The Passage of the Badlands
29 August 2016
The much anticipated day for exploration of the Badlands had arrived and I was sleeping so well that I missed a glorious sunrise (sunrise and sunset are suppose to be wonderful here). But I was not disheartened. We enjoyed a relaxing breakfast complete with coffee, thankfully, packed up our dry tent, and pulled out of the campground by 9. The whole day and many badlands vistas lay ahead.
The first place we came to was a trailhead and we knew we had to get out and hike. It was the steepest designated trail in the park. During the talk on the previous night the Rangers explained that this is an "open park", meaning that you can hike anywhere you want. The badlands erode so much every year with wind, rain, and snow, that human traffic is negligible. They also encourage it because every year when the snow melts and there is significant erosion, more fossils are exposed and will be found if visitors explore around. Last year visitors found 350 fossils.
It took us about 20 minutes to hike up, maybe more since we took a wrong turn, and the view from every angle was astounding. At any point you could stop and make your way off the trail to explore. And at the top we found it leveled out as far as we could see. Almost like where we were now standing was ground level and where we had climbed up from was a canyon/valley. And from where we stood we could still climb up a few peaks, which we did.
We followed the rest of the road through the park, stopping at most lookout points to see the view from another angle and grab some pictures. But my favorite spot was the yellow mounds, where the lowest, yellow layer of rock was visible. These layers were often topped by red layers and, in one spot, purple. We couldn't get enough of it so we hiked up on a nearby mound to see as much as we could.
At the other end of the park we exited towards the town of Wall where we were able stock up on provisions for our next night of camping. Then it was back into the park and down the winding dirt road to the campground on the west side of the park. This campground has no water and only pit toilets. On our way we passed a massive herd of bison, endless prairie dogs, and a herd of big horn sheep that walked right past the car.
We had expected there to be very few people at this campground, but it was already quite full when we arrived. Unsurprisingly the cost of a campsite - free - attracted a large number of younger people traveling alone. The campground had also somehow attracted five grazing bison that were less than 100 ft from where we pitched our tent. Over the course of the evening they moved closer and closer until one point where they walked nearly right up to us at the picnic bench but then turned and walked around us. Watching the bison approach was simultaneously terrifying and hilarious. Ironically on the other side of the campground a ranger was showing people how to throw and ancient weapon that was used for hunting bison.