Day 67

Sunday, July 31, 2005Kemmerer, WY
Miles: 7059Wahoo!

After some much needed catch up work on our blog (see, pretty), we headed out after our long sleep and drove through Utah. We took a swing through downtown Ogden first to see the sights, which mostly consisted of some lovely bronze statues of children at play. The view of the mountains was quite good, as the city is built as close to them as is architecturally possible.

As we meandered through southeastern Utah, we saw signs for a lake. It was quite hot and Ceridwen was feeling a little tired despite the crazy sleeping, so we stopped to go for a swim in Huntsville. This was nestled in the Cache Wasatch National Forest and part of the Ogden basin, basically a big valley between mountains. We saw much more of this deserty area as we drove. Oddly, not much of the visible bits appeared to be very forested.

Shortly after crossing into Wyoming, we stopped at Fossil Butte National Monument. This area had been dug out previously, and so unlike Mammoth and Dinosaur, no actual artifacts remained, save those in the visitors center. It was cool to see the perfectly preserved specimens there. Many fish were fossilized, often in entire schools. Mass fish deaths were apparently oddly common, though they don’t know why. The stench must have been fabulous.

We decided to spend the night in our first city campsite. Kemmerer, Wyoming has a little triangle of land between two roads that abuts the town offices. Rather than grow a garden there or just let it get grown over, they have made a campground. For five bucks, you too can set up your tent and utilize the pit toilets. We originally had our tent set up under a nice tree for shade, but quickly moved it when we realized they were Cottonwoods. We had learned at Dinosaur NM that the large branches of these trees can fall on tents. Eek. It was a cold night and Ceridwen ended up putting on many layers of clothing. During one session of layering, she caught a glimpse of a crescent moon giving off four rays of light. It was a pretty amazing sight, and for a moment she forgot she was cold. Then she put on her damn sweatshirt and snuggled into the downy goodness of the sleeping bag.

Day 66

Saturday, July 30, 2005Ogden, UT
Miles: 6917Back to our real life!!
We woke up at 3:30 in order to get to our 6:30 flight out of Philly. This had seemed like a wonderful idea when we were making our travel arrangements, but after two hours of sleep, it really sucked. But we made it to the airport and subsequently to SLC on time. We picked up Vantom around noon and headed up to Antelope Island, a state park in the middle of the Salt Lake.

Our intention was to camp on Antelope Island. The woman at the gatehouse told us that there was no shade, but that was ok. We went and checked out the island a little first, driving to the visitor center. They had a bunch of information about the lake today and Lake Bonneville, which once covered a good chunk of Utah. Then we headed out to our campground. It was true, there was no shade, as this island is still part of a desert and all the plants are scrubby little things. We got out to set up the tent to take a nap, since our lack of sleep was catching up with us, and were instantly assaulted by bugs and odor. The smell wasn't as bad as the overwhelming stench that we experienced at our last trip to the Lake, but it was kind of gross. Worse were the bugs. They instantly swarmed us and would not go away. We decided that a hotel was in order so that we stopped feeling like we had lost half our brain cells. We drove to Ogden and checked into a Super 8 and went to sleep around 4 pm. We woke up at 6 am Sunday morning. Guess we needed the sleep.

Day 65

Friday, July 29, 2005Philadelphia
Miles: 6780Congrats Susan and Bill!

Today we went to Wookie's wedding. Wookie (Susan) is a friend from college and Billy is her now husband. We had a grand old time at the wedding. The played two Muppet songs, on at the beginning of the ceremony (Somebody's Getting Married) and walked into the reception to the theme from the Muppet Show. Very Wookie. We ate, drank and danced and generally had fun. Then we went back to the hotel and got a whopping two hours of sleep. Wahooooooo!

Days 58-64

July 22-28, 2005All about
A-visiting we shall go
We spent this week 'back east'. Keath had some training to do and we also had a wedding to go to in Philly. Rather than spending the week in Philly, Ceridwen went to visit her family in NH. Keath spent the weekend with his parents in NJ, and then went to Philly to work. There are some photos of the wedding, but the rest of the time we just hung out and took no photos.

Day 57

Thursday, July 21, 2005SLC
Miles: 6516Training for Torino
After a hearty breakfast at the campground restaurant, we headed out to Park City to check out the Olympic stuff. This was a lot more interesting than the Lake Placid site for a few reasons. For one, Utah has cooler scenery. For another, they have all sorts of thrill rides to partake in (ziplines, anyone?) and for another, we actually remember the 2002 Olympics, so the photos and the puppets from the opening ceremonies actually brought back memories. When we were in Lake Placid, we saw people practicing freestyle ski jumping. We thought they were really good, and they were. But they were not the US ski team, as we had sort of assumed. The US Ski team was practicing in SLC and they were amazing. What they were doing wasn’t even the same sport that we witnessed in NY. Later in the afternoon, the kids from the camps were jumping, and they were also very good, but obviously not as good as the US team. We saw people doing the Nordic jump too, on wet grass and nylon. They looked very hot in their ski suits, since they didn’t have the luxury of jumping into a pool.

The ziplines, particularly the big one, was very fun. But it could not compare to the crown jewel of the day, the bobsled ride. Sure, it’s an expensive minute, but oh, boy is it fun. We were put with a guy from a group that had an odd number of people, which was good, since the heavier you are, the faster you go. We were the first run of the day, and it was a blast. You reach about 70 miles an hour and 4 Gs. It was an amazing minutes. We thundered around corners, getting close to the top of the ramp. There really is no way to describe the giddy feeling of falling. We thought it would be similar to a roller coaster, but there’s nothing pulling you back up here, it’s all down and it’s amazing.

After the bobsled and a few more zipline rides, we called it a day and headed back into the city, where we checked out the very cool SLC library and had dinner.

Day 56

Wednesday, July 20, 2005SLC
Miles: 6516Hot, so hot
Today was a work day for someone, and someone hung out by the pool in the 101 degree weather, reading Harry Potter. The one who was working sat in the game room, since it was air conditioned. After the workday was over, we decided to head out to the Great Salt Lake. We wound up at this old resort called the Saltaire. At one point it was a grand resort for people wearing lots of clothes (it was the early 1900’s), but now it’s just a shell with a gift shop and some old photos on the walls. It would be kickass concert venue, but apparently they haven’t gotten around to doing something like that yet. They do have a big beach and showers and stuff, so we thought we’d go out and wade.

A few hundred yards of sand that used to be at the bottom of the Lake stood between us and the water, and as we walked across it, we realized that the piles of vegetable matter littering the ground were not piles of vegetable matter at all, but bird carcasses. Ack. As we neared the water, we understood what they meant in one of our guidebooks. The Salt Lake Smell is atrocious. It is so atrocious that we couldn’t get within 50 feet of the water. Ceridwen almost threw up in the sand. In the 101 degree heat, the stagnant salt water, mixed with the stench of dead animals, was really too much to bear. Only by breathing into Keath’s handkerchief did we escape a disgusting accident. Other people were actually swimming in it. They apparently had no noses.

Since the beach was a bust, we headed to Nevada. Because, really, what’s better on a 101 degree day than to drive across the desert? Our goal was really just the Bonneville Salt Flats, but there’s no place to turn around until you get to Nevada. Driving through the fast fields of salt is just surreal, as many things have been on this trip. All around the highway are salt plains, with some mountains glimmering in the very far distance. There was a Morton salt gathering factory, but that was about it. All along the highway, people have left their marks on the salt by spelling out things with rocks. Unfortunately, most are hard to read.

The highlight of the day, by far, was Bonneville. We stopped first at a rest area and walked around a bit. The ground was oddly muddy, as the salt and some water that came from somewhere, mixed into a very sticky substance that stuck to our shoes. We gathered some salt to take with us and headed on to the road that sticks out into the middle of the flats. From here it was truly amazing. The blistering sun was baking the huge white plains, which simply glistened. It was quite a sight. It felt desolate and beautiful and positively inhospitable.

After doing a thorough test of the salt right off the road for both broken glass and spongy spots, we decided to take Vantom out and see if he could break the land speed record. We fell slightly short. Alas. Maybe next year. There was no one else there while we were, so we assumed that nothing was going on, but then, as we were leaving, three sets of headlights approached from the horizon, coming very fast. Just as we began to worry a little about conspiracies and big, black, government-owned trucks, they all turned in perfect formation and raced back off into oblivion. Talk about surreal. It’s possible that Vantom will be a speck in a car commercial.

After winning some money in the little town over the Nevada border, we headed back for the long haul to SLC. It wasn’t so bad, and when we got back, it had cooled off considerably. It was still too hot to cook, so we had dinner at a little, funky Mediterranean place and then wandered the downtown area, looking at Temple Square until they kicked us out, but nicely, since they’re Mormons.

Day 55

Tuesday, July 19, 2005Salt Lake City, UT
Miles: 6516Desert is pretty!
We got up at 5:30 and managed to be on the trail by about 7:30. This was fortunate, since it was very hot. The hike was called the Sounds of Silence, and despite having some very cheesily hippie overtones in the guidebook, it was very nice. We walked through a wash, as we had become accustomed to doing in the Badlands, hiked up across a plateau and then scrambled up a huge sheet of slick rock to overlook the whole park. The guidebook kept asking questions about desert preservation and how humans could learn to adapt to the desert. The answer is to not go hiking after 9:30 in July. We got back to the van around then and were dying. Some folks had just started out on their two to three hour trek and we wished them well. Eep.

Done with our hike, we finally made it to the dinosaury bit of Dinosaur National Park. This is an enclosed, finished dig of dinosaur bones. No quarry has ever turned up more complete skulls or near complete skeletons. Of course, all of these have long since been removed and brought to the museums of the world, but we got to see some bones in situ, which was very neat. It was interesting to see how they all jumbled together and what that meant. The bones had all been washed to the park by the Green River, and the state of the bones indicated how far away the dinosaurs had died, and their disarticulation level showed how violent their deaths were. At least this is what the children’s guide we were reading told us.

After lunch and a ride on a fake dino, we headed up to Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, which is high. Yuck. So it was pretty much a drive through. One interesting thing was that we went through part of Wyoming. There’s nothing there but some crazy construction workers. They had closed the road and set up a light, which made us assume a lane was closed, but then a pilot car came to lead us down the road. None of the lanes were closed, and there were just some guys standing around some big machinery. It was all very surreal.

Then we drove to Salt Lake City. It was pretty.

Day 54

Monday July 18, 2005Dinosaur NP, Utah
Miles: 6187Dinos!
Last night we had fortuitously turned around in the parking lot of the Bureau of Land Management, or BLM. In front of their building, they had some brochures and we learned that almost all of the beauty around us, including the canyons, mesas and high desert, were public lands. Some had trails, some had none, all are open for public use, since as they like to tell you, they are yours.

We left Grand Junction and headed for the nearby town of Fruita, CO, which had a visitors center and also seemed to be the hub of activity for the BLM. The very helpful woman at the center told us how to get to some of the more interesting trails and assured us that we would really enjoy our time in the sweeping canyonlands. Fortified with coffee, we set off to discover them for ourselves.

Our first stop was in a parking lot out in the middle of the desert. There were a few trails that lead off from this lot, but no real maps or anything. As we were changing into our boots, a government truck pulled up and the gentleman inside asked us if we would move our van so that the school bus full of teachers that was to arrive shortly could squeeze in. We obliged and in return, he gave us a map and some tips about hiking out in the canyons.

Hiking in the BLM is a cool experience. There were no other people there and the wilderness was unspoiled by most anything, be it noise, trash or other people’s children. Huge rock formations rose up all around us and the sky was as blue as is possible. It was also very, very hot, so our hike wasn’t terribly long.

Our next stop was the Colorado National Monument. This is perhaps the least descriptively named of all the National Parks or Monuments. Would you think from the name that the park actually is a huge, red walled canyon topped with desert? Or that some of the rock formations within it actually look like the things for which they are named? No, you would not. But that is what it is. We drove the 22 mile loop and wound up back in Grand Junction.

From there, we headed up to Dinosaur National Monument, the first stop all day that was actually in our original plan. As we drove, we kept an eye out for cool scenery, which was all over the place. Ceridwen fell in love with the high desert with the red dirt and the scrubby little plants and the huge rocks. We tried to go out for another hike, but it was one in the afternoon. Ceridwen loves the desert, but sadly, the desert does not love her back.

We arrived in Dinosaur too late to really do much but set up camp, but of course, after dinner, we were stir crazy. So we went out and got a guide for a driving tour and did a few stops along the way, including the Swelter Shelter, which had some pretty cool petroglyphs. It was pretty much sunset by this time, and the light was fading fast, making everything pink. No one else was around, and all that could be heard were the cries of some birds. The point here is that the ancient carvings of horned figures were just a little spooky. Spooky, but very cool. We did a few more stops on the way back to the campground and then went to sleep in preparation for our early waking time, which we hoped would facilitate a nice hike in the desert.

Day 53

Sunday, July 17 2005Grand Junction, CO
Miles: 5862Health: Crappy due to elevation
We had decided the previous night that we would get up early and head out into the wilderness. The plan was to take the scenic drive through the park and then camp on the other side. We first went to look at a rock formation called Twin Owls. They looked moderately like two owls, but not overly so. We then started our drive through the park. There’s a lot to see and do on this drive. Our first stop was the Alluvial Fan pulloff and short hike. This was a waterfall that had once been the site of a huge flood that killed a few campers in 1982. Signs claimed that debris had washed into the area in the shape of a fan, but we were too close to really tell, but once we got up one hill, we could look down and really see the shape.

Our drive took us up, up, up, past some remarkable overlooks. We took many, many photos, though none of them really captured the grandeur. At about 9000 or so feet, Ceridwen began to feel not so good. Despite the strenuous hike the day before, she had not slept well, and was no beginning to feel kind of gross, similar to the way she had felt when we first arrived in Denver. But we pressed on, making it to the pinnacle of the drive, Rock Cut, in the mid-morning. Rock Cut is very nearly the highest point on the road, a little over 12,000 feet. Here, no trees grow and pretty little tundra flowers grow amid rocks. The views also rock, with sweeping vistas of snow covered mountains giving way to dizzying expanses of valley below. We were both rather dizzy due to the thin nature of the air, and while walking along the path, we were clutching each other and laughing hysterically at nothing. Heh, look, a marmot. Heeeheeeheeehheeeeee!!!!!

For Ceridwen, the fun effects of the elevation soon wore off and she began to feel truly awful. For a time it felt as if her body had been injected with novocaine and she had a general feeling of malaise. We continued along the road, since at this point it was the fastest way down. We stopped briefly at some more overlooks, and took some photos with the continental divide. We had spent a lot of time with the rivers that drain into the Atlantic ocean during the first part of our trip, and this did seem like a huge turning point in the trip. We headed down the mountains along with the Pacific-bound waters of the Colorado river system.

By the time we got to the campground, Ceridwen felt truly horrible and was starting to get disoriented and seemed to be losing the ability to speak coherently. We were still at about 9000 feet, and luckily, she was able to remember the advice of all the websites about altitude sickness she had read while in Denver. They basically said the same thing; if you become disoriented, you need to GO DOWN. We stopped at the ranger station to ask about the nearest low place and were told to head for Granby, which was about 30 miles from the park and about 7500 feet in elevation. We did, and Ceridwen began to feel better, though not for long. Shortly after lunch, we had to move along.

We had hoped to stay in Granby and then return to the park the following day for some more hiking, but it was not to be. The hike the day before at an elevation that we had not acclimated to at all had apparently been a bad idea. But, at least we had seen a whole bunch of prettiness. Unfortunately, unless you go back to Denver, the only way down is back up, and then down, and then back up, as you take I-70 through a series of passes. Our ultimate goal was Grand Junction with its lovely 4500 foot elevation.

Along the way, and after we had passed through some of the more stomach rolling high passes, we found ourselves in Glenwood Gorge. This was a beautiful area with steep red rock walls rising up around us on either side. Had we been able to stay in the Rockies, we never would have seen them, since our planned route would have taken us along a different road. Ceridwen studied the maps and guidebooks while Keath drove so that we could take advantage of our new route.

We stopped briefly in Parachute, CO. This is the only town named Parachute in the world. Some French guy was given the task of naming alls sorts of towns in the region and had been reading a book on parachutes. When he saw the snow covered mountain, he decided to name the town after it. Some of his others included Rifle, which he named after an old rifle leaning against a tree, and No Name, which he forgot to name.

We finally made it to Grand Junction around 8pm and checked into a Motel 6 in the hopes of getting a good night’s sleep.

Day 52

Saturday, July 16 2005Estes Park, CO
Miles: 5613You've got to be kidding
Today was our first real day in the Rockies and we headed into the park fairly early, around 8:30 or so. We were told at the visitors center that we were early enough to avoid a lot of the crowds, but that it would still be a good idea to take the shuttle bus that was available to get to the Bear Lake area of the park. This area is particularly scenic and therefore crowded. We later discovered that the woman who gave us this information had a very western idea of crowded. The little path right around Bear Lake was jam packed, but the trails we hit were not very crowded at all. Coming from the east, we have a very different idea of what constitutes crowded than those out in the huge vastness.

We took the information guide’s advice on a hike and got treated to some beautiful scenery. We made a loop by connecting several smaller trails, so we got to see some of the cooler things in the area. Great views were everywhere and almost every time we came around the corner, one or both of us said “You’ve got to be kidding me. It cannot be this beautiful.” We hiked by a waterfall and several lakes and hiked along Glacier Gorge for awhile. The whole trip was about 6 miles and went from 9500 feet to close to 11,000. We felt a little out of breath and Ceridwen felt a little wonky, but it wasn’t too bad. We were certainly tired when we were done, but it was a good kind of tired. The downside was that we pretty much did nothing else after our hike. Oh, we did go to the lodge at our campground to try to connect to the internet, but all we got was some bad karaoke.

Day 51

Friday, July 15, 2005Estes Park
Miles: 5613Up, up, up...
Today it was finally time to enter the land of the bubonic plague carrying chipmunks, the Rocky Mountains. Seriously, the small mammals carry the plague. Ew. Anyway, we headed off in that direction, hoping that the woman at the campground we had called hadn’t lied about their vacancy. Everywhere else in a twenty mile radius was full for the weekend, including the $20 in park spots without showers.

She had not lied and we did manage to find a spot amid the sea of RV’s. Luckily, it was off to the side and not so bad. We had taken some gorgeous pictures on our way to Estes Park, and now we were surrounded by mountains. We went back down into the little village of Estes Park, but by the time we got there, everything was closing up. It was mostly little touristy shops of the variety that is found in all little towns right outside popular parks and we decided we’d just go back and have some s’mores at the campsite.

Day 50

Thursday, July 14, 2005Denver
Miles: 5258Health: Not good the for Blackberry
Denver is the only city to boast an amusement and water park in the downtown area, so we had to go. Elitch Gardens is a very cool park that we had passed several times while going about the city and is also part of the Six Flags conglomerate.

We decided to hit the water park first, since it closed at the ridiculous hour of 6pm. They had some cool rides, including a four person tube ride that had Ceridwen almsot getting really friendly with some teenage boys when it rocketed up on the wall of the slide. The newest ride was the Edge, basically a half pipe that you go down on a tube. The guy at the top told us to shout things when we got to the top of the other side, and apparently, Ceridwen is incapable of shouting without throwing up the horns, as she broke the cardinal rule of the ride and let go of the handles while riding. But she was not harmed and the watery fun continued.

Ceridwen's rule breaking was not the most detrimental seen that day in the park. A running teenage girl fell and smacked her head on the concrete and lay there lolling about in the water. We were on the lazy river ride and floated out of view as the paramedics were getting there. By the time we got back, she had been taken away, although apparently not on the back board, as the medic was putting it away. After this excitement, we went back to the van to get changed into dry clothes.

Our first roller coaster ride was the Flying Coaster. Riders climb up a small ladder to a padded platform with a chin rest. Then the whole thing is flipped so you're lying down on your stomach. It was ok, but a little shaky for Ceridwen's taste.

It wasn't until we got off the ride that we realized the true damage done. Keath had put the Blackberry and his cell phone into his pocket for safe keeping. Unfortunately, the Blackberry's screen shattered. It looked kind of cool, and the phone still worked, but there was no display. Luckily, Keath had been carrying an old relic and the extras lying around the Bala office are newer, so Keath will get a new toy next week when he's in the office. Yay for new electronic toys. Ceridwen sustained a bruise on her hip from where her chapstick dug into her. Sadly, she gets no new electronics for her injuries.

We rode several more roller coasters, but Ceridwen's stomach wasn't feeling too good. One backwards ride made her almost throw up, so after that we stuck to ferris wheels and swings. While waiting in line, we decided that tonight would be our last night in Denver, as we had begun to get a bit stir crazy.

Day 49

Wednesday, July 13, 2005Denver
Miles: 5258Health: Acclimation complete
Today we got some damn culture. We had been waiting until today to go to the Denver Museum of Art because they stay open late on Wednesdays. We got there around three, and of course, thinking we would actually stay for six hours shows that were were greatly overestimating our cultural coolness. We lasted until about 5.

It is a very nice museum thought, with a huge collection of pre-Columbian work from South and Central America. There's also the requisite religious paintings and the portraits of rich people through the ages. There was one family portrait of about 9 family members, and it appeared that the artist either had little creativity or had very early access to photo shop. Every member of the family had the same face. Not a strong resemblence, but the same exact face and the same exact expression. Daddy and baby even had the same size head. It was kind of freaky. There was another painting that first appeared to be a classical Greek painting of a god, but on closer inspection turned out to be a modern satire. We thought that the family portrait fell under that genre, but we were wrong.

Once we were museumed out, we wandered around the Civic Center area for a bit. We forgot to take a photo of the mile high marker on the government building because we're dorks. We looked at some cool architecture and drove by Union Station, another exhibit of cool architecture. Keath was feeling crappy due to his ability to stay up late even when he shouldn't, so we went back to the hotel for a nap and dinner.

After food and sleep, Keath was up for more food. Ceridwen had disliked the dinner she had made, so we went into town to have ourselves some fondue for dessert. While there we saw an alarming family. The teenage daughter was dressed like a prostitute. Not skimpily attired, or scantily, but really, she looked like she was turning tricks in her four inch acrylic heels. And her father was there. It was kind of creepy. Fondue was yummy and fun though.

Day 48

Tuesday, July 13 2005Denver
Miles: 5258Health: I'm acclimating!
Today we decided to go out to Red Rocks Amphitheater to check out the cool rock formations. It’s a short drive there, and when we arrived we were amazed by the coolness of the rocks. They are made by the sediments that ran off of the ancestral Rockies that were buried and then pushed upwards by the current Rockies and tilted. This is why the rocks are diagonal, which makes for some great acoustics. After wandering for a bit, we checked out the Red Rocks Underground exhibit, which showed the history of the Amphitheater and listed all the artists who had ever played there.

Ceridwen felt a little better than she had been, so we were able to do some hiking around, but it was still really hot, about 100, so we didn’t get to strenuous in our activities. After Red Rocks, we went to Dino Ridge, a series of roadside pulloffs with some dinosaur tracks and some other geologic information about the area.

When we were done, we realized that we were very close to Golden, so we headed up that way in hopes of getting a brewery tour at Coors. Unfortunately, they were not offering tours, so we went instead to Buffalo Bill’s grave, which was on top of a mountain. A big mountain with a very steep, windy road going up the side. If this wasn’t treacherous enough, there were crazy people biking up the road, taking up room. When we got to Buffalo Bill’s, the museum was closed, but the grave was still there, so we checked that out.

After our adventures in the outlying areas, we headed back to the hotel for dinner.

Day 47

Monday, July 12, 2005Denver
Miles: 5258Health: Ucky.
Altitude sickness makes Ceridwen grumpy. So do the drivers in Denver. Dear god, everyone drives like they’re on fire. Not that there is a fire, but that they themselves are en fuego. Ceridwen has been swearing even more frequently and imaginatively than usual and is wondering if she’s even fit for going out in public.

After Keath worked for the day, we went to Castle Rock, CO to meet up with our Primafriend, Ameet. Ameet was in town looking for an apartment. We hung out for awhile in his friends’ house, though we never got to meet said friends. Then we went out for dinner at a nice Mexican restaurant and discovered just how quickly a drink affects you when you’re a mile high. After a fun night with Ameet we headed back to the hotel and an early night.

Day 46

Sunday, July 10 2005Denver, CO
Miles: 5258So very boring
Ceridwen is still feeling the effects of altitude sickness. Uck. Keath had to work to make up some overtime hours, so Ceridwen slept a long time and made a big brunchy type meal because she had access to a real kitchen. By the time Keath had finished working and we were done lollygagging and planning, it was pretty late, so we had some gourmet dinner (cereal) and then went to see Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which wasn’t quite as good as one would have hoped, though it was funny to see the original Arthur Dent as the ghostly image at Magrethea. That was it. Boy were we boring today. It feels nice to sleep in a nice bed and all, but we’re waiting to see how long it will take us to get sick of sitting still.

Day 45

Saturday, July 9, 2005Denver, CO
Miles: 5258Health: Too high, can't breathe!
Keath had intended to work a half day today, in order to get some overtime accumulated, but he didn’t set his alarm right and we ended up sleeping in. Oh well. Once we got our butts out of bed, we headed up to Boulder to check it out and go to the Celestial Seasonings factory.

Boulder is a short drive from Denver, but it’s a very pretty drive. Today was moderately less cloudy than the previous two days, and we were able to enjoy some mountain scenery, though not from bizarre scenic overlook that had no place to park and a very treacherous entry and exit system. We enjoyed looking into the bowl that is Boulder and up at the foothills of the Rockies and made it to the factory without incident.

The factory tour was fun, though unfortunately, it was a quiet day, so none of the machinery was running. But the peppermint room still cleared out our sinuses and we were able to drink as much of the tea as we wanted. Yummy. Ceridwen still didn’t feel very well, so we went into downtown Boulder and had some yummy Indian.

Sadly, the Indian didn’t help, nor did the little tour of the Pearl Street Mall, a shopping area similar to the 16th Street Mall in Denver, only with more artsy stores and very large price tags. It was close to 100 degrees, which did little to help the overall feeling of ickiness, so we went back to the comfort of our hotel and took a long nap.

After our lovely nap, we got up and had some dinner, basically a salad for Ceridwen and some cereal for Keath. The nice thing about Indian buffet is that you really don’t need much else later on. We hung out for awhile and pondered our evening entertainment options and finally settled on On the Spot, another improv comedy troupe. This one was about twice the price and also twice as good. The moderator was not intrusive and the cast had all been to improv classes. They still weren’t as riotously funny as the Theater Sports Seattle people, but it was still quite good.

Day 44

Friday, July 8, 2005Denver, CO
Miles: 5258We're quite boring in cities
Today was a work day for Keath, so he worked while Ceridwen lay around and watched TV and felt kind of miserable. Her shoulder hurt from a previous injury and she just generally felt icky due to the high elevation. Once Keath’s workday was done, we went to the 16th Street Mall, a pedestrian only strip of stores, and looked for shoes, got some pharmaceuticals and then headed back to the hotel for dinner.

After a lovely dinner of miso soup, we headed out Lakewood, a nearby suburb, to catch some improve comedy. The show turned out to be in the back room of a new age shop, which was a little odd, but we thought what the heck. We had come very early, having thought this would be a busier production, and ended up playing a very frustrating round of Scrabble in the back of the van.

The show was moderately funny, but the troupe was fairly new and the leader kept interjecting to make suggestions, which was kind of annoying. Had the show been more than five bucks, we may have been annoyed.

Back at the hotel, we watched Ceridwen’s favorite makeover show, What Not To Wear, and went to bed really late. Ugh.

Day 43

Thursday, July 7, 2005Denver, CO
Miles: 5258Blech, altitude sickness
We woke up early, as the sun comes up and it gets super hot very quickly on the plains. We had camped in the shadow of Scott’s Bluff, a huge rock formation along the Oregon Trail, and today we were going to check it out up close and personal.

Shortly after the gates opened, we arrived and were told that a shuttle was available to take us to the top so that we could take the hiking trail back down. This sounded like an excellent plan, so we piled into the NPS van an headed up to the top. The driver/tour guide was a science teacher during the school year and gave us a little bit of information about Scott’s Bluff, as well as some information about the building of the road to the top. Built by the CCC during the Depression, the road is the same concrete that was laid in 1933. The CCC also put a post into the ground at the summit when they completed the project. In 1933, the top of the post was level with the ground. Since then the sandstone has eroded about 18 inches and the post sticks up. Hopefully, it’s in there really deep.

After walking around on the summit trails for awhile, we headed down the 1 ½ mile trail to the bottom. It wound its way around the bluffs and gave us a chance to check out some cool geology, including little drips of sandstone that had come away with the rain and then rehardened lower down on the mountain. This was unable to be caught on film, but trust us, it was cool. We made it to the bottom without seeing any dreaded prairie rattle snakes (which the staff uses to scare people into staying on the trail) and watched a brief slide show about the area. The bluffs were named for a guy who was abandoned by his party after he was wounded in an Indian attack and subsequently died at the base of the bluffs. How nice that he has a lasting memorial made to him.

Since we hadn’t been following the Oregon Trail, we missed out on the tedium of utter flatness that was experienced by the pioneers and then relieved briefly by the rock formation in this part of Nebraska. Of course, it also marked the beginning of their ascent into the Rockies, which I’m guessing was not fun in a wagon. Or actually walking beside the wagon, barefoot. Once again, being born in the 1970’s is a very good thing. We walked out on a little bit of the Trail, and imagined walking alongside a creaking wagon with all our worldly possessions in it. Between the sun and the prickly grasses, we decided that the front seats of Vantom were even more comfortable than previously believed.

After leaving Scott’s Bluff, we continued our way to Colorado. We even took a picture of the rustic sign, but only after some very complicated reversal and turning. We had (foolishly) believed that the Colorado border would mark the beginnings of the mountains, but northeast Colorado is just as flat as Nebraska. Topography doesn’t follow state lines, go figure.

It took us awhile to see the Rockies, since it was, of course, very hazy and cloudy. When we did see them, we first mistook them for kind of pointy clouds. But the views driving into Denver were amazing nonetheless, since on either side of us were flat plains, while huge mountains rose from them miles away. Cool. Of course, around the time we could see the mountain, Ceridwen began to feel dreadful. Short of breath, dizzy, sort of nauseous. Oh goodie, altitude sickness!

Once in Denver, we settled into the REI parking lot and logged on to try to find a suite hotel to stay in, since Keath will be working full time this coming week, and will need wifi. Our need for a restroom led us into REI, where we were soon parted from some money. But in exchange, we got a backpack, which will make backcountry camping much easier. We also got a little tiny stove that runs on little tiny fuel pellets so that we can make little tiny dinners in the backcountry.

After our outdoorsy purchases, we went to the TownPlace Suites and settled in to our suite, mostly by lying around on the comfy bed, watching the extended cable and playing with the internet. This lasted until bed time.

Day 42

Wednesday, July 6 2005Gering, NE
Miles: 5047Oregon Trail
Today we left South Dakota behind. In driving through South Dakota, and today Nebraska, we learned that nowhere is deserted. We expected these states to have nothing in them but some large fields and tumbleweed, but there’s quite a lot out here. People are nice and friendly, and while there are fields, there hasn’t really been any time that the road has been deserted for very long. In South Dakota, this sort of made sense, since we stuck to the main highway and went to some pretty big attractions, but in Nebraska we’re sort of off the main path.

Anyway, today we packed up early and got on the road early, mostly due to the fact that we slept in the van and drank Instant Breakfast, hence there was little packing to do. Our first stop was the Mammoth Site, which was actually back in Hot Springs. Thousands of years ago, a bunch of boy mammoths who no longer listened to their grandmothers struck out on their own. They wandered around and found a nice hot spring to drink from. Oh, but it was a sinkhole! They fell in. They drowned. Their bones were covered in layers of rock. They were found in 1978 and Earthwatch began to dig them up for further study. The moral of the story: listen to your grandmother! (Only young males were found in the sinkhole. The rest of the matriarchal herd knew better.) We left the Mammoth Site only after getting information on how to volunteer for the dig.

Next on our agenda was Cascade Falls. This turned out not to be so much of a falls experience as a really cold swimming hole experience. Ceridwen swam for about two minutes (She’s feeling much better. Hurray for herbal remedies!) and then got out and played in the shallow bits. The pool was very clear and very deep, but ridiculously cold. This was our last stop in South Dakota and we pressed on for Nebraska.

Nebraska has a place called Toadstools Geological Area that is about 12 miles down a dirt road. We headed for it despite the dust and made it there in one piece. Sad to say, the area is really just a baby Badlands. Badlands with a little ‘b’ is the term for any area of similar geology, while Badlands with a capital ‘B’ refers to the really cool place in South Dakota. This was a cool place with a nice hike and some odd toadstool formations (clay washes away from under sandstone, leaving slabs of rock resting on tiny pillars), but having just come from the big B Badlands, we weren’t that interested. It was also very hot, so we continued on.

We drove on and tried to match the music to the scenery, a new game we’ve been playing. So far we’ve learned that Black 47 goes well with the Badlands, Shriekback complements the Black Hills and Sisters of Mercy is the perfect accompaniment to the plains and sand hills of Nebraska. Now you know.

Our next stop was Carhenge. In 1987, a man decided to build a tribute to his father in the form of 36 cars, painted gray, arranged precisely in the same manner as the rocks of Stonehenge. Why? To make people laugh. It’s a great thing, sitting in the middle of a field, under a huge open, western sky. The cars are all different types. Some have fins and some are little compact 70’s models. It was quite a fun sight to see. We tried to find the tourist information booth and Carhenge gift shop in the nearby town of Alliance, but had no luck.

After a nice drive through the scenic panhandle of Nebraska, we arrived at the Jail and Courthouse rocks. These served as markers for the pioneers traveling on the Oregon and Mormon trails. They are also quite fun to climb.

Just down the road is Chimney Rock. (Those of you who are contemporaries of Keath and Ceridwen, go ahead and free associate about the fabulous 16 color computer game, Oregon Trail. We certainly did. We even spun around in a circle, shooting pixels and trying to bag a bear.) The visitor center was closed for the night, but the woman at the convenience store up the road told us that there was a trail leading from a dead end road just beyond it. We drove up to the parking lot and took a look. Though we decided to forgo the trail through high grasses, we did stop to look at the cemetery where several pioneers, especially children, are buried. It was much more inspiring to see the landmarks that the pioneers used, to see the terrain on which they traveled and to think about what they left behind than it was to look at the Gateway Arch Memorial. It’s sort of like the difference between using a primary source as opposed to a secondary source.

After Chimney Rock, we headed for Gering, Nebraska, which is to be our only overnight in this fine state. We plotted our stops for the next day and then caught up on our blogging. We’ve been very naughty, mostly due to the lack of internet access. Sorry!!

Day 41

Tuesday, July 5, 2005Angostura State Park
Miles: 4792Bison and prairie dogs
Ugh. Ceridwen woke up sick today. We thought this would severely limit our fun, but we just had some more laid back fun than our normal day. Ceridwen took a whole bunch of herbal supplements, pills and potions and tried to feel better. After discussing the possibility of driving up to Deadwood for a hootin’ and hollerin’ good time, we decided that being sick isn’t a good time for Deadwood. Instead we decided to take the wildlife loop drive in Custer State Park. We saw some prairie dogs and some bison and many deer. It was nice to see free roaming wildlife. We also learned that every October the bison are corralled and auctioned. Ceridwen wanted to volunteer to corral the bison, but it turns out some experience is necessary. Got to brush up on our cowboy skills.

After our loop, we continued on our way to Hot Springs, near where we were staying for the night. We actually saw our only herd of wild bison after we left the park, while we were in National Forest Land. Pretty bison.

In Hot Springs we stopped and filled some water bottles with the mineral water and decided to take a dip in it. The town offers two options for this, one a water park and the other a spa with a mineral pool. We chose the spa for its lack of children and submerged ourselves in hot mineral water for awhile. This seemed to make Ceridwen feel better and we lolled until a thunder storm came along.

Too tired to cook and fearing the worst from the weather, we had a very early dinner at a Mexican restaurant. While we ate, huge hail balls feel from the sky and two rivers started running down the sides of the road. Good decision!

After dinner and the storm we headed to our campsite. Ceridwen thought she would be sleeping at 6, but she couldn’t quite go to sleep that early, so we stayed up and played Canasta in the van while rain pounded on our roof. Oh, my, but the van was a good purchase!

Day 40

Monday, July 4, 2005Sylvan Lake, CSP, SD
Miles: 4632O'er the land of the free!
Being very tired, we decided not to set an alarm. We had gotten dehydrated in the Badlands and felt very dreadful. So we slept in. By the time we woke up, the Sylvan Lake recreational area had filled up, and worse, the store was out of eggs. There was a nice trail between the store and the campground though, so it was still nice to walk, even if we went omeletteless.

Ceridwen still didn’t feel up for much, and having felt very tired for the past few days, we decided that it would be best for her health if we took it easy. We took a hike around the Lake, which was very pretty. The lake is clear and cold and surrounded by Ponderosa Pines and big granite walls.

After our hike we decided to finish the Needles Highway drive. Our campground is located partially up the drive and the previous night we had done the rest, but in the dark. While it had been cool to see monumental columns of granite appearing in the circles of our headlights and disappearing up into the darkness, we thought we should check the whole thing out in the daytime. Of course, it was a beautiful day, and a holiday, and the highway is best known for its narrow tunnels and steep, winding nature, but what the hell.

The scenery was great, and once we got past the Needle’s Eye, a rock formation that looks like, well, the eye of a needle, the crowds thinned out. We watched a tour bus pass through a tunnel with only a few scrapes and scratches and helped direct some lost tourists. We meandered our way along the road, stopping at most of the scenic outlooks and made our way to Mt. Rushmore.

Mt. Rushmore. Yeah. That was silly. Neither of us expected to really like it, though we sort of thought we’d change our minds when we got there. No such luck. There’s no point to the whole thing and it’s just plain cheesy. It’s also rather tacky. We’re rather prejudiced towards naturally occurring wonders. Crazy Horse was cooler because it’s being carved in the round. The whole mountain will become a much larger statue than Mt. Rushmore is. It’s also a response to some people breaking a treaty and then putting up a monument to the men that helped drive other people off of their land. All in all, we thought Mt. Rushmore was not worth the money, though the Black Hills are certainly worth the trip.

After Mt. Rushmore, we had dinner and then headed back to Crazy Horse for the laser show. They basically use the mountain as a big movie screen and tell the story of Crazy Horse with laser lights. Kind of silly too, but entertaining. The best part was watching them turn the mountain different colors with a whole bunch of lights. For reference, the whole under what will be Crazy Horse’s arm is the size of a ten story building. Yup, it’s huge.

We went back to the campsite and slept. Mmm… sleep.

Day 39

Sunday, July 3, 2005Sylvan Lake, CSP, SD
Miles: 4632The Badlands kick our butt
Although we had a great time camping in the backcountry, the severe winds made for a somewhat restless night. They were far better than the severe thunderstorms that were forecast, but it was still restless. We actually found out later that, had it rained, we would have been SCREWED until the rocks dried. Clay gets very slippery when wet (duh), and the formations become impassable. Lovely. Nonetheless, we had a site to leave no trace of, a civilization to find, and a park ranger to meet.

We found the hike back far less strenuous than the one out (probably that whole "know where you're going" thing), but had apparently not been going quite as due west the night before as we had thought. We got to what should have been our last opening in the formations and instead found a 100 foot high wall of rock that we were pretty certain we hadn’t climbed. Our legs and arms (there’s a lot of four limb climbing), had no recollection of scaling anything that large.) Fortunately, we went with Ceridwen's gut instinct (south) instead of Keath's gut instinct (north) and soon came around the bend to our opening and the final yards back to Vantom, who was waiting patiently for us, right where we had parked him the night before.

Despite our miscalculations, we still got back to the ranger station with plenty of time before our "Wild Adventure Hike." So breakfast it was! Today was a day of learning, and we learned two important things before breakfast: Lesson 1 - another camper who was waiting for the diner in the park to open advised us that they had some of the slowest service on Earth, so it be would best if we didn't do any dilly-dallying. Lesson 2 - the full-time RVer who had a temporary job as the host for the diner informed us that he'd been RVing in Florida through several hurricanes but the winds last night rocked his RV more than any hurricane. (Which shows that the Scorpions really weren't going to rock you quite as much as you may have thought. But rock you like a Badlands wind storm is really quite cumbersome.)

After breakfast, our ranger, Gary, and his trusty volunteer intern, Becca, took us on a two mile hike through the lower prairie, up the Badlands wall, and through the upper prairie. We walked along a drainage gully that got rather tight in some places and learned to do the butt scooch well on some very steep places. Wait until you see the height we came from in the photos. In fact, when driving along and looking at formations, we assumed we couldn’t get up to the ridge where we ended our hike, but that’s where we ended up.

Gary is a geologist doing a summer research project in the park, and was a veritable fountain of knowledge on how the Badlands formed, why they are the way they are, and almost anything else our small group managed to wonder out loud. Becca filled in all the bits Gary didn't know about, namely anything organic, whether four legged, eight legged, or rooted.
Aside from all the lessons we learned about the natural world, we had a couple more practical lessons: Lesson 3 - the route we took to our campsite last night was not as ill-advised as we had thought. Ranger Gary took us across some far more treacherous looking formations with some much steeper drop offs. Lesson 4 - prickly pear cacti hurt. (Yes, despite many signs and warnings about the park's number one source of injuries, Keath managed to put his hand full force in to a cactus. There is little solace in the fact that three other members of our seven person group did the same thing on the same plant as they followed us up the hill.)

When our hike came to a close we headed straight for the highway so as to make for the hills. We took a brief break when we realized that the combination of a sleepless night and strenuous hike had made us both hazards to the highway. A truckers’ pull off and a brief nap in the back of the van fixed us up for the remainder of the trip ... And not much else.

While we did stop at a few overlooks on the way in, we pretty much got to our campsite and immediately took another nap. However, we were way too stir-crazy and shortly thereafter headed for the Crazy Horse memorial. And we were very glad we did. It is an impressive work in progress, an impressive scale model, and an impressive collection of work. A South Dakota visitor info booth woman suggested we see the movie when we got there because it would "entirely change your view of him." We were assuming she meant Crazy Horse, though we were not sure what we were supposed to think of him before we saw the movie. It turns out, however, that she must have meant Korczack Ziolkowski, the artist who designed the monument, because the film told us little about Crazy Horse but and focused on the story of how Chief Red Cloud asked this Polish guy from Boston to carve a monument "to show the white man that the red man has heroes also." The film actually raised more questions than it answered:

1. Korczack and his wife had ten kids and seven of them are involved with the monument. What are the other three doing? We realize this is probably just really nosy, but come on, wouldn’t you want to know?

2. What sort of involvement does the Native American community have? It sort of seemed like they asked Korczack to build the monument and then left him to his own devices in terms of money and administration. When he first started, he worked entirely alone, without any help. It seemed odd that there were no volunteers from any of the neighboring tribes.

3. Aside from being involved in the Battle of Little Big Horn, what did Crazy Horse do? We actually learned all about this later when we read the well concealed story on the wall. He basically stood up to the white men, but he also led war parties against neighboring tribes and was generally fairly bellicose. This made us feel mildly better about being “The White Man”.

After watching the movie, we wandered the grounds. The grounds consist of the American Indian Museum and Cultural Center, the house of Korczack and his family (which they still live in and is home to a number of Korczack’s other works) and the viewing terrace. We viewed Crazy Horse, which basically consists of his face and a bunch terraces that have been blocked out to begin the carving of the horse. It doesn’t matter how little is done, though. It’s a whole mountain, in the round, and it’s huge. 87 foot high face, 22 story horse. It’s awesome. We wandered the museum and bit and checked out the artisans in the Cultural Center and then headed out so we could try to catch the fireworks over Mt. Rushmore.

Unfortunately, in order to view the fireworks from Mt. Rushmore, you have to plan really well. We found out at the Rapid City visitors center that the parking lots had been closed off at noon. We asked around and it seemed that the best place to see them was from Iron Mountain Road. We headed up there and stopped at the first overlook where we saw others congregating. The whole thing felt just like the 4th of July in any other neighborhood. People had blankets and coolers and camp chairs and were just generally hanging out, chatting and playing frisbie. The only notable difference was that there were no sparklers or personal fireworks, since the locals didn’t want to set their prairie on fire.

The fireworks were kind of silly, since we were so far away. The booms came long after the lights, and the display was pint sized. But it was still fun and we went back to our campsite happy.

Day 38

Saturday, July 2, 2005Badlands Backcountry
Miles: 4432Holy crap, it's windy here!

For some reason, yesterday seemed like the real start of our trip. Maybe it was the fact that we started actually tracking our expenses, but its probably just the fact that we've reached the larger, more majestic west and a lot of the reasons we decided to take this trip in the first place, such as the Badlands. It could also be a completely arbitrary feeling.

We woke up this morning thinking it was significantly later than it was(7:30, though the sun had been up since 4:30 and our neighbors had packed up their tents shortly thereafter) but with a renewed sense of adventure. The Badlands National Park has fairly lax backcountry camping rules, and since it was such a beautiful area (and the KOA was really not within the same geological region) we figured we'd give it a shot. We only own one real backpacking backpack between us, but we have some nice canvas shoulder bags that hold our tent and sleep mats nicely.

We set out to the park to check in at the contact stationh day, and make sure our understanding of how it all worked was correct. The basic rules:
  1. check in at one of two registration areas so the rangers know approximately where they lost you if your family calls them to ask
  2. get at least half a mile from any roads or trails and set up camp so you can't be seen from any roads or trails
  3. don't do anything ecologically stupid
  4. don't piss off the bison
  5. bury your poo
Sounds like a deal! Can't beat that! While there, we also registered for a 3.5 hour guided tour in a "rarely explored" part of the park at 7:30 thenext morning. That ought to get our butts moving.
So we hustled back to civilization (the KOA), paid them to make us some pancakes (no cleanup!), and made a deal with the owners that if we were packed up and out by 11 they'd give us our money back for tonight. We were wicked slow at packing up, but we made it with five minutes to spare. Perhaps the most annoying thing about this trip, and probably the main reason our ancestors stopped being nomadic, is the amount of daylight you waste getting all your crap together.

Since we were committed to morning activities tomorrow and wanted to be sure to make it to Mount Rushmore for fireworks tomorrow evening, we used today to explore the rest of the Badlands loop road and (against the recommendations of Keath's coworker who grew up in Rapid City (hi Kate!)) check out Wall Drug. It was far less terrifying than anticipated, but the ice cream line was far more treacherous than could be conceived. Anyway, we picked up some essential camping supplies (like a shovel, per rule 5) and headed to the lesser known but far more practical Wall Food Mart.

When we returned to the park, we headed down Sage Rim Road, a dirt road spur that ends at one of the check in stations. Though beautiful and scenic, this wilderness area was just that – regular old wilderness. There were significantly fewer cool rock formations and significantly more fields of wilderness. Not where we wanted to camp. But, we saw many prairie dogs, bison, birds, and what we believe to be Long Horned Sheep. So we were very glad we did the drive. We also saw that the bison threat is more pronounced in this area. Bison like fields, they are not fond of high, rocky things.

We found the other registration point, near the smaller backcountry area. We were back in the Badlands proper. Formations abounded.

We checked in (put our names on a sheet of paper and listed our general direction of travel), suited up, and headed for the setting sun. Since there were no hiking maps to speak of, we recorded distances from a pedometer and directions from a compass and tried to maintain as straight a path as possible. There were some lovely formations that we climbed along only to find them ultimately impassible and/or treacherous to descend on the other side. Fortunately, along one of these dead ends, we came face to face with an enormous deer atop a formation. Our later research was inconclusive as to whether it was a Moose Deer or a very large, lone, Long Horned Sheep. No photographic evidence survives, as it was as surprised by us as we were by it, and it stodded away before we could get a camera out. Impassible bits or now, the hike out was a lot of fun. We avoided prickly pear cacti as best we could and scrambled up the crumbly dirt. Much of the fun came from walking along ridges and looking down to see our shadows trooping along the bottom of the valley.

We finally found a path that led to an opening and a barely passable decline to a nice open field with flat bits that were neither drainage ditches or covered in cacti. We were just past a half mile, and surrounded by rocks on all sides, so we set camp, walked around for a bit, watched the sunset, and set the sleeping bag out to dry. (Apparently, Ceridwen's water bag leaks when in actual use.)
We sat out for a while, punched this entry in to the blackberry (no - there is no cell service whatsoever out here) and wondered what animal howls like a coyote but in the register of a toy poodle. The stars were plentiful and bright and several times during the night we braved the gale force winds to look at them. Our tent bent in the strong wind, but the stakes held and all was well, except for the lack of sleep due to the fierce winds and the rather uncomfortable feeling of having your tent bend in on you and really fine sand blow on top of you. Also, this far out in the wilderness, stars actually give off light.

Day 37

Friday, July 1, 2005Interior, SD
Miles: 4346Those are some bad, bad lands
When we woke up, it was warm again. Ok, when Ceridwen woke up it was warm again. When Keath woke up it was still quite cold and a morning fire was in order. Keath worked his way through the morning, while Ceridwen cleaned up the campsite and generally packed the van.
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.