Into the west – Part 1: The Badlands
In May my girlfriend and I road tripped across the west, hitting sites like Wall Drug, Mount Rushmore, Devils Tower, and Moab to name a few.
We did a lot in a very short period of time. I don’t think we ever spent more than one full day at any one place, and that was exhausting considering that almost half our 3,300 mile trip was spent behind the wheel.
In just over seven days we traversed South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado and Utah. It was a lot of ground to cover in a week’s time, but we did it.
I want to say the trip was just too long, but at the same time it just wan’t long enough.
This is the first real vacation we’d had in years. I can’t say I’ve actually had a real vacation since I was high school.
Westwards we go
We set out on Saturday morning from our home in Winona, Minnesota, three hours later then we had originally planned.
If everything went to plan and we stayed on schedule we would miss or be traveling through any bad weather. So far we weren’t off to a good start.
We’d slept through our alarm and found we’d forgotten a few essentials at my sisters the night before. Luckily she was home and awake when we stopped by her house at just past 10 a.m.
Our first destination was Wall Drug, eight hours and 560 miles away. More on that later, first we had to get there.
This meant traversing some of the flattest windiest feilds of Minnesota and South Dakota.
Having grown up in the Red River Valley on Minnesota right on the board of North Dakota, I wasn’t thrilled about returning to the desolate grass land.
Slow and steady wins the race
A little over four and half hours into our trip we discovered our first big problem.
The 70 MPH speed limit we’d been comfortably cruising along at made a rather sudden jump to 80 MPH as we entered South Dakota.
In most modern vehicles 80 MPH wouldn’t have been asking much. Modern suspension, tires and brakes alone have gone a long way to make traveling at these speeds not only convenient but safe.
I drive a 2013 four-door Jeep Wrangler. The thing about Wranglers is they haven’t changed a whole lot in since the civilian jeep rolled off the production line at the end of World War II.
With it’s solid front axel and big knobby off-road tires, the Jeep is more at home crawling over rocks at 5-10 MPH than it is cornering at 80 MPH on interstate.
Add in the fact that much more than 70 MPHs the this lumbering beast’s gas milage meant like most of the truck drivers we joined the slow lane.
It probably didn’t help we were fighting a nasty headwind that was buffeting us at nearly 20 miles and hour.
I don’t think we passed a gas station once all day.
An oasis in a wasteland
Just outside of Wall we pulled off the interstate and took South Dakota 240 South in to Badlands National Park where we would spend the night.
Of all the places we visited on our short trip out west, the Badlands is perhaps the most bizarre place I’d ever experienced.
Bandlands National Park is like a oasis in a wasteland of prairie. The shear beauty of the of the landscape seems totally out of place in rolling plains of prairie that encompass it.
Great spires of sediment towered around us, laid down by centuries of volcanic activity that’d been shaped by the forces of wind and water over millions of years.
As we made our way through the park we were greeted by some of the friendlier animals the Badlands had to offer. Bison, big horn sheep grazed quietly along the edge of the road while prairie dogs played in the field over looking the cliff sides.
At the end of our drive we set up camp at Sage Creek Campground, a primitive little camp dotted with little more than a handful of picnic tables and pit toilets.
There was no denying it, it was a beautiful place to camp.
Up goes the tent
While my girlfriend Shanice set up to cook dinner, I was tasked with setting up the tent.
She made use of our big, black box of many things as a make-shift camp table. Next time we would pack smarter.
It was almost 8 p.m. when we reached the campsite and the sun was quickly vanishing over the horizon.
The moment I pulled the tent from it’s bag I realized I’d made a big mistake.
This was not the tent I thought I’d packed. Instead it was a six person dome tent my dad had picked up over a decade ago. Somehow it had managed to get mixed into our camping supplies.
It’s not a bad tent, in fact it’s a good tent, just not for what we were doing.
It is too tall, not particularly water tight and worst of all difficult to put up by yourself.
I had thought we’d packing a smaller four-person tent which was lower to the ground and had seen less wear and tear over the last few years.
The reason I don’t like tall tents isn’t that they are inherently bad. Having enough room to move around and change your clothes can be a big benefit.
The cons of a large tall tent, is they are harder to assemble, weight more, take up more space, and won’t hold up as easily in heavy winds.
It wasn’t ideal, but it was what we had. And over the course of our trip it actually held up pretty well.
One downside to staying at the Sage Creek Campground was a ban on open fires.
After a long day on the road there’s nothing like a fire and few marshmallows to lift your spirit.
It also meant we wouldn’t be grilling our dinner.
Instead Neicie cooked on a $20 Coleman butane camp stove we’d picked up on Amazon earlier this year.
This cute little stove looks just like a tiny hotplate and runs on light weight butane cartridges about the size of a can of hairspray.
The stove was more than enough to cook our dinner of bratwurst and boil a pot of potatoes and sweet corn. Maybe not the most appetizing sounding meal, but after 9 hours of highway driving it was the best meal I’d had in weeks.
After dinner, with the light quickly fading beyond the horizon, we climbed into our tent and called it a night.