Miles: 4346Those are some bad, bad lands
Once Keath was done for the day, we took off for one of the most anticipated destinations of our journey: the Badlands. We first caught sight of the Badlands while we were still on the highway. The plains were dotted in the distance, and as we got closer, we saw tan and red rocks pitting and jutting out of the prairies. Even closer, and we could see that the Badlands are big, stratified hills of clay-rich rock. At the first overlook, we got out and wandered around a bit, mostly marveling at the mountains.
Neither of us had really known what to expect, but what we saw was astounding. The road at this point was level with the tops of them, so we had the dizzying experience of looking down into narrow valleys and gullies from above, and seeing both mountains and big, blue sky. It was quite amazing and we were awed by both what lay close to us, and by the massive Badlands Wall that lay further to the west. We stopped and walked around, looking at the many cool, moonlike features. Mounds of rock carved by water undulated in below us and a Badlands Wall with its peaks and turrets and spikes ran along in the distance. Surrounding all this was vast sky, lots of it covered in menacing clouds, which only made the landscape more interesting.
The Badlands are oddly accessible. Most parks have trails that you’re allowed to go on and discourage random bushwhacking. Not that there are lots of bushes to whack in the Badlands, but you are allowed to just roam freely over the rock features, despite huge drop offs and often uncertain footing. But everyone else was doing it, so we did it too! The clay is crumbly, and makes for some pretty steep, and uh, interesting climbing, but it was very fun.
After our introduction to the Badlands, we drove a few more miles to the Cedar Creek area, which is where most of the trails begin. Not that we really ended up taking any of the trails. We mostly walked around the big expanses of flat rock, scrambled up the features we could and sat there marveling at our surroundings. Several of the bigger hills are surrounded by a sort of path that you can climb up and walk along. It was sort of like a mountain road, with a steep hill on one side and a sharp drop off on the other, but much smaller. There were a few missteps and some sliding on gravel, but we played safely and then decided it was time for the next scenic overlook.
The next scenic overlook was Cliff Shelf Nature Trail. This was a more structured walk with boardwalks and everything. We did the easy one mile loop and enjoyed more of our surroundings. This particular trail is higher up in the hills with a view of the White River valley below and some high rock peaks above. During our afternoon in the Badlands, we saw some interesting wildlife, including an eagle catching his dinner. He looked like he was trying out all the poses usually seen in Native American art. Beak open, talons extended, majestically flying, swooping in for the kill, etc. We also saw an assortment of other birds and felt some very nasty biting insects. Yuck.
We were tired by this point and decided to just head to the campground, where we settled in and went swimming. We discussed the possibility of going backcountry camping and our plans for the next few days and then hit the hay.