Tag Archives: Badlands National Park

Leaving the Badlands and Entering Wind Cave National Park

It looked like we had just stepped into a Western movie. All those vast, rugged spaces around us.

Our view from the Badlands Inn, right outside the National Park
Our view from the Badlands Inn, right outside the National Park

To us Northern Illinois flatlanders, there was not a bad view anywhere. I’ve been going through my pictures, trying to decide which ones to show you, and there’s just too many! Even Ed was taking pictures with his phone, and he is usually not a picture taker.

Lily and Emmy are somewhere in this picture, exploring. Can you spot them?
Lily and Emmy are somewhere in this picture, exploring. Can you spot them?

The next stop on our road trip was Wind Cave National Park, also in South Dakota. Instead of going back up to the highway, we decided we wanted to see as much of the Badlands as we could, and that meant traveling for several miles along a gravel road. We didn’t get very far before we stumbled upon our first bison herd. Or perhaps the bison stumbled upon us? They wanted to cross the road, so we let them have the right of way.

Badlands bison 1

Badlands bison 2

After we saw the bison, the badlands had given way to rolling prairie. We were driving through Buffalo Gap National Grassland and Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. There was no place to stop, and when we did get to a small town, it looked more like a ghost town than a place to stop. Most of the buildings were falling apart and disintegrating out in the middle of nowhere. By the time we reached the White River Visitor Center, we had been driving for quite a while on the gravel road. I accidentally overheard one of the park rangers complaining (while Ed was in the bathroom) that all the tourists wanted to do when they came to the visitor center was use the bathroom. I think he was probably right. We did talk with the ranger about Wind Cave until the phone rang and he excused himself to answer it. I hope we appeased him a little bit. We didn’t stop there just to use the bathroom!

(Okay, we totally did.)

Badlands gravel road

Wind Cave is perhaps one of the most overlooked national parks. It is really close to Mount Rushmore, which everyone has heard about and is extremely popular, and yet Wind Cave doesn’t even come close to getting the same amount of visitors. In fact, we weren’t planning on even going to Wind Cave until Ed saw it on the map and decided we had to stop there. It was definitely worth the visit!

Wind Cave National Park

Wind Cave has one natural entrance, and yet it is a large and intricate cave. There have been estimates that only about 5% of the cave has actually been discovered and explored. One ranger described the cave tunnels as though a bowl of spaghetti had been dumped over under the ground. That’s exactly how the map of the cave looks.

The cave has most of the world’s boxwork formations…yes, that’s right, I wrote world’s. This is not your typical cave!

Wind Cave's boxwork formation
Wind Cave’s boxwork formation

The tour we took was amazing, but as you can imagine, my pictures did not turn out very well. It’s dark down in the cave! During one point of the tour, the ranger turns off all of the lights. All of them. It is really, really dark! I even started to get dizzy, and literally couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. Fortunately, the lights came back on again!

Wind Cave tour

Next time you visit South Dakota, I highly recommend a cave tour!

After our tour, we were off to our next stop. Not a national park, but instead a national memorial. Mount Rushmore!

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The Great American Road Trip: Badlands National Park

At the beginning of summer, a vacation planned for August seems like it will never arrive. When planning an August vacation in November, it seems even further away! And then, in the blink of an eye, those much planned for and anticipated two weeks fly by and are gone. We’ve been home for almost two weeks and have been sucked back into real life too quickly. I’ve been staring at the pictures I took, wishing that we were still gone, in the wild West, hiking the trails.

On the other hand, it is nice to sleep in one’s own bed at night!

Badlands sign

Over the course of two weeks, our family of four visited 5 national parks and 2 national monuments. Our first national park was Badlands National Park in South Dakota. It must have been very disheartening to stumble across the Badlands as a pioneer; to be traveling across the great, wide, green prairie, and then to all of a sudden see vast distances of rock valleys and chasms. Early pioneers, immigrants and farmers came out West hopeful of building a new life on the land and barely survived.

prairie meets badlands

We have it easy; now there are modern roads and we own a sturdy minivan to drive on them, along with a cooler full of food and water for picnics on the roadside.

I thought I knew what to expect in the Badlands; heat, rocks, trails, and heat. And yes, we did get all of those things. It was August in South Dakota, so it was about 90 degrees. And there were lots of rocks and trails to climb around on.

Badlands hiking 1

But what I didn’t expect was the amount of beauty in those rocks. The Yellow Mounds were my favorite, but I just loved all the colored lines in the rock; the jagged edges contrasting with the rounded mounds, and the way the flat prairie met all this ruggedness.

Yellow Mounds
Yellow Mounds

I also didn’t expect to see such a variety of wildlife. Bighorn Sheep, bison, and our favorites, prairie dogs!

Once you see a prairie dog town, they are easy to spot. First you see little mounds in the short grass, and then you hear the prairie dogs chirping to each other. The closer you look, the more prairie dogs you’ll see scampering around, running from hole to hole. They are noisy little things! And very curious, too! Some came up right the edge of the road, thinking they were going to get fed by us tourists. We disappointed them, however. As my junior rangers would tell me, no feeding wild animals!

Prairie dogs kissing
Prairie Dogs

 

Bighorn Sheep, ewes and lambs
Bighorn Sheep, ewes and lambs
Bighorn ram
Bighorn ram

We only spent one night there, and while we explored and saw a lot, we could have spent even more time in the Badlands. But we had other places to see on our Great American Road Trip….

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