went. Its kinda like the South of the Border of SD at the far west entrance to Badlands in Wall, SD. Its nicer and has all kinds of shops, but definitely a tourist trap. It was just nice to be indoors away from the elements and have something hot in my belly. On I went to Mt. Rushmore after Rapid City (another quaint SD town with hills). Friendly people. I have to say I liked the Cities I saw in SD. Rugged, weathered and historical. Not too cought up in the growing pains of other modern city/suburbs. They had a certain Character and hometown simplicity, with lots of nice parklands. Little oasis in a sea of vast agriculture. No traffic issues is refreshing too.
Mt. Rushmore was...well, Mt. Rushmore. No surprises. No feeling of, "you gotta see it in person to believe it" like you could say about some places. Well, there was ONE surprise. IT has a PARKING GARAGE. You don't see that on the brochures. I thought it was within a small town. Not quite. It is in a nice setting, but I could have pulled off the highway and got the photo op free. Instead, I did my touristly duty and paid the $10 parking fee, despite my Gold Parks pass, which covers my entrance fees for a year. No way around the parking situation. It was fairly crowded with families. I regretted handing over my $. Yeah its a great sculpture and feat of engineering, but what you see, is no different than what you see on TV. I expected it to be bigger somehow. It looks small in scale to its surroundings in my opinion. I didn't stay for any tours. I took my obligatory uninspired photos and left. I even took the hike (in the wrong direction), which just gives you different viewpoints of the same thing. Compared to seeing a Yosemite or Yellowstone, kinda bleh. While the Black hills were pretty in parts, I found the whole experience dissapointing and a waste of time. I pulled into Crazy Horse, which was 17 miles out of my way and did a U-turn. I wasn't forking over $10 for an unfinished sculpture (not sure how close you can get to it). Again, It was not as large as I expected, but I only saw it from a distance. They guy at the gate let me do a turnaround, since the median blocked you from backing out. I just started to feel like I was doing a little checklist of sights I had to see in the Black Hills. Its a bit Kitchy. Lots of competition for your attention. Lots of false promises to lure you into their site and paying your fees. There was a "mystery spot" just 2 miles from Rushmore. What a cooincidence. I drove accross the middle of the park to get back to Deadwood in the North. Not an impressive drive. Rather plain, wooded views. Nothing special. Deadwood area looked pretty cool, but I decided to refrain from gambling and look for lodging and a hot shower after a super long day/night. The hotels were overpriced and parking required a shuttle to bring you back into town. Sad.
I decided to leave SD and hit WY and get ready to get to Yellowstone asap. Sundance is where I decided to stay. Very small town, but a gorgeous drive in from SD, with awesome views and SUN finally. I don't expect it to remain though. Forecast is for 50s for the next 5 days at least. Camping in Yellowstone is going to be questionable. They got 4" of snow yesterday too. Camping is fun, but I am finding out, I am not hardcore. ITs got to be above 55 degrees at least to be enjoyable. I guess I should have headed to South Utah first and worked my way up north. Hindsight is 20/20 though.I am finding it difficult to be unplugged for long. I didn't have that feeling at Glacier or Yosemite. I never wanted to leave there. I expect the same feeling at Yellowstone and Utah, but its the best sports event month of the year and the economy is hanging by a string, so I am wanting to stay in tune. Well time to turn in. I need sleep.

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