National Park Series – Pt 1
The Badlands are calling and I must go. — Angie Nasrallah
Smack dab in the middle of the Corona Crisis, we woke up one winter morning and decided that the Badlands were calling. Actually, the wilderness was calling. We wanted to get off the routine, the traffic, the schedule, the mask-driven fear world and see something amazing, exotic and wild. Our family was at a cross-roads with a kid starting and a kid graduating from high school. This was the perfect summer to take on a trip like this before everyone exited the nest. A few weeks later, my husband and I sat down and sketched out a 5-week trip from Marietta, GA to Wyoming that would take in as many National Parks and Recreation Areas as we could manage. Our first task: buy a camper. Camper inventory was already low, but we managed to find a 24 ft. light weight travel trailer that could accommodate 5 people and their junk fairly comfortably. Next, my husband pieced together a series of visits to these parks: The Arch in St. Louis, The Badlands, Mt. Rushmore, Big Horn National Recreation Area, The Beartooth Wilderness Area and The Grand Tetons. This was to be an epic road trip!!
We departed Georgia on July 12, 2021. The first real stop was St. Louis, where we spent half a day seeing the Arch and the awesome Mississippi River. More about that later.
After St. Louis, we made our way to The Badlands by way of Omaha, Nebraska. We stopped in Omaha for a sleep break and a steak at Warren Buffet’s famous haunt, Gorat’s Steak House. The next morning, we made our pain-steaking (no pun there) way through Nebraska and South Dakota to Interior, South Dakota, literally the hottest place on earth in July. I make this statement on good authority as our camper a/c went out not one day into our visit there. They don’t call it The Badlands for nothing. Don’t let the heat keep you away. The Badlands are stunning and I wouldn’t trade our visit there for anything, even though we sweated buckets. The Badlands are a mix of grasslands and dry, rugged buttes formed millions of years ago by deposition and erosion. The buttes and peaks formed when the rocks and earth built up through natural processes. After the deposition process was complete, the striking formations began to erode over many years creating the Mars-like landscape one sees today in this region. The dry, rugged peaks and buttes combined with harsh temperatures, means this area is remote and located a million miles from any large civilization. Amazingly, we did see a few ranches out there and we camped in a tiny town called Interior, SD. Interior is well named as it is literally surrounded by the Badlands.
So, back to our trip… From Omaha, my blessed husband drove for hours, pulling the a/c-less camper, through storms, past innumerable corn fields and cozy cow pastures. The landscape got more and more sparse and prairie-like as we approached Interior. Finally, at about 9:15 in the evening, we turned off the interstate onto a little road with a sign indicating The Badlands National Park… this way. As we drove up to the park entrance, we came to an observation point and pulled our big rig over. Everyone ran out of the Suburban to see the most spectacular golden sunset contrasted against an other worldly landscape of jagged peaks and rocks!! July 17… Five days into our epic road trip, we had arrived!
The first photos at the top of this post are from our first morning’s hike along Medicine Root Loop. To beat the heat, we had to begin our hike as early as we could possibly manage. With a camper of teens and a 20 something, what we managed was 9 am. The air was cool and thin and smelled of grass and dust. Each hiker packed a 2L hydration pack. I wouldn’t suggest hiking The Badlands trails without 2L or more in water. So glad we did as the heat cranked up about 30 minutes into our walk and was unrelenting, with a predicted high in the upper 90’s. The prize for all the travel and preparation was a magnificent hike through the most rugged terrain in the United States. The boys climbed a few buttes and we stopped to admire those rare plants that seem to thrive in these harsh conditions. The trail traversed dry gulches and patches of cactus along with a climb up a craggy peak where a man was yelling out into the wilderness a line from Dances with Wolves.
After the 5 mile loop, we went back to the camper for a dip in the campground pool and a beer. Later, we visited Interior, seeking shade and a/c. The quirky boot store above had a/c and we lingered there for quite awhile.
We spent two days in The Badlands and saw prairie dogs, grasslands, four trails, some big horned sheep, Wall Drug in Wall, SD and the park visitor center. I think 2 full days is the perfect amount of time to see the park.
When you go, plan ahead with a way to pack water, snacks, a hat and sunscreen. We used the AllTrails app to help us navigate trail locations and distances.
Our visit to The Badlands was the stuff of dreams and I highly recommend that everyone visit there at least once in your life time. The views literally took my breath away and the family experiences we had there will be discussed for many years to come.