Second Day: Hiking the Badlands

This entry is part 2 of 10 in the series South Dakota Trip 2013


Today we planned to do some of the various hikes around this area of the Badlands. The park is massive, with some of it even being tribal land. One of the things I thought was really cool about the Badlands is that, while there are certain hikes set out, they let you go anywhere in the park. You can find a place to stop the car and just walk into the formations and explore on your own. So, we got up in the morning, showered, ate breakfast and got ready for a day out. Not before taking this picture though!20130606_071644
Those jagged looking hills in the distance are what we will be heading to. It was a beautiful sight in the morning, waking up and, in the slight haziness of the morning air, seeing the Badlands jutting out of the prairie. After we were ready, we headed out. The Badlands formations are hard to describe. They aren’t hills or mountains, they are sharp looking spires of rock rising into the sky. It is a soft sedimentary rock, which comes apart when it rains. In fact, it erodes at about an inch every single year. Compared to harder rocks, like in the Black Hills that we will be in later on, that is incredibly fast. It gives the formations a unique look though, that you just have to see in person or pictures to understand. We took the next couple of pictures on our way to our first hike.
The first hike we would be doing is called Saddle Pass. It is a short trail (only 0.25 miles) but you gain 216′ of elevation. It is a pretty steep trek, and my feet were sliding, but a lot of the trail looked kind of like a “u”. You could use your hands as well on the inside parts of the “u”, with your feet being on the bottom inside part. In this regard, your feet sliding wasn’t too big of a deal, as you could recover.There is so much to look at out here, especially if you aren’t used to this kind of environment. At the bottom of the trail (both before we started and after we came back) we spent awhile just looking at the various wildflowers. We seem to have timed our trip well, because where there was vegetation, it was lush and green. The prairie was not brown as I see in so many pictures, but fresh and green and alive. Also, prickly pear cactus! I was excited to see my second example of wild succulents, and of course get poked repeatedly. Who can resist testing the sharpness of cacti?When we did reach the top, we were treated to a fantastic view of the prairie and formations behind us, but also to a view of an extensive prairie stretching out in front of us. We had come up to a different part of the park, and apparently part of the road that we came in on was in front of us somewhere. You wouldn’t know it though, with the vast open space before you. You could truly experience solitude up there.DSCN0802
A picture of one of the aforementioned wildflowers.
This picture was at the beginning of the hike. Me and my grandfather got distracted looking at an interesting rock, and my grandmother snapped the picture.

We took this picture on our way up the trail, looking back towards where we came from.

An interesting cave we noticed on our way up and sidetracked to investigate.

We walked a short distance out into the prairie in front of us, on some of the dirt paths. You could wander out there for hours, but we had to get moving…we had a lot ahead of us!

Our next stop was the Prairie Homestead, near to the Badlands. This was a fascinating historic homestead. They have the original structures including an original sod house built in 1909. They even had an informative video on the homesteaders. The whole place helped to add a historical perspective to the area we are visiting, and gives your insight into the lives of the people who made their home here. There is also a prairie dog town on the grounds, with plenty of opportunity to see them ambling around. I also made note of beautiful barn swallows swooping about dramatically, rainbow-colored and iridescent.

Once we looked at everything there (and then some) we left to go hike some remaining trails in the Badlands.

There are three hikes that people always seem to refer to together: the Door, the Window and the Notch. They are right next to each other, in the same parking lot. They each have pretty different conditions though. We started with the Door, which was a self-guided hike out into the Badlands formations. This one was very different, and really served to highlight the ruggedness of the Badlands. So far, except for the first picture of the Badlands when we first arrived, we had generally been surrounded by the formations, towering above us into the sky. Now, we were level with the formations, and below us were deep canyons and gorges cutting dramatically across the landscape. We also spotted some local wildlife: a strange kind of rodent-creature. At first I actually thought it was a scorpion, seeing it from afar. It had a long tail that it curved above its body as it ran. We saw more of them later, but never did confirm exactly what it was. It was some kind of small rodent though.

The Window didn’t have a lot to it, it was a very short walk over to a viewing point. It was a good viewing point, there just isn’t a lot to talk about with it.

The Notch was more interesting. Now we were in a gorge. Every hike out here is truly different. The scenery on the Door was very open. If you looked down you saw deep canyons and looking around you could see the pinnacles of the Badlands, but they were awhile away. You had a free feeling, being able to see pretty far. Saddle Pass started off at the base of the formations and climbed up, revealing a vast prairie in front of you. The Notch felt tighter, and it felt more like you were exploring, since you could not easily see what was ahead of you. Bear in mind this was not some tiny gorge like a slot canyon or something, it was big, it just stands in contrast to some of the other hikes.

We also saw a couple more of the small, long-tailed rodents around on this hike.

Anyway, the Notch started by heading in to the gorge, and then you reached the end of it. But, at the end was a 50 foot ladder made of logs tied together and staked in. You climb the ladder up to a cliff that runs along the gorge and then hike backwards to a fantastic view. Below you at this point you could see a juniper forest, a rare bit of heavy vegetation in the Badlands. This was our next hike, as there was a path that takes you through it.

It is called the Cliff Shelf Trail. The trail was a round-trip boardwalk. We were trying to hurry a bit, as we wanted to get back and catch a Park Ranger program, but we still had a nice leisurely walk. We even stopped at the top to listen to a bird for awhile. It had a very complex song, and we were trying to spot it, but we couldn’t see it. This trail was a nice change of both pace and scenery.

After we finished hiking here, we went back to see a Ranger program. It was a nice PowerPoint presentation at an outdoors stage about Time in the Badlands. It had many good pictures of the Badlands, talking about some of the seasonal changes that happen and some of the various animal species. We even had a bat flying around, catching insects.

Today was a fun day. We got a lot of hikes in, and saw some truly fantastic views. We also saw some bighorn sheep today, which we had been hoping to be able to see on this trip.

Sorry I don’t have a lot of pictures from today, we were too caught up with the hikes to stop and take a lot of pictures! I will have more tomorrow though.

Series Navigation<< South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana; First Day: Driving from the Twin Cities to the BadlandsThird Day: Leaving the Badlands (Kind of) >>

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