The Great American Road Trip - 22 - The Badlands
I forgot to mention yesterday that my dad ran over a squirrel which was limping across the road. Another car, which passed by us, spooked it, and while he swerved to avoid it, the right front tire clipped it with a thud. Like many of its kind, it had a death wish, and we can only hope we served a purpose in putting it out of its misery.
Today, we did some planning over delicious omelets. Originally, we wanted to go to Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills as well as the Badlands, but since we're basically right between the two, we had to decide between them. Because we knew for certain how long Rushmore would take, we decided to see the Badlands today, stay another night, then see the other two tomorrow when we go down into Nebraska.
On the way to the Badlands, we saw sign after sign after even more hilarious sign for the most famous tourist trap in America: Wall Drug. Why any drug store needs a massive dinosaur statue in front of it, or an art collection to rival those of some museums, I will never know. It's entirely possible that Wall Drug does not even have a drug store any more, though they advertise free ice water and five-cent coffee - except to honeymooners and veterans, when it's free.
The Badlands are strange. I likened them to the Painted Desert which we saw around the Petrified Forest, but they are on a much larger and vaster scale. The prairie stops right where the Badlands begin, dropping down into massive stone curves and structures. We walked out into them, from marker to marker off of the trail. I'm glad I got as many pictures as I did, because I don't know how well I can describe it. The stone is like natural concrete, and takes a toll on your feet if you walk on it for too long. I rubbed on bits of broken-off stone and it basically came off like chalk in my hand. The ones that do not look like that look like swiss cheese concrete, as there are holes in them.
The landscape itself undulates - every bit looks the same until closer inspection reveals it to look different. Walking out onto the Badlands is easily disorienting, and if they didn't have the yellow poles cemented into the ground, we might have gotten lost out there. Canyons just drop off out of nowhere, and mesas at prairie level jut up, featuring grass on their surfaces. It's easily discernible where the surrounding Badlands have been carved away from them.
We walked around a few trails, including one that went up 200 feet in elevation around some juniper trees. I wish we could have stayed there for longer but the bugs were eating us alive. ("Look, some humans! Lunch!") The trees were beautiful, though, and kind of soft to the touch. My dad spotted a rabbit off of the trail - it might have been sleeping, since its breaths were barely discernible.
Getting back to the car, we headed on down to a small store/restaurant near the park visitor's center. We ate at the table next to the one where, on a trek my parents made with my maternal grandparents well before I was born, my late grandmother put her half-eaten buffalo burger inside her purse. (I'm sure it didn't make sense then, either.) History did not repeat itself, however; my mom had no purse on her person. (She did not purseonify that statement. I think that it's a purseonal preference.) After that, we saw some intricately made, multicolored clay sculptures of various wild animals, as well as carvings made from bone, in the gift store. We bought none, but from my pursepective, I'm still amazed that people can do such things.
As we wound our way out of the park, we noted two wild turkeys, two bighorn sheep that were unafraid of clamoring around on top of sheer cliffs, more absolutely adorable prairie dogs, and more deer and antelope. The only critter we didn't see a specimen of was the one species which we were warned about from the signs time and time again: rattlesnakes. This didn't stop us from hearing any, for as we walked along the boardwalks which some portions of the trails were made from, the grass along the sides would shudder with rattles all around. If you stopped, then the rattles would die down. If you walked again, then they'd start on up again. Despite all of this - which was very hard to miss - people still took their kids through the snake country off to the very edges of the cliffs - cliffs which are well known for occasionally giving way under pressure. It's stunning that some people are that dull.
It was a little after 5:00 that we got out of the park, conserving what very little of the camera's battery remained for the last sight of the day: a Minuteman II missile silo, situated off a dirt road off an exit off of the interstate. We had gone by the visitor's center earlier, seen some memorabilia, and a funny sign which parodied the Domino's Pizza logo, but had a rocket on the logo as well as "Delivery in 30 Minutes or Less, or Your Next One's Free" - referring, of course, to the nuclear warheads contained within. They apparently allow people in the old silo now - but we couldn't get in. The park service had posted up a sign on the fence which told us to let ourselves in, but to remember to lock the doors behind us to keep the cattle out.
This was all well and good, except for the fact that they didn't exactly provide a key. My dad and I struggled with it for a little bit, trying to see if the padlock was stuck, but alas, we could not get through. We got some good pictures from the outside before leaving, passing more signs advertising Wall Drug.
Tomorrow: we see Mount Rushmore and the surrounding Black Hills, then make our way down into Nebraska.