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

Window Trail in Big Bend

The Chisos Mountains
The Chisos Mountains
Exhausting, Exhilarating, Semi-Dangerous – that was today! We headed to Panther’s Junction in Big Bend National Park around 10:00. Several people had said that we could talk with a ranger telling them how long we would be visiting the park and they would help plan our visit. That may be but it wasn’t for us. We spoke briefly with a ranger who gave us about a 2 minute spiel and then Jerry and I looked at each other with looks of confusion hoping that one of us had gotten a little bit of what she said. We didn’t! Oh well, we then watched a really good video on Big Bend. I would love to have had a copy as there was so much information in there that we could hardly retain even a small portion. We made a few purchases and the lady that checked us out was very helpful giving us some pointers on what we might do for the afternoon.

Now why would I want to do this?  BTW, we never saw anything!
Now why would I want to do this? BTW, we never saw anything!
We ended up going back to the Chisos Basis Trailhead to hike the Window Trail. The sign says its 5 miles. Don’t be fooled. According to my FitBit which may or may not be correct we hiked 7.4 miles! When we finally got to the Visitor’s Center it was teeming with people just wandering around. We did realize that the Visitor’s Center itself was closed for lunch from 12 to 1 but there was a store opened where we could buy various items. We ended up buying a bag of potato chips to go along with our chicken salad sandwiches.

Before our walk we opted to have our lunch at a picnic table but once we got there we realized it was a bit chilly so we quickly got back in the car and ate there. Just as we were getting ready to get out the rain came. It didn’t rain long so we got out to start again. And then a big thunder boomer sent us hustling back to the car for a few minutes. It stopped raining, I got out of the car and headed for the building and it started up again. Jerry stayed in the car and I stood under a ledge of the building. Only 15 days of rain annually and it rains the day we’re there! It finally stopped and off we went.

You're in Texas Baby!
You’re in Texas Baby!
I’m not sure what I expected and apparently I didn’t read the sign very well. The information we were given list the trail as moderate. Well, I surely don’t want to see a strenuous trail because this trail was difficult for us, one like we’ve never done before. The path was not smooth at all, littered with rocks of all sizes and included a lot of switchbacks. I had not read enough to know what to expect at the end and I discovered that I don’t hike for the joy of hiking. I want something at the end of the trail and I was totally unsure of what if anything was there. We met one couple who said there was a waterfall there but you couldn’t get to it due to the danger. Little did they know.

As we neared the end of the trail we met a young lady who had earlier jogged by us with her service dog. She warned us about the danger of approaching the window and said it scared her and spooked her dog and she is a pretty seasoned hiker who has done this trail before. The wind was so strong that it blew her bandana right off her head.

When we got to the end of the trail it was so very treacherous. We had already faced very blustery winds going through the walls of the canyons but when we got closer to the Window it really started blowing hard. We opted not to go any further but when others went before us we decided to go as far as we could. Before we proceeded Jerry took his cap off and laid it down putting a rock in it to secure it. He knew it would blow off as he climbed. I took my cap off as well and put it in his adding another rock. As I was climbing up the wet rocks a wind gust of probably 40-50 miles hit me and I nearly fell. Jerry said that was it – we weren’t going any further but then the wind slowed down some so on we went. We reached the top of the rocks, had our picture taken and very carefully but quickly went down.

We made it!
We made it!
It probably was not a wise thing to do but in for a penny, in for a pound. When we got back to where we had left the hats we found them floating in the stream. Oh well, at least we had them.

We then started the 3 mile plus hike back to the Visitor’s Center. The trail is very well marked but it is not a smooth trail as it is very rocky and uneven. We were also descending on the way in and ascending on the way out – not a good idea for me! It was a difficult hike for us, the most difficult we’ve ever undertaken. I was glad we had bought the hiking boots as I think my tennis shoes would not have been sufficient.

On the ride back to Terlingua we watched the sun as it set above the mountains. This is the first day that the sky has been clear enough to even see the sun.

We stopped by the RV briefly for Jerry to change shoes and then we headed to the Starlight Theater for dinner. It supposedly is one of the iconic things to do in Terlingua and since we had not made plans for dinner this was a good night to do it. We didn’t realize that all of the people standing on the porch were probably waiting for tables so we went on in and gave our name to the hostess. We stood waiting for at least 30 minutes and by the time we were seated I thought my feet would fall off. We both ended up getting burgers. They were good but nothing like the Gristmill, Blackwater Jacks or Chimney Rock. Guess we are a little spoiled by now.

We got back to the campground a title after 8:00 but I felt like it was much later. We were both exhausted but too tired to go to sleep. I downloaded some pictures onto Google photos and then tried to put my aching, tired body to bed. Yes, it was an exhausting and semi-dangerous day but a great way to spend out first day in Big Bend.