My first official stop on my 2017 summer road-trip was the Badlands National Park in South Dakota. I left my place in South Florida on a Friday afternoon and headed to the turnpike. I had a few days of driving ahead of me till I would arrive at my first real destination of the trip. My initial plans were to sleep in my car the first two nights on the road to save money on hotels, but that quickly became a non option after the first night I tried. The car wasn't really big enough to lay down comfortably in the back seat, even with the rear seats folded down. I did a practice run at the house before getting on the road to see if it was at all feasible to spend two nights sleeping in my car, and it didn't seem too uncomfortable, but other factors were at play once I was stopped at my first rest area.
The heat alone was unbearable. Maybe in winter months this wouldn't have been an issue. I had a small battery powered Ryobi fan on full blast about a foot from me, and it helped a little, but the fan noise then kept me up, and the battery only lasts about 1.5 to 2 hours in full speed mode. The massive flood lights in the parking lot still bled through a shirt over my eyes, the noise of constant trucks and cars never ended. It was shocking that I was even able to get an hour or so of sleep.
I was back on the road at 5am since I figured it was pointless to try sleeping any more. The sun was about to rise, raising the temperature of the car, and more cars were coming in as the day was starting.
This second day of driving was rough. I was so tired, I tried to stop again for a rest around noon and was unable to sleep with the heat, so kept on going. I drove till about 3:30pm and figured it was now 30 minutes past check-in time for most any hotels and stopped. My goal of saving some money for the first few nights went out the window early on this trip!
I got a good night sleep and was back on the road. Once I made it west of Kansas City Missouri, the traffic thinned out to almost no one and it was smooth sailing from here. I Arrived in the Badlands Area a little late, around 7pm. I decided to grab a hotel, again, in the small town of Wall, north of the park. I usually try to stay at a hotel that is in the group I have a membership with, and luckily there was an Econo Lodge with rooms available in the town of Wall.
Once I was checked in, I jumped in my car and headed towards the park. Its a nice drive into the park from the north entrance. I bought an annual pass for the year since this was my first stop on a road-trip that is going to have at least 3 more stops at national parks, so it will save money on entrance fees over the course of the trip. I drove to the rim road that is a right turn shortly after you enter the park from the north. There is a lot to see around here and I pulled over fairly soon after getting onto the dirt road. The sun was getting low and there was a storm off into the distance, which was a perfect combination to get a good picture. I was hoping to capture some lightning but the strikes were few and far between and its a bit difficult to get daytime lightning shots like that.
Once the sun was down, I headed back to my hotel in Wall. It wasn't spectacular but options are sparse here and its better than the back seat of the car.!
When I entered the park today, I decided I would try to get a spot in the east side campground called the Cedar Pass Campground. After a long and scenic drive through the park, I arrived to a completely full campground. The ranger said to try out the primitive campground called the Sage Creek Campground since just yesterday it was not all that full. I had to drive back on the 240 to where I started near the north entrance and go back on the rim road for what seemed to be a fairly long drive. It’s not real far, but the road speed is pretty slow so it will take a good 20 minutes to get out to the campground.
When I did get to the sage creek campground, it was only maybe a quarter full around noon on a Monday in the summer. The campground is nice, but not much here. It is basically a large loop around a center mass of land which is where most of the tents get setup. There are a few semi covered picnic tables throughout the grounds and a few pit toilets. After setting up my tent, I did a quick 2.25 mile hike around the campground. One thing to note is there are rattlesnakes in the area, so if you do hike around here, keep an eye out for them. I did not see any personally but a family camping next to me said they did run into some on a hike on the other side of the campground.
There wasn't a whole lot to see on the hike, so I went back to my car and drove into the town of Wall. You can bypass some of the slower rim road by taking a left on the sage creek road that will take you north to 237th street and go right continuing on sage creek road. This will get you back to the 240 and you can go left towards Wall. Back at Wall, I went to the Infamous Drug store, which is the main attraction here. It is basically a whole bunch of store nestled together, think of a semi indoors strip mall with a western theme. I went to the ice cream shop and had 2 scoops. They were huge, and very good! Perfect after a short but hot hike with temps over 100 degrees.
I left the drugstore and went back into the park and drove the main road once again. At one point there was a family of mountain goats, so I stopped and got a number of good pics. Some cool storm clouds were off in the distance too, and made for some great photo ops.
Back at camp, the night sky was very impressive. It is nice and dark out here. I brought a small telescope with me on this trip, a Celestron Maksutov C90 backpack scope. The moon was bright tonight and was overpowering some of the darker sky objects, but still had some nice views and fun doing it.
The first night in camp was entertaining to say the least. There was a large pack of coyotes that seemed to keep running around the camp in the hills howling into the night air. At times it almost seemed fake, like a scene from a movie or something, they were so loud, but I thought it was cool and was loving it, some of the younger kids around the camp didn't seem so happy.
When I woke up the next morning, there were no buffalo walking through the camp. There are a number of reviews out there that say you will have a good chance of waking up to a buffalo standing outside of your tent, but I was not lucky enough to see this today. It had gotten pretty cold in the dark of the night, cold enough to crawl into my sleeping bag, but was the opposite when I woke up. It was hot in the tent, but too early for me to start my day, so on went the Ryobi fan on normal speed to help cool down the tent. One good thing about camping in warmer weather is it will help get you out of your tent earlier in the day. I would have a tendency to sleep in if it wasn't so hot in there!
I decided to go check out the Ben Reifel visitor center today on the far east side of the Badlands. I took the long way out of camp, heading west on sage creek road out of the camp down to HWY 44 and eventually to 377 to get back into the park. It was a fun drive to see new areas, and would say give it a try, it gets boring taking the rim road every time to go back into the main part of the badlands.
The visitors center was cool. Had some food, and souvenirs and some informative displays. There is a cool fossil room off to the one side. A hidden gem here is the Wifi! It is pretty fast back near the fossil room and free, so if your cell isn't getting service, like my sprint phone that was dead the entire time I was here, turn on your wifi calling or use it to send some emails to contact anyone you need to. It's free and you can even pick it up just barely from your car if you are parked close to the back area.
After the visitors center, I did the Notch hike, Door trail, and Fossil trail. Only the first one was a "hike". There was a log ladder on the Notch hike that was pretty fun to scramble up and down on. The door trail takes you out to a little observation type deck but you can walk down onto real terrain and hike for a little bit.
I then went to a point of interest outside of the park called the Minuteman Missile National Historic site. This was a very interesting place to visit. A lot of information is contained within the walls of this building, some of it being pretty scary when you read how many nuclear bombs were in existence at the same time around the world. I would check it out if you get a chance or want a break from the heat outside. The museum is free and has exceptionally clean bathrooms. If you are heading back to a campground with nothing but a pit toilet, use the clean facilities while you can! The road the museum is on, CottonWood Road, goes for miles to the north. I drove it for a while just to see where it goes and it goes on and on. Not sure how far, but got a few nice pics.
I decided to leave the badlands area the following day. I had a great time here and would like to come back in the future. There are many beautiful sights to see off the sides of the main road that takes you through the Badlands. Hikes in the park weren't the most impressive though. My honest opinion is I’d rather hike at a number of other places I have visited. I was here in early July and the average temps were into the triple digits. Most of the hikes have little to no trees, and there are no snow capped peaks off in the distance or water features to enjoy, all things that I love to see on a hike. I think this is a park everyone should experience, but you probably aren't going to spend as much time here as a lot of other national parks. There is a unique beauty you will find here that is unlike any other National Park in America, but you should not need an extensive amount of time here to get a good sense of what this place has to offer.Thanks for Reading
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