I have a few options for driving to Badlands National Park. I still have plenty of daylight, so I chose the most scenic route, even though it is by far, the longest.
I do make one clear decision and don't take the left turn to Mount Rushmore National Park. Why? A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with a friend that gave me a new perspective about visiting Mount Rushmore National Park. I love it when someone broadens my horizon and gives me the opportunity to view life from a different angle.
Any time I hike and come upon graffiti on rocks or carvings on trees, I get upset. I'd love for nature to be left alone! Why would I go to Mount Rushmore National Park to see how a mountain was chiseled? I know it would upset me. There are so many other ways I can honor our heroes. But that is my simple little opinion.
Who knew, South Dakota was so beautiful?
As I get closer to Badlands NP, the rolling hills come to a sharp stop with the stunning rock formations. I wondered why that name? Why was such a negative notion used for this beautiful place? As I drive, I make my own understanding from the color contrast of the healthy green grass growing underneath the cream flat color of the rocks.
The park's heart is still miles away from me when I decided to find my spot for the night. When I stopped at the White River Visitor Center, I asked for their recommendations for boondocking. I have two options: Baja ORV Staging area, which is quieter than Badlands Boondock Camp spot (also known as the "Wall"). I am passing the Baja area first, so I decided to check it out. It's totally quiet! It is a vast open area with nothing except for dry land. I only see one RV camping far in the distance (later at night, two more arrived).
I know that if I had come here six months ago, I would have continued to the more crowded area, and would not be comfortable being here all alone. But here I am, calm and happy to have the place to myself. Another change I can recognize is my excitement for the howling of the coyotes. Back in February, when boondocking outside Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, I was terrified hearing them so close to me. Now, snuggling in my cocoon, I hope they will come in my direction so I can enjoy their songs.
It is six in the morning, and the very early morning light gives a hint far in the distance. Why do I say far in the distance? Because where I am, the sound of thunder can be heard in the silence of the air. I learned to respect the atmosphere around me. I park on dry land, nowhere near the main road—it is time to leave.
Oh wow! What's a pleasant surprise! I stopped at Ben Reifel Visitor Center to get breakfast going and have breakfast with a view! From here, I will travel on the Badlands Loop Road.
Most hikes start from a parking lot, just about a ten-minute drive from the visitor center. Most hikes are short and easy. My first hike is to the Notch Trail, and yes, I do know ahead of time there is a ladder involved. I am curious to see how I do with it and where my level of fear of heights is. My big smile is genuinely accurate to my feelings. I am conquering my fear of heights slowly but surely.
I love it here! The landscape is stunning, endless emptiness. Even though it feels the same way, any angle you look at it is still breathtaking. The Door and the Window trails also start from the same parking lot.
I am grateful for the morning clouds and their shade, but by nine, they are gone. I drive to the trailhead of Medicine Root Loop, which is off a dirt road. After the crowd I left at the parking lot, I am glad to be the only one here. It is a four-mile loop. Right from the start, I am not fond of the sign warning me of a rattlesnake. I am hiking on a narrow path lined with grass. I am uncomfortable, but the still silence here is so raw that I know I will hear any snake before seeing it. It is so quiet that you can hear the gentle wind going through the leaves of the few trees I pass.
Few people are on the trail, with this blasting sun, no wonder. Two young guys are coming toward me. We stop to say hi, and I remark on the beauty of the silence here. The tall guy thinks it is too eerie for him, but when I share how it lets me hear any unwelcome rattlesnake, a big smile takes over his face, and he high-fives me. It turns out he is more afraid of rattlesnakes than the silence. It is all about perspective!
Four miles in the sun feels like ten in the shade. From here, I will drive the Badlands Loop Road and stop to enjoy the landscape from the viewpoint stops along the route.
It feels like a different plant here. I stop at Yellow Mounds Overlook. Amazing! That is gorgeous, and the colors here are stunning! What a remarkable blend of colors!
I know I better get going and find my spot for tonight. I arrived at the "wall" by five, which is already packed with RV's along the cliff. Thankfully, I am small and found a good spot to call home. It is incredible. I heard about how fantastic it is to camp here, and it sure is!
I am parked about eight feet from the edge of the cliff, with an enormous open wide view for me to enjoy my dinner.
My neighbors Tom and Carol from Kentucky came to say hello. Carol is seventy-five, and Tom is eighty; they are both full of life and delightful to talk to.
It's funny how I feel so alive when I'm standing right now on the edge of the cliff, brushing my teeth with my electric toothbrush buzzing in my ear as the sun sets behind me. I can't wait to sit and watch the stars tonight.
As the dark takes over, my movie tonight is "A Billion Stars Above Me."
It's not a dark sky area but dark enough to see the Milky Way clearly. I see three shooting stars to wish myself three beautiful wishes.