Friday, June 28, 2013

Heading South

After some time in North Dakota, we headed on to our next destination. If you spend any time at all driving this part of the country, billboards for Wall Drug in Wall, SC will be permanently burned into your retinas and you will find yourself compelled to go see the free ice water tourist trap in person. Hey, if you're a newlywed you get free donuts and coffee too! We aren't, so we bought ice cream. The best (unrelated) billboard I saw on the trip was not captured in pictures... unfortunately. It was old and faded and said simply:

Love Animals? 
Hunting and Trapping Keep 
Animal Populations in Check

Coming from the sustainability and living-things-rights capital of the US (at least that's how I perceive Oregon to be) this was a really humorous ad. It kept me laughing for way longer than it was meant to.

We went slightly out of our way to travel on the Enchanted Highway on our way out of North Dakota and I have to say it was pretty awesome; a bunch of random metalwork in the middle of farmland.

It was nice to get out of the car now and again too. We missed a couple of the sculptures but the ones we saw were entertaining enough! I think my favorite is the fish scene. I should have had Jim stand in the pictures because it's almost impossible to realize how large they really are.

We kept going until we reached the Badlands. Jim's Grandpa had said "it's all baaad land around there" so I'd prepared myself for something desolate and miserable, then realized that as a National Park there were bound to be redeeming qualities.

It was a hot day when we got there, and neither of us could walk. For me, a side effect of wearing inappropriate footwear at Devil's Tower, and for Jim, still a result of running a half marathon that lost nearly 1800 feet of elevation only days before. We were a pretty pathetic site as we stopped at the first overlook and were both parched and unable to maneuver down the steps.

We didn't find it as charming as Theodore Roosevelt, but it's pretty in it's own right. I had heard it compared to Bryce Canyon, just without the colors, and I respectfully disagree.

We saw more wildlife in this park than any other on our journey. These mountain goats were not afraid of people at all and actually crossed the road straight toward me as I was standing there taking pictures. Fortunately I do not suffer from Disney-syndrome where wildlife is concerned and I got out of the way without determining exactly how badly I'd have to annoy them in order for them to charge at me full speed.

We had discussed and lamented the loss of herd animals, or at least the apparent loss of herds of herd animals. Counting antelope really made us think of it because we so frequently saw them isolated or in groups of two or three. Being in Badlands we saw large herds of animals much more like what we expected. It's a shame that it's only that way because Bison (among other species) were protected and reintroduced to the park and that the herds don't thrive the same way in unprotected lands.

We also saw a pair of wild turkeys but didn't get a picture. Lest you doubt it by the lack of photographic evidence, prairie dogs were all over the place here too. I'm pretty sure I stared all agog at those cute little buggers for much of the drive through the park.

Ok, this is where is gets good. I really didn't see what all the fuss was about and why this was a National Park. I mean, the park is completely unrestricted and hiking is permitted literally anywhere you want. The lack of rules here was really surprising and in part made it feel less special or delicate. The colors were really pretty, however.

What I love most is that technically this isn't rock, it's a paleosol - or fossilized soil (I told you it got good!). Now, I made my geology students memorize soil profiles and paleosols are one of the things they were expected to know, but I had not to my knowledge ever seen one outside of a textbook. I don't think I would have recognized it without the informational signs pointing out what I was looking at. The colors are the result of different elements added to the soil as vegetation decomposed. Pretty interesting stuff.

I look at this picture and am surprised, because in my mind I don't remember it being this green. We did take a short hike since we try to do something at every park and not just snap a photo and call it good.

I had to document the campsite because it is the saddest campsite we've had in a National Park. No fire rings (grasslands are flammable), no space between neighbors (like a new housing development), and absolutely zero privacy; but they did have pay showers available and we were insanely grateful for the shaded picnic table that we never actually used.

The ranger program was entertaining in that this ranger had a sarcastic almost apathetic tone to nearly everything she said, which just made it all really funny. The sky was cloudy so despite being about as far from light pollution as humans can possibly go in this country, we did not have the opportunity to see the stars. Perhaps one day the stars will align and we'll get to participate in the Park Service "Half the Park is After Dark" astronomy programs as we keep hoping.

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