Wind swept off the South Dakota land and straight into Stud’s sides. Then came rain. Oh and I-90 decided to close their west bound lanes down for several miles, siphoning us vehicles into one lane on the east bound side of the highway. With each oncoming semi that passed in the narrow lane next to me, a gust of rain and wind slammed into Stud, shaking him violently and covering his windshield in a wall of water. And each time, I cursed helplessly while my clammy hands gripped the old wheel tightly. I was in a bad mood. And then we hit the Badlands.
They are almost inconspicuous from the highway. Perhaps we would have driven right by had we not seen the signs guiding us to the national park. Already I was in better spirits knowing I’d soon be off the road and out under the naked sky that seemed to be clearing. Ever since I first heard the name of this place, even before I even knew what the place was, I have wanted to go to the Badlands. It just sounded bad in a good kind of way. Like a badass.
After a quick jaunt at the visitor’s center, Kelly and I geared up for a hike. We were told by the park people that a lot of the trails would probably be inaccessible due to the amount of rain that had dropped down in the previous hours. We first tried the Saddle Pass Trail, wanting to connect up to the Castle Trail or Medicine Root Loop Trail.
This first route didn’t work out so well. Though the rain had stopped, the earth was still wet. There in the Badlands, wet earth is synonymous with mud. Slippery mud. We climbed up a hill of wet earth, grasping it with our shoes. And then our hands. Soon we were walking up hill like dogs, until we couldn’t anymore. My hands were covered in thick paste that became white and chalky as it dried. Our feet could no longer move our bodies forward without sliding backward, so it became useless on the steep land formation. If it had started to rain again, we would have been in trouble. I was glad Kelly felt the same as I did, and we decided it would be best to turn back.
We hopped in Stud and drove a bit further along the Badlands Loop Road to the head of Castle Trail and Fossil Exhibit Trail. At the end of a quick loop on the Fossil Exhibit Trail, we passed a group listening to the ranger talk about a turtle fossil. “It almost looks like a HAMBURGER fossil!” he exclaimed as some of the people in the group laughed. We laughed too as we walked across the road to Castle Trail, but for different reasons. There really was no clear trail at the beginning, so we walked in our own directions on our own paths across the unique ground. Often it deceived me; mud holes disguised as seemingly solid ground.
Kelly found the Castle Trail as it moved into green. The contrast between the orange and white colored earth and the green shrubs and grass is what, in my opinion, makes this place special. It’s almost as though southwestern desert meets fresh grasslands in only a small pocket of space.
We walked for a couple of miles to the junction of saddle pass trail and ended up where we would have if we had been able to continue up our original hike. I was glad for the change of plans.
Once back to Stud, we boiled water in the parking lot over my backpacking stove. Pasta with avocados and cheese and tomatoes was delicious. A quick stop at an overview and we were off.
And a trip to the Badlands can’t be complete without a stop at…. WALL DRUG!