Back to the timeline.......
We arrived at our campground in the Badlands at dusk. Beautiful as it was seeing the magnificent colors at sunset, it was darn right glorious to wake up and see and feel this -
Crystal blue skies, crisp dry air (we miss our dry air, it really does have a 'crispy' quality to it) and gorgeous hues of gray, brown and orange painted onto the jagged peaks surrounding us.
Bikes were set out the previous night in preparation for what we knew would be a great biking location. Our last campsite was not sadly enough.
Our surroundings were quite different from what we had experienced up 'till now. No trees, no leaves, no green. (OK, so there are a couple trees in these shots, but they're an anomaly!) We were, for the first time during our trip, in a real real desert. As much as we love our forests, this was pretty awe inspiring in its own right.
After a little more carving of Mt. Rushmore, yes we're still doing it....
We headed over to explore the visitor center and pick up our Jr. Ranger booklets.
Here's what the Badlands are:
"Badlands National Park is famous for its spectacular rock formations, with vivid colored bands that can be traced from pinnacle to pinnacle. The rocks were laid down by oozing mud, river floods, sands from an ancient sea, volcanic ash, and wind-blown dust for more than 70 million years. Some thin bands are remains of ancient prairie soils, others are layers of river sediments that are hundreds of feet deep." (Taken from the visitor center info).
Historically, the Lakota put up transitory camps here and used the area for hunting. They called it 'white hills'. French trappers are the ones who named it 'bad lands' since the sharp peaks and crumbling rock brought much frustration to them and their mission. The Lakota began also referring to the area as such soon thereafter.
These 'white hills', or 'badlands', combined with the 'black hills' were at the heart of the lands set aside for the Lakota in the treaty of 1868.
The Lakota of course have their own explanation as to why the landscape looks like it does: The well known water monster fought with the people causing a big flood. The flood turned the people into the sacred pipestone and then the monster itself was also turned into stone and its bones are what we see now scattered in the Badlands.
One of the many amazing things about this place is the rate at which erosion takes place. Like Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone, it too can change literally overnight.
Here you see a a US geological survey marker from 1959. At the time they put it in it was of course flush with the rock surface. It may be hard to tell in this picture, but when they dug this out 45 years later the rock receded about a foot thanks to the rain and the wind. Pretty amazing when you consider that granite, like Mt. Rushmore, only erodes 1/10 of an inch per 1,000 years!!! Talk about what a difference the geology can make!
Here's more of what we came up close and personal with at the visitor center -
The place's previous, prehistoric, inhabitants. Like this ancestor of the pig -
The ancestor of the horse, a 3 toed creature about the size of a collie! Various species of horse fossils were found in the area showing us that there were indeed horses here prehistorically. However, those horse families became extinct about 10,000 years ago. As we know, the Spanish then REintroduced horses to this area in the 16th century and those were the horses the Native Americans began to use.
Burrowing owls! Who knew there was such a creature?! I sure didn't. They live in abandoned prairie dog burrows....
We learned how the grasses survive in such a dry climate. They have some pretty long roots that reach all the way down to the little moisture there is deep deep down underground. In case you were wondering.
This is Bigfoot, a Lakota leader. Attempting to escape the US army he took refuge in the Badlands. He, along with most of his people (including women and children), were killed at the Massacre of Wounded Knee in 1890. From then on, the Lakota were forced to live on reservations, giving up their ancient ways of life, receiving government rations, and doing the best they can as farmers and ranchers. A drastic change, to say the very very least, from the days of Lewis and Clark who were instructed at the time by Jefferson to make a good impression on the Lakota due to their "immense power".
What you see in the background are winter counts. The Lakota kept track of important events in their lives by painting them onto buffalo hides. Those were referred to as 'winter counts'.
Once we wrapped up with the visitor center we headed outside to explore the park -
Our very first encounter was with a small rattle snake in the road! I was pretty cool. From a safe distance. Though when we drove by later we saw that someone had run it over :-(.
There are several short hikes one can take in the park (we need short since Whirlwind doesn't handle more than a few miles very well) and we began with the one with a very cool climb up a ladder.....
Yes, it was pretty steep, but with some words of encouragement and support all the kids, and the mother (!) managed to do it, up and down! Upon seeing it I suggested maybe skipping this little adventure, but the kids would have none of it. Glad I listened to them :-)
Here's proof we made it back down too. No, Whirlwind did not climb down on his own, not to worry.
After climbing the ladder we were to head over to see a magnificent view but as we started out we came across a family of 4 with kids about the ages of ours who were heading back saying it was just to precarious kid wise. So, after taking a quick peak at what lay ahead, we took our cue from them and headed back down. Yes, we were all a bit disappointed but we had conquered the ladder and that was accomplishment enough, for some of us anyway. Others decided to sulk a bit, but that's ok.
Getting over our little setback we continued to explore and run around. It's amazing what kids find fascinating.
They spent lots of time investigating the ground, which was like nothing they have seen up until now. The patterns and shapes formed by the cracks in the earth was a source for much entertainment. Go figure.
One game we ended up playing was 'match the piece to a state shape'. Again, it's amazing what can entertain for quite a bit of time......
The other bit of fascination was with these -
Kind of look like bee hives from a distance don't they? Upon closer inspection though you can tell that they are actually bird nests! Instead of using twigs and branches, which are pretty scarce out here, they make them out of the mud! Pretty cool.
We romped around the sandy limestone a bit more before heading to our next stop that day, the Minuteman Silo! Who knew there were sooooo many out here once upon a time?! More on that in the next post though.......