Day 11 – Badlands National, South Dakota

On Thursday, Penny and I took a quick walk around the park before making breakfast and breaking down camp.  It seemed like none of the other campers had started their days yet, or at least not outside their RV’s.  I didn’t see a single other person the rest of the time we were there.  Pretty quickly we collapsed the camper and hit the road towards Sioux Falls, home of Damble, my awesome former coworker who was nice enough to lend me his drone for the trip.  I followed his suggestion and stopped into town just long enough to check out the falls before continuing on.  I’ve always enjoyed long exposure photography, but am only really accustomed to shooting it in dark environments.  This would be an opportunity for me to try out my new ND filters.  Just as some of the pages I read suggested, the ND filters did dampen the light enough for me to get a long exposure during full sunlight without it being overexposed, however it also cast a purple tint on the image.  I’ll have to work on color correcting the images later.

I needed to get some more food for Penny, so we made a quick stop at Petco.  In addition to more food, she also took it upon herself to pick up a toy lamb from the shelf.  She was just too happy to have it, I couldn’t say no.  Unlike every other plush toy she’s ever had, she didn’t immediately try to rip it apart.  Instead, she just happily carried it in her mouth to the car, as if to protect her buddy.  Maybe it was because she had the lamb during her frightening encounter with a rogue balloon laying on the floor of the store.

With a full bag of dog food and a new companion for Penny it was time to roll out to our next stop, Badlands National Park in South Dakota.  After looking at the map a bit more I decided to change my plans, and rather than circling back to SW South Dakota on my way back to Denver, I’d cut West across SD before turning north, through Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and then continue on to Glacier National Park in Montana.  This would save me some time, get me to some cool parks sooner rather than later, and break up the drive a bit more.  It was a long, mostly boring drive from Sioux Falls to Badlands, but the time spent was well worth it.  The most interesting thing on the drive out there was the seemingly infinite number of signs for Wall-drug.  Wall, SD, being the town just outside the National Park.  For anyone who has done the drive down I-95 you’ll be familiar with the “South of the Border” billboards littering the side of the highway.  It’s like that, except there aren’t a bunch of other billboards in the mix, and they seem to start even farther away.  Reading the signs it seemed like there wasn’t anything this place didn’t sell.  Gas? Snacks? Camping Gear? Sure, they’ve got all that.  In the market for some lightly used dental equipment?  Hell they can probably help ya with that too!

Despite the very persuasive advertising campaign on the way in, Penny opted to forego a stop at Wall-drug, and instead make our way into

the National Park.  From what I’ve seen on the National Park Service’s website, it seems this site often fills up pretty early, and there are no defined spaces, creating a bit of a free for all.

We made our way into the Sage Creek Campground and set up the camper in some pretty serious heat.  Fortunately, there were still quite a bit of free spaces available, so I had lots of choices to set up.  Unfortunately, the few shade structures that did exist were already claimed.  Despite this, I was pretty relieved to find a spot, given the website’s warnings of overcrowding.  Once the camper was set up, I disconnected it from the car to go do some exploring.  I had about a half tank of gas left, so I figured we’d kill 2 birds with 1 stone.  I’d drive the length of the park until I came out the other end, get gas, then slowly drive back up to the camp site.

The drive through the park was beautiful.  Just off the road were steep cliffs that looked like a drippy castle you’d make at the beach as a kid.  A drippy castle with a high water to sand ration, making for smooth rounded corners.  You know what I’m talking about.  The cliffs looked to have layers of different shades one on top of the other.  At the bottom of the cliffs were large meadows which looked almost out of place.

Penny and I made several stops along the way to admire the view.  The road weaved back and forth, leaving a grassy area for wildlife to graze.  In one of these areas I saw a bighorn ewe and her lamb.  As I kept driving I noticed another pair climbing along the steep, rounded corners of the cliffs.

I got my passport cancellation stamp at the south entrance visitor center and noticed it looked like a storm was rolling in.  I had left the windows of the camper down so that it would be cooler when I got back.  I hadn’t accounted for the potential for rain.  I decided it was best to take the highway back after getting some gas.  As I went to get on the highway I realized I was passing Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.  I thought it would be cool to see one of these old missile silos, but sadly they were already closed for the day.

When I got back to the campsiteit had gotten quite a bit more full.  My camper was parked next to one of the few picnic tables that was open when I arrived, and that table was very close to one of the only other open picnic tables.  A couple had set up camp around the picnic table.  Sometimes on this trip after spending a while in the car Penny is apprehensive of strangers that approach her quickly.  That was the case with the new neighbors and she was shy and dodging away at first.  It didn’t take long for her to warm up to them and pull her signature move, rolling on to her back for belly rubs.  My new neighbors, James & Tricia, had just left Glacier NP and were headed back to Missouri.

As I chatted with my new neighbors,  the winds picked up pretty significantly for a while.  Tricia told me she saw a few tents go flying into the meadow next to the campsite during one of the first few gusts.  Trailing behind it were its rain fly, and behind that its owners trying to catch it as it bounced across the field like a tumbleweed.  I’ve seen this happen far too many times at music festivals.  ALWAYS steak your tent down.

As the winds got stronger it looked like the skies were going to open up and downpour at any moment.  It was still relatively early and the storm was expected to be around for a few hours.  Everyone was hurriedly grabbing everything from their car they thought they might want for the evening so they didn’t have to get wet.  Many people were eating before they’d like to simply because they didn’t want to stand in the rain to cook.

As most people settled into their tent, a mom and her 4 kids ranging from probably 6 to 15 poured out of a car and scrambled to set up their 2 tents before the rain set in.  They were far from quite and it was quite evident these were new tents they had never used or even taken out of the packaging before.  Normally I’d be happy to help, but there was something about their loud, passive aggressive comments about needing help that completely turned me off to wanting to stand in the rain and help them set up their camp.  The mom kept huffing and puffing, almost as if to say “how dare you other campers force me to set up my own tent!”  I wasn’t having it.

This was one of the times I was most thankful for having the camper.  As everyone else was in a race against time, I was casually sitting at the table inside my camper reading my book.  When the rain finally came, I was making sweet and sour chicken inside the camper and enjoying the incredible sunset.  We only ever got a light drizzle, but the sky was lit up bright orange like it was on fire as thunder rumbled in the distance.  Eventually a full rainbow showed up with both ends clearly visible, and shortly after that a second rainbow appeared above it.  While my food continued to cook I bounced in and out of the camper, grabbing as many photos as I could and occasionally stopping and just thinking “holy crap, this sunset is INSANE!”.  Most people were completely missing it because they were hidden away in their tents, thinking it was raining more than it was.Badlands Sunset

Now, this was definitely one of the prettiest sunsets I’ve ever seen, but there was just one thing that was preventing it from being absolutely perfect, and it wasn’t the rain.  Constantly, throughout the entire I kept hearing this noise.  It sounded like a bird whistling as if a predator was nearby, similar to those jerk crows that moved into my back yard and freaked out any time me or the dog went outside the house.

Slowly the sun dipped below the wavey horizon and the campsite fell dark.  By this point I had cleaned up from dinner and was beyond ready for bed.  Penny and I settled in for the night, wishing I had remembered my ears plugs to drown out that stupid bird.

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