Thursday, July 9, 2015

Wild, wild west: Badlands and Black Hills

From the names of these places, one would think that we've been casted away in Mordor! Thankfully, it's really just in our neighboring state of South Dakota, albeit it took us about 8 hrs to get there. 

On the last weekend in June, while driving to a state park, hubby and I decided that we should go somewhere for July 4th weekend. "Let's go to the Badlands!", we agreed.   There and then in the car, we looked to see if there are still places to reserve. And yes, we found a seemingly decent cabin near the Badlands, and that's pretty much how we operate these days - on a whim and without much planning ahead.

We left the house at 4 am, and with 2 stretch stops and driver swithichg, we reached the Badlands National Park around noon - Mountain Time. Somewhere in the middle of South Dakota, the time zone changed from Central to Mountain.  Pretty neat! 

A note of caution:
These cliffs easily erode and the rock could be chipped away easily with a fingernail,
so make sure you stay clear from the edge when you hike.
When we got to the Badlands, we were immediately treated to a wonderful view of the pale sandstone structures.  While it may be less impressive than it's red counterparts in Utah's Bryce canyon, and the black ones in Saxon Switzerland, Germany, it's still impressive nonetheless.  The name "Badlands" gives you a clue as to its rugged landscape forming ridges, spires, gullies and 'castle-like' structures which the girls enjoyed seeing. Unlike Bryce canyon, the rock layers are heavily eroded and do not form hoodoos. At least, we didn't see any. The name "Mako sica" was actually given by the Lakota which means eroded land because of the terrain.


Sun setting in the Badlands
It was very hot when we got there even though it was only in the mid-80F. Interestingly enough, when we went back to the park 2 days later, it was quite chilly.  So, if you're planning a trip here, make sure to bring lots of water, a hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, and a jacket because you just never know when temperature it's going to be that day - even in July!  And I also saw some (smart?) Asians with their umbrellas out. You just gotta love them! 

And blankets it in colors

After a short hike in the Door trail, the kids were pretty hot and sticky.  We checked in to our cabin and headed to Wall Drug.  Since the signs for this place speckled the 500 mile road from Minnesota to South Dakota, we knew what to expect - stores, splash pad, free ice water, 5c coffee, donuts, dinosaurs, belts, and everything else you could imagine or ask for  - including a jackalope. Not exactly the attraction we seek, but the kids enjoyed cooling off in the splash pad. 

Washington's profile
Truth be told, there's not really a lot of young-kids-friendly hiking in the Badlands. So, on the next day, we decided to go to the Black Hills and check out some more kid-friendly hiking in that area. Just to make it more interesting, fate threw a wrench, or rather a nail, in our plans and we had to spend a few hours dealing with our flat tire. But that didn't stop us from more adventuring. We drove through the Black Hills and went to Mt. Rushmore in Keystone. Seeing George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt's huge visages amidst granite and greens was more impressive than I've ever imagined. Kudos to sculptor Gutzon Borglum, who I learned studied with Rodin, and used dynamite to carve the massive granite mountain.What best way to celebrate July 4th than here.  The chiseled mountain and the presidential trail highlighted 4 past leaders who made huge contributions to the US history.

News Flash: Black Hills > Badlands.
There I said it! (well, at least in my opinion.) While a lot of peaple will travel from far away lands to visit the Badlands, a lot of those will most likely skip the Black Hills National Forest. Big mistake. "Black Hills", although ominous-sounding, is named because of the hills' dark appearance, as they are covered in mostly ponderosa pine trees, with dark bark and deep evergreen needles. For many Native Americans, these hills has offered physical and spiritual renewal. And you won't know it until you visit it.
Before heading to Rapid City to have dinner, we stopped at a tucked-away Breezy Point picnic area in the Black Hills forest to get the wiggles out.  It was a great find and treated us to a great view of granite peaks.

Splash pad, Rapid City. If there's a splash park somewhere,
we'll find it.

Roughlock Falls - supposedly provided scenes for Dances with Wolves,
but I honestly don't remember the movie well.
The following day, July 5, we decided to continue exploring Black Hills National Forest. After having explored the Southern Hills a bit, we decided to take the scenic route checking out the Thunderhead falls area south of Rapid city and driving on  385 to the Northern Hills to Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway.  This drive is enthralling. The limestone palisades tower on both sides and makes for the most breathtaking scenery.

Run, river, run.

Pactola Lake
As far as hiking goes, the greatest part is our hike in Pactola lake, and meeting a Lakota couple and their dogs. We had a picnic on the ridge with the view of the lake.

We would have loved to continue on to Black Hills in Wyoming to check out  Devils Tower National Monument, but the weather didn't cooperate and shoo-ed us back to Rapid City. Take my word for it, if you're in South Dakota, explore the Northern and Southern Black Hills. It will be good for your heart.

On our last morning before heading back to Minnesota, we left early for the Badlands park and we saw some animals enjoying their breakfast - prairie dogs, big horn sheep, and proghorn antelopes. We even saw some bisons from afar but couldn't get near enough to take pictures. Since it was also cooler, and the hills were soaked by rain the day before, you can see bands of vibrant colors of earth of peach, pink, and creme hues.  I swear, I've been so spoiled by geology this past few months! Which brings me to this question - Where next??!

Dances with Antelopes
The kids saw flowers, insects and a burrowing owl in the prairie.


  1. Awesome!! Sounds like so much fun and the pictures are amazing. We so need to get out and see more national parks!

    1. You and Shira can come visit us and we can all go to Boundary Waters! Or we can also meet you guys at Yellowstone! :)