Part 10: Badlands, SD to Blackhills, SD


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The Trip

We spent the night in what I thought was a remote camp area within the Badlands National Park.  It seemed remote because we traveled 30 miles or so of dirt to get there.  But, we came in the "back door" to the area.  There were plenty of regular cars in the camp area, but no RVs or trailers.  It seems that the dirt road to get there scared them off.  The wind was strong and we had rain during our travels.  Indeed, there had been a thunderstorm in Hermosa, SD that blew down power lines that required us to detour around the damaged lines.  We traveled the county roads that were muddy and the mud made a mess.  But, the camp site was level and that is pretty much all we need. for an acceptable camp.  Next morning, we left the Sage Creek area to check out the Badlands and see what was there.

The Photos

The photos below are what we saw.

These little fellows are omnipresent on the prairie, thus the name Prairie Dog.  These are not dogs but rather rodents and are reviled as pests by the farmers and ranchers in the areas they inhabit.

The dog burrows act as tripping hazards for cattle and cause many broken legs.

In many places, the ranchers shoot the dogs on sight.  But, that is hard.  The dogs have an organized society and bark alarms when danger is sensed (usually from hawks or coyotes).  But, they learn about hunting as well and therefore require substantial "set back" ranges to actually succeed in hitting them.  If you are green minded, don't worry: shoot all you want, it just causes them to breed faster.

The Badlands are really mud hills.  There are many areas in the west that have mud hills as interesting as these, but the area covered by these structures is quite large.  And, the interface of the grassy prairie with the mud hills provides an interesting contrast of colors.

Along the way, we passed this lone buffalo bull.

The trail went up a ridge and provided a nice view.

The valley area was covered in dark green prairie grass.

The badlands area was due to an uplift followed by erosion.  The underlying strata is not grass-friendly and therefore is free of any grass cover.

The uplifted ridge was deeply eroded.

To the south, the erosion resulted in a set of pinnacles.

On the trail, we passed this nice home-brew camper based on an Isuzu chassis.  This rig is a 2wd so it would be restricted to the same roads as a regular RV.

A parting view of the opposite side of the Isuzu rig.

An overlook provided a view of the intricate mud hills.

Plenty of folks were viewing the mud hills.

We passed an interesting structure on the cliffs along the trail.

The low areas had prairie grass which was verdant green.  The bedding of the strata is clearly visible in the photo above.

The grassy areas provided nice color contrast to the tan colors of the hills. Any low area that had persistent water also had some form of larger brush or trees.

Some of the hills were banded by the various strata that comprise the badlands.

The road near the visitor center passed some small peaks.

The formations here are quite similar to those found at Calico, CA or in the Anza-Borrego State Park in eastern San Diego county.  It might even be the same strata, I did not check.

Some small spires were visible from one of the pull-outs on the road.

When the prairie surface is eroded, it exposes the barren strata below.

It still blows me away that he underlying strata is so unfriendly to vegetation of any type.

A parting shot of the badlands showing the interface of the prairie grass with the eroded badlands.

The real story here is not the cheesy stucco prairie dog statue but rather the 2 folks to the left who are in awe of the 1017 as we rolled past.

We got bombarded with signs for Wall Drug in Wall, SD for 20 miles.  They go to extremes to bring folks to their store because, to put it bluntly, there isn't jack in Wall, SD save this 80' stucco dinosaur.

On our entry into Rapid City, SD we did a fuel stop and then went to the local Cabela's store for a few items.  We spent the night in Rapid City at an RV park where we did chores like showers and laundry.  Next morning, we took in a tourist attraction called Reptile Gardens where tourist exploitation was raised to a high art, second only to the Disney franchise.  I decided to not take my camera inside which was an OK decision.  The facility was worth the $15 per head they charged, but nowhere near the world-class San Diego zoo.  I guess I am a zoo bigot now.  After the lizards, et al, we headed west past Mt. Rushmore.  On the west side, we got the "profile view" of Mr. Washington.  Look closely at his right nostril and you will note a mistake.  The drillers failed to follow the plan resulting in a divot that was not in the original design. A close inspection of the photo (not available in this reduced resolution version) will reveal the original drill holes. Also note the pucks on the top of his head as well as some kind of radio antenna or lightning rod just to the left of the carved area.

The profile view at a wider angle that shows the position of the surrounding cliffs.

From Rushmore, we went to the Crazy Horse monument which is still work in progress.  Construction started in 1949 or so and is expected to be completed in 2045 depending on funding and manloading.  This is not a government effort, it is private and funded by access fees ($10 per head).  When (if) it is completed, it will dwarf Rushmore.  The amount of material that must be removed is astounding.  The white marks on the cliff are a partial outline of Crazy Horse's steed, his ear in particular.  It is currently impressive, but in another 30 years it will be astounding.

From Crazy Horse, we headed south into Custer, SD (again) and did a supply stop.  A thunderstorm came through and it rained hard.  I have never seen rain of that intensity before.  We were trapped in the grocery store during the downpour.  But, after 15 minutes, the storm front passed leaving a nice rainbow in it's wake.

Badlands was probably worth the trip, if only for the scope of the formations and the contrast of the green grass and the tan hills.  Southern California's deserts are equally impressive for mud structures (Calico, Ladder Canyon, Borrego, Mojave Desert) but those structures are common in the desert, but not common in the prairie.  I somewhat question the National Park status as the "wow" factor is nothing like Bryce Canyon or Canyonlands or any of the other western parks that have erosion-crafted structures.  But, my opinion does not matter as the park status has been granted and is, as  far as I am aware, is awarded unto perpetuity.

Tomorrow, we will go into Jewell Cave and see what is there.  From Jewell, we will head north to Deadwood, SD for a meeting with a fellow mogger and another healthy dose of tourist traps.

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