The Badlands are a wilderness unlike any place I have ever seen before. There is something about how, just suddenly, the prairie stops and the the rocky surfaces of the Badlands begin that makes you feel completely transported. Like you are no longer in a place familiar and comfortable but in a terrain that feels otherworldly and as if you’ve woken up and found yourself on another planet.
When Austin and I moved from Lexington to Omaha, we made a list of new adventures to have. I had done some preliminary research and, when I found out that the Badlands were an eight hour drive from Omaha, I had crossed it off my list. However, when I mentioned it to Austin, his response was to tell me that eight hours most certainly is not too far and to start making plans because we were going to South Dakota. Also, because of the National Park Centennial, admission to the Badlands and Wind Cave were free. I needed no other urging.
Thankfully, we scored a sweet crossover instead of a sedan as our rental car so we packed our bags, made our reservation at the Cedar Pass Campground and prepared to make the drive Friday night after Austin got off work, spend two nights sleeping in the back of our car at our campsite (since our tent is currently in storage) and then spend our time exploring the Badlands and the Black Hills of South Dakota.
“The Badlands grade all the way from those that are almost rolling in character to those that are so fantastically broken in form and so bizarre in color as to seem hardly properly to belong to this earth” -Theodore Roosevelt
“I was totally unprepared for that revelation called the Dakota Badlands. What I saw gave me an indescribable sense of mysterious elsewhere.”
-Frank Lloyd Wright
As we hiked along the trails in the Badlands, we were amazed by how, instantaneously, we began to feel like intrepid explorers in a Science Fiction film. The dry ground, our desolate surroundings, and the hot sun exhausted us, but we were happy to be outside exploring this strange new world.
As a beautiful golden hour settled upon the Badlands, a cool breeze ran through the prairie grasses and the sun cast its warmth, softening the harsh rocks. We drove to one of our favorite viewpoints along the scenic highway and parked so we could settle, play frisbee, eat popcorn, and watch the sunset.
My beloved grandfather used to tell a story of a favorite hat that was blown from his head and got carried into the depths of the Grand Canyon. The windy mornings in the Badlands almost subjected my Yellow 108 fedora to a similar fate.
As the bright wilderness sun settled into the horizon, we curled up in the back of our car to watch its decent across the sky and wait for the stars to come out. If there is a more beautiful or peaceful way to end a day, I have not discovered it yet.