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…