We are now in the Mountain Time Zone, having crossed the line in central South Dakota, somewhere on I-90 north of Winner. I commented to My Lovely Bride that only happy people must live in Winner; unhappy or unsuccessful folks must be asked to relocate across the tracks… perhaps to Loser, SD? Or maybe they have to live on the South Dakota version of Stinking Creek Road… we actually saw a sign for that byway in Tennessee. I researched the derivation of the creek’s pungent name, and found that during the abnormally bitter and snowy winter of 1779-1780, it had been the site of a mass die-off of elk and deer, and when the snow melted, the carcasses rotted, and the carrion stench persisted for months. Today it is a lovely valley, but the name, if not the aroma, has persisted for over 200 years. (I was unable to find any historical info on Winner’s name.)
This is our first visit to western South Dakota. Our coach is now parked on a not-very-level site in Badlands National Park, but the dramatic view makes us forget the coach’s tilt. (Thankfully, it’s to the right.) To one side are the sculptured spires and buttes that give this park its name. Small shelters provide windbreaks for picnic tables, and it does get very windy here.
To the other side we see open, mixed grass prairie, containing 60 species of grass: tall varieties like big bluestem and prairie cordgrass, and short-grasses such as blue grama and buffalograss. (Being a Navy guy, I’m not up on grasses, but these prairies once supported millions of bison and elk, so I suppose they must be good chow for hoofed critters.)
We have been out on several hikes here in the Badlands, and it’s one of the few places where the rangers say, “You can use the trails, or you can hike cross country wherever you want. You can also climb anywhere you desire.”
The reason for this largesse is that there are almost no trees here, and it would be very hard to get lost, since you can see (or be seen) for miles and miles. The terrain provides generally easy to moderate hiking, but the prairie is pretty dry. By definition, it gets more rain than the Southwestern desert but much less than Eastern forests.
Since there are no streams or springs in the Badlands, you have to carry your own water. Our Osprey daypacks are fitted with 2 or 3 liter polyethylene reservoirs fitted with hoses and bite valves. The only down side to these clever pieces of gear is that you can’t fill them with Gatorade. Or beer. Bummer!
There also aren’t any park benches along the trail, but Suzanne found a nice chair-like formation on which to take a rest, but it was just for a few moments. Then she was off again at a strong pace, trying to wear me out…
Here is Your Tired Correspondent at the end of one hike. “Are we there yet? Is there a wine bar nearby?” “Ty, are you wine-ing again?”
Our trail meandered across the prairie, skirting deep ravines that approached canyon proportions. At times the terrain felt moon-like; I was glad that we were hiking in the Spring; August must be brutally hot here.
The Badlands had a snowy winter, and with all the residual water from snowmelt and recent rains, wildflowers are in riotous bloom. The trails are lined with flowers of almost every hue, making for a pleasantly colorful hike.
Near the end of our second hike, we found this small mini-mesa about five feet high and six feet in diameter. It was topped with cactus, and birds had dug a half-dozen small nests in the easily chiseled soil.
And yes, we did see some wildlife on our hike. I wish I had the sure-footedness and stamina of this bighorn sheep, which we found in a group of four walking down a gully. Suzanne was within 30 feet of him when she got this great photo. I commented to Suzanne that he could use some grooming advice… “Hey, what’s your problem, Ty? I look just fine; keep your comments to yourself, bud, or you’ll find out what these horns are for!”