So we had traveled on Day 2 from Chicago to the Badlands, and we arrived under a huge bank of dark, scary clouds. What followed from there was a memorable first experience of summer on the prairie. It stormed that night. Hard. Wind gusts of 60 mph (100 km/h) combined with a driving rain to make us wonder whether our little camper could withstand the assault.
It did, but the campers around us in tents were not so lucky. When we woke in the morning, we found that our area of the campground had been flooded out with 6+ inches (15+ cm) of rainwater:
We were staying in the Cedar Pass Campground, on the eastern side of the Badlands National Park. We stayed on a tent loop, and barriers along the road kept us from setting up in the grass. That was just as well, since the grassy area was obviously very vulnerable to flooding.
There are very few trees on the Badlands prairie, at least in this area, so the campground is a strange sight. It’s completely open and mostly flat, with one loop sitting on the flat top of a small rise, and the other loop extending down the rise to lower ground. The picnic tables on the campground each have their own sun shelters over them, a detail which actually turned out to be crucial to our daughters’ safety later that day.
One other important detail – this was the view from the campground:
Not bad, eh? After going to the Grand Canyon earlier this year, visiting the Badlands felt like we were getting to traipse around inside the Canyon, without all the perilous hiking. The kids weren’t with us on that trip, though, so all of these wonders of nature were new to them. Anna offered up her usual reaction, or at least her usual reaction to me and my camera:
It’s also worth noting that Anna concluded before we left Philly that the Badlands must be “where bad people hang out”, so I think it’s fair to say that she was a little nervous about the place when we first arrived.
Chelsea had made excellent preparations for the trip, so we had rain gear at the ready, and we were determined to hike as if we were mailmen: neither rain, nor snow, nor gloom of night would stop us. We drove a couple miles back down the entrance road to Medicine Root Trail, which would take us through open prairie and into some of the rock formations.
We hiked into the prairie about a mile or so on this trail, and came to a point where a small creek had flooded a valley to the point that we simply could not find a way across. It was on our way back to the trailhead that we had our first… exciting encounter with nature.
Nick was out ahead of us, as usual, when he came bounding back up the trail, with Anna in tow. “A rattlesnake rattled at me!” he said. Where? “Um, up there a little bit,” he said with a vague gesture ahead.
We then made the slowest, widest circle around the snake that you can possibly imagine. It’s hard to see in the pictures, but our travels off the trail were slowed down by the considerable amount of small cacti that are scattered across the prairie. (I did not ever imagine we would see cacti this far north, or so many of them.) I never saw the snake myself, and I didn’t need to.
Back at the trailhead, we fixed some lunch for ourselves. After all that excitement, we also needed to have a little siesta:
Tomorrow: Hiking the Notch, and the wonders of Wall Drug.