In the Badlands: The Final Two Hikes

Warm and clean and with a good night’s sleep under our belts, we decided to undertake the Notch Trail after our first night in the cozy cabins of Cedar Pass Lodge. The recent rains had awoken a number of wildflowers…

IMG_8965Which brightened our hikes immensely and kept us from being too disappointed in the near constant threat of rain.

Now the Notch Trail has some somewhat steep drop-offs and requires a trip up and down this fantastic ladder…

IMG_9009… but we were rewarded for our bravery and exertion (it really isn’t as steep as it looks) with a secluded canyon all to ourselves and some more spectacular views…

That’s me, getting a healthy dose of perspective and looking for Townsend’s Solitaires.

My son, he gave this particular hike…

IMG_8994Two thumbs up.

As we wound up this hike, it started to rain again and we headed to the infamous Wall Drug for lunch and I was treated to a famous cup of 5cent coffee and a delicious pecan roll.

IMG_9034Really, these are so incredibly good — De-lish!

The following morning brought more rain, but since it was our last full day and we had the warm cabin to return to, we decided that we’d go for another hike. Little did I know, the clay-y mud would make the hiking roughly like ice skating. On mud. We had fun with it though…

This camper was ecstatic that she had earned her own hiking stick this trip and was having an absolute blast, yelling out things like ‘Mind the chasm!’ when there were big drops to avoid and ‘Happy Birthday, Little River!’ for all the little run-offs streams.

No one does cold-rainy-mud-hike quite like us!

Of course it was not all fun and games when this one decided to try her hand at ‘mud-skiing’…

It was all excitement here…

Then the sliding happened…

And the full on mud-tumble…

IMG_9045Followed by sobs of embarrassment and anger at her failed attempt (and muffled hysterical laughter from the rest of us). The full coat of head-to-toe mud she now sported did not help her mood. Thankfully, the very, very sweet Mr Knitting Sarah picked her up and carried her back the one or two miles we were from the car. I am impressed because mud-skating with a 50lb kid on your shoulders cannot be easy. The rain was actually pretty cold though so giving her a lift got us to car a lot quicker than if we’d have had her trudge it out. We delivered her straight to the warm shower and final fresh pair of pants she had. Clean, dry, and warmed up we went back for another lunch at Wall Drug after which the little lady & I went to the bookstore…

IMG_9039Twice.

My girl is a voracious reader and after a little lobbying she got to pick a chapter book on Sacagawea for the ride home. She’d already read the 3 chapter books we’d brought for her, so it was really only fair.

We drove slowly back to the cabin, enjoying the brilliant colors of the Badlands one last time…

The colors are made more intense by rain and it was kind of the perfect end to our trip, to see this gorgeous place all lit up.

We awoke early the following morning, packed up, and headed East toward the sunrise, toward home. And I clicked away on my Togue Pond

IMG_9044For which I’m very excited to report is knitting up quickly and was a most excellent car knitting project. It turns out the 1700+ yards of yarn I wound and carried on the trip was maybe just a little bit overkill…

IMG_8752-0But at least I didn’t run out while I was on the road.

And now? Now we’re home. We’re tired and a little sore and a little sad that this grand and extremely memorable adventure is over. For as much as I love to laugh at all the mishaps and mayhem we experienced on this trip, I can honestly say it was the time of my life. I’ve never had more fun and I’ve never loved my little band of misfits more.

So strong…

So adventurous…

So beyond their years in leadership & maturity…

And… well, and so fun…

To an extent, we go on these adventures in search of something. Freedom. Peace. Challenges. Perspective. This trip provided all these things and we did our best to meet each of them with good humor. And while perching on the edge of a cliff staring out at miles of rolling plains or sharing space with a 2-ton beast that is giving you the stink eye certainly serves up a healthy dose of perspective in an instant, I don’t think any landscape or hike could make a person more humble or feel more lucky than spending a week with 3 such amazing people and, of course, Moose. To be a part of this group, is to be a part of something truly extraordinary.

We’re busily planning our next two big adventures — one up near the Boundary Waters and one to Glacier National Park (and if you think I am ridiculous about being wary of bison, just wait until you hear my thoughts on vacationing in grizzly bear country). We’re checking out trails and fishing gear and pricing new camp stoves and figuring if we can use a tent we already have. And I am, of course, starting to think about what yarn I’m going to bring. Most of all, though, I cannot wait to be in those moments, making those memories with my favorite people (and dog) on Earth.

In The Badlands: “Camping”

So. On a cold, wet morning, our 13year-old camp stove finally died. We knew it was failing, but had hoped it would survive a few more trips. It did not. A lukewarm cup of coffee for both my husband and myself and warmish a cup of hot cocoa for each of the kids and that poor contraption made the short trip to the dumpster. And we headed out, reconsidering our options now that we were down both our tent and our stove. After a brief debate, we found a spot where we had internet reception on our phones and made a reservation for the final three nights of our trip at the new Cedar Pass Lodge cabins.

With warmth and showers in our future, we spent the morning in a new spot, Sheep Mountain Table in the Stronghold Unit of the Badlands National Park. Admittedly, the minimum maintenance road up to the top of the table was a little terrifying after the heavy rain the night before, but it was worth it.

IMG_8861The views were hands-down the most breath-taking in the park.

It was still quite windy and cold, so I stayed looking in awe until my hands were frozen and then we headed back toward the campground just to clean up the last of our things, have a quick picnic lunch, and another hike down into Sage Creek…

IMG_8884where my hubby & son found a fossil baculite.

Along with a few other small fossils. We reported it to the rangers and although this is a pretty common fossil to find, they still let our son fill out the paperwork locating the fossil and took his photo for their wall of fossil fame. He was pretty excited.

We did another small hike in the Yellow Mounds area…

IMG_8903before checking into the cabin…

IMG_8964 My daughter claims this still counted as ‘camping’ because we were ‘still in the middle of nowhere’. I’m not going to disagree since I got a hot shower and a cold beer out of the deal. The dog was clearly relieved to have a real bed again.

I have just two more memorable hikes to share tomorrow and I promise you will finally get the details behind this…

IMG_9009And this…

IMG_9045And I promise, it’s as funny as it looks.

In the Badlands: It Was a Rather Blustery Day

Day two in the Badlands started here…

IMG_8793What a peaceful start to the day.

Once the sun was up, we hustled for a short hike up the hills behind camp. The view from the top looked like this…

IMG_8799You can pretty much see forever. And there were gorgeous rocks, like this…IMG_8797… with whose loose bits I built a small cairn…IMG_9041Of course.

I also found evidence of the ever-present bison…

IMG_8804I’m pretty sure they stopped at this overlook to gaze at our campsite and vibe me. Or to look for fresh sprouts to munch on. One or the other. For those who haven’t been in the presence of the great American Bison, they are big. They are generally 6-12ft long, up to 6ft + tall, and weigh anywhere from 700 to 2,000lbs. I tried to take a photo of all four hoof prints of this set of tracks, but there was no way to do so and also get my foot in the photo for scale. And for such large beasts, they are actually quite nimble which in my opinion is equal parts cool and disconcerting.

We spent a good hour tramping around the surrounding hills, occasionally stopping to call for coyotes…

Our youngest is the most particular about how to properly call coyotes. For such a young kid, she’s pretty darn good at it.

The temps started rising, so it was time to get back to the car for the pup. As I mentioned yesterday, dogs aren’t allowed on trails or in the back country in national parks, so if we all go off hiking our Moose waits in the car. Of course, this can’t happen if temps are warm, so when that’s the case my hubby & I take turns hanging out with him while the other hikes and plays with the kids. Honestly, if he wasn’t such an extremely good car dog (he goes pretty much everywhere with us, weather permitting) and wasn’t so clearly happy just to be with the family, we’d have boarded him for this trip. He is part of the family, though, and with the exception of this first full day in the park it was slated to be cool enough for him to hang in the car with no worries. He’s not a huge fan of camping (he’s kind of indoorsy), but he’s happy & relaxed enough just being with us…

IMG_8836So we took turns babysitting this big lug while the other hiked.

The kids & I spent a fair bit of time running around here…

IMG_8843And I played with the panoramic function on my new phone.

IMG_8842And when my leg tired, my hubby took the kiddos on a slightly longer hike along some game trails…

While the dog & I enjoyed the glory of the sunshade…

IMG_8830

And I cast-on a new project…

IMG_8839Togue Pond by Pam Allen in Quince & Co’s Kestrel. It turned out very appropriate as we probably saw somewhere around 75 kestrels in the park. This bird, however, is a nemesis for us when it comes to photography.IMG_9021This is pretty much what we get when we try to take photos of this beautiful bird. They tend to fly as soon as we get the camera out as evidenced by this photo, so for an actual photo where you can really see there bird, click here.

Now we did know that we had a wind advisory and it was clear that it was very (read: VERY) windy. We headed back to camp somewhat early because we thought there was a fair chance that despite lashing it down very well, the wind might blow the tent away a little. As we drove up, we were relieved to find the tent in place. The relief was short-lived, however, as there was tent flapping where there should be no flapping, so we knew something was wrong. It turns out the high winds had literally snapped one of our metal tent poles and grossly bent 2 others. After brief attempts with the mini-sledge hammer to straighten the bent poles and using our resources to try splint the broken pole, we admitted defeat. The zipper had had issues in the morning, too, so the tent was just beyond repairing. My husband headed into the collapsed tent to recover our things.

IMG_8833Poor sad broken tent!

We had a few options — including making an hour drive to Rapid City to buy a new tent — but at the end of the day, we did some creative reorganization and turned out 4-door hatchback into a mini-camper. This exercise was actually really fun and surprisingly not as uncomfortable as you might think.

The following day had much cooler temps and we enjoyed more hiking & wildlife viewing including…

Bighorn Sheep,

A coyote basking in the sun, numerous birds, mule deer, antelope, and more bison.

IMG_8855Rain loomed, however, and as it started to fall we decided to drive into the town of Wall for some dinner and to hopefully see a badger out and about as darkness started to fall on the drive back to camp. We saw no badgers, but it did rain rather heavily that night and it was chilly. The possibility of snow was not out of the question, but thankfully did not materialize. Making lemonade with our lemons, we agreed that in this second night in our improvised mini-camper that it wasa wonderfully  water-tight shelter.

Unfortunately this cold, wet morning was when our camp stove died.

To be continued…

In the Badlands: The Arrival

I long for the ocean and my husband would prefer the mountains, so somehow when it comes to planning vacations our go-to landscape is the Plains. I can’t explain how, but it works for us. This past week was our annual trip to Badlands National Park — parts of the park were formed under an inland sea 75million years ago and the formations kind of look like mountains, so maybe that’s it.  In any case, normally we split a week between camping in the Badlands and the Black Hills, but this year since we were planning to take time in April we opted to spend the whole trip in the Badlands. The Hills sometimes still get snow this time of year and although prepared for it, we did want to try to avoid that possibility. Correction, I wanted to try to avoid that. My husband loves winter camping and would most likely be delighted to roll out of the tent to find freshly fallen snow outside. I am without a doubt a much more of a fair-weather camper and waking up to snow would most likely just make me cranky and send me running from my sleeping bag to the heated car as quickly as possible.

At any rate, we left home shortly before 3am Monday morning. By about 3:15am we were pulled over, cleaning & sanitizing the car for our son had unfortunately gotten sick. As these things go we got off very easy, but still not really what you want to be doing at 3:15am especially on the very front-end of a week-long camping vacation. Once the unpleasantness arises, it feels like a roll of the cosmic dice as to whether this was just a random one-off event or it’s going to be a week caring for and then eventually contracting the flu while living in a tent 35miles from running water. I’m very thankful to report that aside from a bad cold which our boy valiantly ignored for the most part, this was the only illness with which we dealt all week. All cleaned up, we got back on the road for a wonderfully uneventful drive.

It’s a little over a 10hour drive time from our house to the park, so leaving when we did got us to there with plenty of time to set up camp and fetch water. When camping, we usually stay at the Sage Creek Campground which — aside from two well-maintained outhouses and a handful of picnic tables with sunshades — has no amenities. The nearest potable water is located at the Visitor Center about 35miles away via roads that take about an hour and a half to traverse thanks to only about half of them being paved and generally lower speed limits within the park. Because of the space limitations of driving a four-door hatchback containing 4 humans, a 75lb Moose, and all our camping gear, we needed to set up camp and then run to get our 5-gallon water container filled for the night. Preferably this all happens with enough daylight to then get back and cook up a delicious spaghetti dinner at camp. Even with the early start my husband usually drives the bulk of the way — he knows I like to knit and he gets a little stir-crazy in the car without a job to do, so I clicked away on socks for my daughter while we drove toward our destination.

I started them at home after my son showing off his new socks elicited a ‘But where are mine, mom?’ from my girl…

And just as we pulled into the park, I wove in the last end…

IMG_8791My girl was delighted and wore them happily until they had to go in the dirty handknits bag (that’s a normal thing for camping, right?).

As planned, we made it to the park by early afternoon and before we even made it to the campground, we spotted this guy in a tree about 300yards off the road…

Photo by Mr Knitting Sarah

My very first ever wild porcupine. Up a tree and munching away, he was exceptionally cooperative for viewing and photography.

We set up our home base…

IMG_9046and had a pretty uneventful evening aside from the ever present bison in camp…

IMG_9047…which are clearly conspiring against me. They are incredibly huge and have free rein of the park and, most notably, the campground where I was supposed to sleep. As much as I enjoy the outdoors, I have to admit that really don’t care for sharing space with enormous wild animals and my distrust of their intentions in general tends to border on the irrational and/or paranoid. But I digress. Spaghetti dinner was consumed just as the sun set over the hills and the bison moved around a bend to bed down for the night (and no doubt discuss how to torment me). The kids spotted Orion and some other constellations before we zipped them into their sleeping bags and we passed a peaceful night in our tent.

I awoke to the sound of coyotes howling in camp. Like just outside our tent. I was mildly concerned that Moose would make a fuss and propel us into some sort of situation (of which the general idea in my imagination is very bad, but the details of which I conveniently choose to not think about), but he just laid there, eyes wide and ears back. Clearly, he likes being in close proximity to wildlife about as much as I do. I dozed for a bit and then cautiously stepped out of the tent (checking for bison, of course) where Mr Knitting Sarah was making coffee. And aside from the glory of the Starbucks Via Ready-To-Brew packs I was greeted by this scene…

IMG_8793

Stunning, right?! Probably worth risking my life with enormous wild beasts nearby.

My hubby and I set up our comfy camp chairs and enjoyed the sunrise…

I was thankful for my comfy camp chair and my lovely Sprig Cloche & Welted Fingerless Mitts in Dyeabolical Id Squishy Sport Single. They were so cozy! If you haven’t signed up for the giveaway, definitely hop over and do so — entering is super easy and today’s the last day to throw your name in to win a skein of your own!

From here, the trip took some rather unexpected turns not the least of which resulted in this situation…

IMG_8833And this one…

IMG_9045And this…

IMG_9009Keep your eyes peeled over the next few days as I share the highlights of this grand adventure!

Lessons from Saddle Pass

After dinner on our first night in the Badlands my in-laws offered to watch the dog while my fearless foursome went off on a hike. Since we usually travel with the dog and the dog isn’t allowed on trails in the National Park, this is something we’ve actually never been able to do all together. We didn’t have a ton of time and I am quite limited on how far I can walk, so we picked the very popular Saddle Pass trail. I was very wary as the poor condition of my hip isn’t exactly amenable to this type of trail, but I wanted to to this with my family — sometimes you just have to go for it.

saddle passListed in the visitor guide as a ‘strenuous’ hike, this .25mile trail is steep. It boasts poor footing, occasional drop-offs, and wonderful views at the top. The kids, like little bighorn sheep, just scampered up like it was nobody’s business.

saddle pass 3Except for one time — after being warned during a particularly steep & slippery spot to stop talking and focus on her feet our girl did a complete face-plant. It was cartoon-style feet sliding out from under her and she just barely caught herself with her hands and bumped her chin.

 

There were some tears and a little blood, but mostly it was her pride that was wounded.

I was a little less than thrilled with the poor footing as this type of trail is particularly rough on my bum hip. It made me a little cranky, but I wanted to do this with my family so badly so I did my best to put on a brave face and to keep my complaints to myself. We all pushed on carefully and eventually managed to reach the top of the pass.

20140731-112038-40838996.jpgI found a little cairn that had been knocked down by the constant prairie winds. I rebuilt it. I always rebuild cairns when I find them toppled.

20140731-112145-40905828.jpgThe views were pretty amazing…

20140731-112144-40904132.jpgThe views at the top of things always are, aren’t they?

And on the other side of the pass…

20140731-112147-40907132.jpgThe endless prairie.

20140731-112040-40840339.jpgAfter playing & admiring at the top for a while, we began our descent. As always, the going down was more treacherous than the going up.

20140717_190822My new trekking pole/cane was put through its paces. I put off investing in a walking cane for a long time. It felt like admitting defeat to me in a lot of ways — that my hip was in some sort of final depressing decline. It turns out that really it just makes it possible for me to do things like this once and a while. I have tried regular hiking sticks, but I must say this one is by far the best I’ve tried. It has a speedlock height adjustment so it collapses down to be quite compact so it’s really easy to travel with, a rubber or carbide tip (the rubber tip comes on and off as you need it) and — most importantly for me — the cane grip lets me bear weight more easily than on a straight stick. It was irreplaceable during this hike and now that I’ve gotten over my own stigma for being a 34year-old who uses a cane, I use it any time I’m walking more than a couple blocks. It’s a lifesaver and even though it was hard to accept I needed this tool to help me, well, like I said before — there comes a time sometimes when you just have to go for it.

Of course, there were times when the footing was bad enough that I used my glissading skills…

me saddle passI feel like I have a lot of practice with the glissade for some reason.

When we made it back down, the long shadows and pink light of sunset were upon us.

saddle pass 2And we’d all made it, more or less no worse for the wear even considering I had an incredibly ungraceful slip in the last 20yards of the hike that required a 3-point landing. It was super classy, a fall with real flair – arms and legs flying and twisting in the air as I avoided landing on my bad hip (it’s a reflex from childhood that stays with me to this day). Ah, sometimes you just have to go for it — even when you are falling.

I walked away from the trail head and back to the car sore from my various slips and with the discomfort that comes with any real amount of walking these days. But I walked away with more than just aches and pains. I walked away thankful that I’d taken a chance and made the effort to do this hike — to be there when my daughter face-planted and for my kids to get a good laugh at my glissading and epic fall at the end. I was glad that I spent the time & money to research and order a good tool that made this effort easier. I was proud that I bit off just a little more than I could chew and I did ok. I was reminded that sometimes in life, and it’s just as true in my knitting and spinning, it’s good to push yourself outside of your comfort zone, to invest in the tools that enable you to get where you want to go, and sometimes to fall down spectacularly, with flair to spare. Sometimes you just have to go for it.

South Dakota in our Hearts

While many people think of this when they think of Badlands National Park

20140726-081233-29553234.jpgI think of this…20140730-111113-40273003.jpgYou might guess that the Badlands just might be my husband’s favorite place on Earth.  I’ve come to really love these gently rolling hills of the Sage Creek area, too — partly because being here feels almost like home, the tall grasses and the constant wind is really not that different of a feel from being near the big water. Perhaps more importantly though, I’ve come to love it because of the sentiment in this photo, how happy it makes this guy.

We stopped in Badlands National Park for the last 2nights of our South Dakota adventure and — as a special treat to our family — we stayed in the newly remodeled cabins at Cedar Pass Lodge. After 3nights in a tent, these cabins felt like the epitome of luxury with cushy beds and running water, toilets, and showers. With 100F heat on the way, too, we could not have timed it any better.

Our main goals in the Badlands aside from climbing in & exploring the formations were to find burrowing owls and magpies. Burrowing owls, for those who don’t know, reside in old prairie dog burrows. They actually are usually found standing atop the burrows looking surprisingly like prairie dogs from a distance. Only they take off and fly and, you know, are birds. To find these guys, we drove into the park via a back highway from Custer State Park across some rural parts of western South Dakota in order to travel through as much of the park as possible. Along the way we were treated to loads of lark buntings, meadowlarks, swainson’s hawks, horned larks, and upland sandpipers just to name a few. Finally, we struck gold.

burrowing owl This is blurry as it was taken with my hubby’s phone through a spotting scope in the prairie winds, but if you look closely you can actually pick out not just one, but three burrowing owls. There were actually four in this spot, but one is behind the rise in this moment. They are seriously some of the most fun birds to watch — I could quite literally watch them all day, they are seriously better than most TV. After a good long stop watching these characters, we carried on into the park viewing bighorn sheep and their fluffy-eared babies, a few bison at a distance, countless wrens, and even a loggerhead shrike ultimately finding out way to the aforementioned glorious cabins. Ahhhh…

We split our time between viewing wildlife from the car & taking turns climbing on the famous badlands formations (one of us had to stay back in the car with the pup as he isn’t allowed on any trails).

kids badlandsWe all, of course, had a blast.

Around mid-day we found our way to Wall for a bathroom break and to pick up lunch. In true divide & conquer fashion, my husband dropped the kids & I off to take care of business and get one more look at the famous T-Rex at Wall Drug while he gassed up the car and picked up our to-go lunch. Thoroughly freaked out by the T-Rex and with said business done, we made it out of Wall Drug in record time. With some time to spare, the kiddos and I decided to stop off at the Buffalo Gap National Grassland Visitor Center. The ranger asked if the kids would like to do the Junior Ranger program. With a time frame of about 20mins, it fit our ‘schedule’ perfectly. We learned a ton in a small bit of time and upon completion of the program, the kids each got a bag filled with a ton of stuff — pencils, rulers, pencil sharpeners, informational posters, Smokey Bear comics, stickers, temporary tattoos, bracelets. Seriously, if you are headed to the area with kids, take advantage of this awesome, awesome stop!

On the way back toward the cabin, there was more of this…

ddogand this…

adbadlandand plenty of this…

adbadlandsAnd since we had an hour before they started serving dinner at the Cedar Pass Lodge Restaurant, I took the kids through the Badlands Visitor Center one last time where they opted to do the Badlands National Park Junior Ranger program. Technically you are supposed to pick up the paperwork at the start of your visit and work on it throughout, but the kids were well-versed in what they had seen over the past couple days and had no trouble writing it up. They turned in their work, took the pledge, and were officially pinned as Junior Rangers. They celebrated with Junior Ranger Cheeseburgers for dinner over which my daughter showed everyone her pin and explained to them her new duties and responsibilities.

As we neared sunset, we headed west one last time and on the way caught a glimpse of a wild badger — my very first ever! — and made a quick celebratory stop at the Wall Dairy Queen for ice cream for our last drive through the park.

We savored our last evening, the cold ice cream after the hot day, listening to the abundant nighthawks, viewing the bighorn sheep grazing…

me sheep badlandsCatching glimpses of a couple big mule deer bucks, and even getting a glimpse of what was perhaps my favorite bird of the trip — a blue grosbeak. I have no idea how my husband spotted it in the waning light while driving, but he did. And it was beautiful.

With the temps having been over 100F,  the haze was still thick as the sun went down.

20140726-082555-30355518.jpgAnd as always, the sunset turned formations a beautiful ethereal pink. 20140726-082554-30354211.jpgWe relished every minute.

We saddled up the following morning and pointed the car east.

20140726-075620-28580607.jpg

And we said so long to this place that has become more than a destination, but a part of our family. Our car heavy with a couple new stuffed animals, a book or two, and lots of good memories, I drove the first leg of the trip dodging grouse that seemed far too comfortable crossing the interstate. When not driving I worked a bit on my latest socks…

20140726-084727-31647067.jpgKnit with Sweet Georgia Yarns BFL Sock in Magpie, I bought this yarn a few months ago when we first set the plans for this trip. The total geek in me thought it’d be awesome to knit on some magpie inspired yarn in the Badlands, where there are always loads of these beautiful birds. In a strange twist of fate, the magpies were no where to be seen. Apparently driven away from the areas we visited by construction, we didn’t even get a single glimpse. I suppose that’s just another reason to plot our return.

And plot our return we did. Passing the grazing cattle and fields, we started talking about our next vacation. It was no surprise that South Dakota was high on the list of possibilities. We hadn’t yet left, but we were already planning our return. Yes, South Dakota, I think you’ve found your way into our hearts.

20140726-082559-30359802.jpg