Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Badlands of South Dakota

Monday, September 10

I have to tell you that this was a wonderful day in spite of going to the Badlands. Perhaps they might change the name to "Goodlands," or "Amazinglands," or "SpaceonEarthlands." I don't think that will happen, but the Badlands only deserve their name from the difficulty that people had, long ago, of getting across them.  Nowadays, the folks who go into them plan to come out quickly, and are there to see the beauty of the land instead of seeing this area as a place to 'get across.'

We drove about 20 miles from Kadoka to go to The Badlands.  Just before we found them, as if we could lose them, we stopped at a Prairie Dog Homestead and gift shop place, a half  mile from the northeast entrance to the Badlands National Park entrance.  I had not laughed so hard in days until I saw the little, fat prairie dogs who make their home at this special place. They were running around to grab peanuts  (50 cents a bag) that I threw at them.  I watched the prairie dogs nearly beg for food from another tourist.  FAT does not begin to describe these little guys who have figured out how to make a living by hanging around the parking lot and looking cute. I want their job.

We have a Senior Pass to the National Parks, since we are of a certain age, so we did not even have to pay an entrance fee to the Badlands today.  We wouldn't have minded, much, though, since it was so wonderful, but we appreciate that our country knows that we've already paid some debts to this country. The entrance fee is a small perk that we much appreciated.

Pictures will have to show you what we saw. It's one of those places that you have to see for yourself, and if I can encourage one person to get into a car and drive out here, then I will feel successful.

We drove through the park for over two hours, stopping at scenic overviews, and then made the turn to the unpaved road, which a ranger had told us was the direction to see the "wildlife."  He was right, in that we saw more wild creatures in those twenty miles than in the rest of our drive.

We saw four wild buffalo that we would only have perceived as dark specks except for other tourists who pointed them out to us. Fortunately, we had binoculars along with us (put those on your  list) so that we, too, could realize that four buffalo were out there in the distance, grazing and knowing that they were safely out of our way.

I saw a herd of antelope resting in a huge field.  Randy was driving and didn't stop to see them, but I had them in my scope.

We also saw a lot of buffalo dung.  This may not sound exciting to a South Dakotan, but to an Ohioan, it is. Most of it seemed to be near the highway, and  I commented that those buffaloes were having a good time after dark, near the road.  We stopped to photograph a buffalo "chip," knowing that these served as fuel for fires in settlers' homes during pioneer times. We saw prairie dogs take seeds from them, for food, today. (We placed a quarter by it so you can get a size visual.)

My favorite moment today was when Randy and I were out in the middle of The Badlands, alone at a place to drive off the road.  We looked out at the calm and beautiful fields and formations, listened to the perpetual wind that blows out there, took in  the entire visual field before us, and Randy said, "shhhh."

I held the cap to my camera lens in one hand, stopped moving, and for at least two minutes the two of us stood in the middle of nowhere and listened to NOTHING.  We had the sound of silence, and it was wonderful. He asked me if I had ever heard such silence, and I replied, "Just once." We just stood there, as long as we could make it last, and listened to nothing. Peace.

I told Randy later that it made me jealous of the buffalo.

The temperature today was 100 degrees.  It actually went up to 102 degrees at one point. This was hot, to say the least. When our route through The Badlands gave us an "out" to head north to Wall, we took that opportunity.  On our way out of the park, we saw a thin coyote walking confidently towards a prairie dog village that we were passing.  Randy stopped the car so we could watch this coyote, totally oblivious to the two watchers in the car, strut across the prairie dog lands while he looked for his lunch.  The chattering of the prairie dogs told us that the standing up and watching they had been doing was not in vain. The sentinals were doing their job. The coyote continued, went under the only wire fence that separated him from his meal, and ignored us as we backed the car up so we could watch him.  We do not know if he ate well or not, as another car raced by us, blowing dust all over the place, and we decided we didn't want to see a vicious kill anyway.  We were impressed that this coyote, hungry and lean, was not afraid of humans as the ones we see in our home park are.

We confess that we followed the crowd to Wall and very briefly shopped at Wall Drug for post cards and tee shirts.  It was my 4th visit to Wall Drug Store, and it keeps getting bigger and bigger........but at least this time there weren't a zillion motorcycles out front, and we could get a parking spot.

We drove west and then south to Keystone, South Dakota.  Mount Rushmore is here.  We located a Best Western on Rt.16 close to Keystone, got a room, and planned for the next day or so.

The first thing we needed was dinner, as we'd had a sparse lunch of cheese and crackers at a stop-point in The Badlands. 

Keystone, for tourists, seems to be a stretch of attractions that will make The West come alive in a few short blocks.  We found a very nice bar for a cold beer and a restaurant next door where I enjoyed a buffalo burger and Randy had a steak.

Randy and I have been to Mount Rushmore twice before, in 2004 and in 2007.  I was also here in 1959 with my family, when I was twelve years old, and the memory  of that visit is imprinted in my memory. Things have changed.

 This afternoon, while I was gobbling down that fabulous buffalo burger, Randy and I decided to visit Mount Rushmore tomorrow morning instead of tonight.  It's a bit of a hill up there, first of all, and secondly, we have been up and going for twelve hours.  However, curiosity is a horrendous thing, so we drove up the hill "just to check" how far it is to Mount Rushmore.  As we were sitting at a stop light, I looked up and saw a strange formation in the mountain nearby and realized that it was Mount Rushmore!

There is no "fee" to visit Mount Rushmore, as it is a National Park.  However, there IS an $11 parking fee.  Even our "Senior Pass" for the National Parks would not do away with that parking fee.  So we drove nearby to Mount Rushmore tonight, saw it from the highway, and were enamored by its beauty.  We also felt really sorry for citizens of our country who cannot afford the $11 parking fee, and may never see Mount Rushmore because of that.

We are, tonight, at the Best Western in Keystone.  We're not sure if we will stay here a second night, or find something more economical, but this is a lovely, clean place with an immaculate hot tub and pool, fresh rooms, and it is very quiet.  Stay tuned....................
Wall Drug Friend