Tuesday, September 27, 2022

One dozen destinations #3: The Badlands

     I'm on vacation. To occupy those poor souls who simply must read something of mine, and to fulfill the every goddamn day promise, sort of, while I'm taking time off, EGD will feature scenes plucked from my unpublished and probably unpublishable 2009 memoir, "The Quest for Pie."

     The farms and ranchland — gentle green rolling hills and fields — changed dramatically upon entering the park, into a beige vista of wind-sculpted rock formations, a slash in the earth stretching out in front of us. 
     We were beat from two full days of driving, and the boys were keen to get to our cabin at the Cedar Pass Lodge and relax. But I impulsively pulled off at a trailhead so we could take a closer look at these Badlands. I had to. 
     “Just a quick peek,” I told the boys. 
     I parked the car at the Door Trail lot. There was a boardwalk off to the left—composite recycled planks, wending through a gap in the dun mountainside. We followed it, the wind rippling our clothes, ruffling the tall grass on either side. 
     Kent pointed out a sign that read, “BEWARE—Rattlesnakes!” 
     “We have to take these signs seriously,” I said, half to myself, half to the boys. “But I suppose we don’t have to worry on the boardwalk.” 
     Turning a corner, and were shocked to find ourselves in a surreal moonscape. 
     We followed the boardwalk to where it abruptly ends, with a sign, another one of those stern warnings the National Park Service is so good at crafting, telling you, in essence, that if you proceed beyond this point you take your life in your hands, that people regularly get lost and die and you had better be properly equipped with the following listed items. Ross started to climb up the nearest hillside in his chunky black plastic Crocs clogs, but I called him back. 
     The boys and I stood there, looking at each other for a moment in the snapping wind, then turned and bolted for the car. I popped the rear hatch, and we began madly pulling on thick rag wool socks and hiking boots and tossing water bottles and Clif bars into a daypack as if the unearthly landscape we had just glimpsed might vanish if we weren't quick about getting back. Somehow that moment, the frenzy of preparation, leaning against the car, putting on our hiking boots, lacing and tying them as fast as our fingers could work, seemed extraordinary, almost equal to the natural glories we were hurrying to return to. Maybe because nobody complained, nobody dawdled, nobody required prodding. We ran across the boardwalk, our boots clomping, and turned the corner. The Badlands were still there. 
     We spent an hour scrambling around the chalky soil, which had a slight crust to it, carefully climbing up the steep hillsides to stand, taking in the jagged horizon of peaks and crags all around us. The landscape was so jumbled, so pockmarked and broken, it became a kind of optical illusion, condensed, camouflaged, and it was tough sometimes to determine if a hillock was a mile away or a few feet in front of you. 
     “Art is nothing as to nature, boys,” I announced, taking photograph after photograph with the Nikon digital camera Edie had just given me that Father’s Day. 


  1. Ah. Just what I needed, a concise little EGD story, of no great importance or significance, but well told as always. No wonder we keep coming back for more, for out daily reality fix. Thanks, Neil. Hope you're resting up.

  2. South Dakota is one of only seven states I haven't visited, and those Badlands in Badlands National Park look a lot badder than the ones at the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, which I visited in the early 70s.The hills and cliffs and canyons I saw were smaller in size and seemed to have more color...a lot of oranges and yellows. The ones you visited do appear to resemble a gray and lifeless moonscape.

    TR first came to Dakota Territory to hunt bison when he was a skinny young dude from New York City. He later owned a ranch, in what is now North Dakota, in the mid-1880s. He lived a rugged and strenuous life for several years, before returning to the East and re-entering politics. TR's Dakota experiences help to shape a federal conservation policy that we still benefit from today.

    Hope you are relaxing, Mister S, whether you are on the road or just staying home and enjoying a well-earned hiatus.


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