Home Away From Home, South Dakota

Our Last Day in the Badlands

The Door Trail
After a good, long night’s sleep we were still running behind but we left about 8:00. The skies were cloudy, the temps were temporarily lower and there was a nice breeze. We started with the Door Trail where you could scamper over the buttes following a marked trail. Venturing off the trail could have led to crumbling rock and it was a long way down. The trail leads to a break in the Badlands Wall and to an amazing view of the Badlands. As we walked and the sun began to shine through the clouds the colors became more vibrant. We walked back to the car, drank some water and then headed for the Window Trail.

At the start of every trail!
The Window Trail is a short .25 trail on a boardwalk that leads to a natural window in the Badlands Wall with a view of the magnificent canyon below. It was stunning. I was so glad we had waited until today to take the Door and the Window trail. Well, I’m not sure we could have completed the Door trail as hot and exhausted as we were but even at that I don’t think we could have appreciated the grandeur of the canyon. Two short hikes but two well worth seeing.

Although we couldn’t get reservations for the tour we wanted to visit the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. The museum was fascinating and the film highlighted the events of the Cold War. I vaguely remember my parents talking about the Cold War and of hearing of fallout shelters being built for our safety should a nuclear attack become imminent. Of course if a nuclear attack had occurred it would have been instantaneous death for millions. The Minuteman was built in an area with very low population, built underground silos in the American Plains. The intensity of the times was accurately portrayed in the film helping us to recognize how very close we came to war and total devastation for the world.

We had no plans for the afternoon so we decided to ride over to White. River Visitor’s Center in the South section of the park. A short ride of 32 miles turned into nearly 100. We had about 45 miles one way and then an extra 20 for passing right by the center without realizing it! The Visitor’s Center itself was underwhelming but the ride overexposed us to a vastly different terrain. We rode through the Buffalo Gap National Grassland where we saw bales and bales of prairie grass/buffalo grass, pastures with horses, lots of green growth and Jerry thought he saw a herd to bison. We decided rather than stop we’d find them on the way back to the campground – didn’t happen! No bison for us in the Badlands.

Well, I’m cooking with gas! We have never used the gas burners in our RV preferring to use the induction burners we had purchased. We have always had trouble though with the breaker flipping but we blamed it on the toaster oven that we used for baking so we put the toaster over away. Tonight we tried to use the microwave to bake the stuffed peppers and the induction burner to boil the corn. Nope, the breaker flipped so we put the induction burners in the closet and tried out the gas burners. I have always heard that food is better cooked with gas so I guess we’ll see. At least I can cook everything concurrently now instead of having to stagger using the oven and one or two burners.

After dinner we headed out to our last hike in the Badlands, the Fossil Exhibit Trail. It’s only a .25 boardwalk but with excellent views and explanations of the development of the Badlands. There were ample places to climb to look for fossils but we elected to watch the other climb tonight.

We headed out looking for the perfect place to see a beautiful sunset. We finally settled on Homestead Overlook. As we waited for the sunset we were able to see a big herd of bison although they were only visible to me when using the binoculars. We also saw 11 bighorn sheet scampering over the buttes. We chatted with a couple from upstate New York who had just finished visiting some of the places we will be going and they gave us a lot of helpful hints. The temperature dropped considerably to 75 and with the breeze it was actually a little cool but still enjoyable.

We topped the night off by visiting the gas station for the second time in one day! Our Jeep only holds 15 gallons so we refuel frequently but not usually twice in the same day.

Herd of Bison
Home Away From Home, South Dakota

The Notch Trail

Despite our intentions to get out early it was a bit after 8:00 when we left the campground. Our first stop was the gift shop to buy me some socks to wear with my hiking boots. Before we left home we tried to go through the coach and get rid of anything that was not necessary. When I opened my sock drawer it was full of socks and I foolishly thought I wouldn’t need any on this trip. I would have golf socks and that would be enough – except I forgot that I needed socks for my hiking boots so now I have a pretty pair of Badlands socks!

Our next stop was the Ben Reifel Visitor Center. In addition to a small gift shop, they have displays giving the history of the Badlands. We watched a very good video that explained the formations. They also have several rangers on duty so we got some suggestions on where to go and what to do. I knew that I wanted to hike the Notch Trail so I asked about that. Since I had seen several warnings about rattlesnakes I asked about the possibility of running into one. She assured me that it was only a slight risk. In the last 20 years they have only had four people bitten and they were apparently in places they shouldn’t have been. Plus, she said the rattlers here are much smaller than the rattlers in NC. Wow, that made me feel better – not!

We headed on down to Notch Trail. I had my backpack with the water bladder but foolishly did not wear a hat. We realized immediately that it was going to be a hot hike even though we had started a little after 10:00. Hot doesn’t even begin to describe it! I was a wet mess! Climbing the notched ladder was, um, interesting. There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason as to the distance between the ladder steps which was even more obvious on the way down when my foot was dangling searching to find the next step.

When we reached the end of the trail the vista was amazing. Such a dichotomy. Rough, dry, crumbling rock and immediately beside it green growth. The Badlands are eroding an inch a year and the erosion is obvious. Some of the places are very unstable. At the end of the trail we sat down and ended up chatting with a couple from Tennessee who are just starting their RV adventures. We enjoyed exchanging information with them and the view was amazing, well worth the moderate to strenuous hike. So many of the hikes we have been on have been erroneously labeled as “easy”, “moderate” or “strenuous” when in effect they did not fit the category assigned. This time the description was right on the money. It was a little bit of moderate with a whole lot of strenuous!

A long way down!
The trip back down the trail and back down the ladder was exhausting. When we finally reached the car without any discussion we headed to the campground. We had already talked about returning for lunch but I don’t think lunch was on our minds. Just some cool air and cold water was all I needed plus a shower! When we got back we were both too tired to even think about lunch. In fact, I never ate. Jerry fixed him something while I took a shower. He decided to take a nap so I got on the sofa to read. Because of my sensitivity to caffeine, I rarely drink anything with caffeine after 4:00 in the afternoon. Today I drank a Frappuccino and immediately to an hour and a half nap. So much for that logic.

We toyed around with what to do next and decided to do the Window and Door hikes. Along the route we stopped at the Cliff Shelf hike. We had walked about five minutes when Jerry exclaimed that he didn’t really want to do it. It was hot and the view wasn’t going to be that different so we turned around and headed to the car. We rode down to the Minuteman Missile museum but it was already closed for the evening. Heading back to the coach we took a detour and decided to ride the loop road.

That was a fun drive and we got to see a few wildlife. No bison, buts plentiful of prairie dogs. We even saw a couple of moms with their babies. We also saw several bighorn sheep and got some good pictures. When we started the loop drive, although differing in shape the buttes looked pretty much the same color but as we returned with the setting sun the colors became more vibrant, more distinctive. Hopefully, we can plan better and get back tomorrow night for the setting sun.

When we finally got back to the campground it was nearly 8:00 so instead of cooking dinner we grabbed a burger at the Food Shack at the KOA and then two exhausted travelers called it a day!

A mama and her babies