Birder's Eye View

Thursday, August 20, 2009

SD Saga: Good times and Badlands

On August 3, we took a day trip out to Badlands National Park, seriously one of the most awe-inspiring environments I have explored.

From the travelogue:

Long day, probably the hardest we've had yet. Drove to the Badlands, about 2 hours away, but took a "shortcut" that took us through 10 miles of [extremely rugged] dirt road, adding about 40 minutes to the trip. It was beautiful though! There were cows everywhere, roaming free [through the mountains]. There were great vistas and wildflowers all over. Lots of birds, but I've found I'm terrible at IDing from the car.

We entered Badlands from one of the smaller entrances, but it was a good choice. The first viewing pullout offered a jaw-dropping, breathtaking, awe-inspiring view of the canyon. It reminded me a lot of Grand Canyon, only it was whitish-gray. Very forboding-looking, and so powerful.

There are simply no words to describe the Badlands, no way to express the unfathomable forces of nature it must have taken to sculpt such terrible and beautiful phenomenon from the earth.

The Badlands are heaven for geologists and paleontologists today, but it must have been hell for the early settlers who came across the prairie to find the land open up to this desolate fortress. It was rather surprising even to drive up to it from the highway!

For all its Godforsaken qualities however, like any desert the Badlands are host to hundreds of species of wildlife and organisms. Rock Wrens could be seen carrying worms and grubs to and fro; we found a dead bat on the canyon floor; and prairie dogs and big horn sheep thrived on the canyon's edge.

Along one drive, we found a large heard of big horn sheep wandering around by the road. I am still fascinated by these creatures. They have absolutely no sense of vertigo, even as they pick their way across narrow ridges hundreds of feet above the canyon floor. Even just standing on a wide rim out over the canyon, I could feel myself swaying.

But these rams are fearless. Even when the rocks gave way, the sheep would just ride the rock slides down to the bottom and continue on from there.

Around mid-afternoon before we headed back to the Black Hills, we took a trek through the canyon; we had only planned taking a quick peek in this one area, but we ended up exploring for nearly an hour (and unfortunately making the stupid mistake of not bringing any water with us!).

It was an absolute blast though. We climbed around on the rocks, followed dry streambeds to where they dropped off hundreds of feet below, and scrutinized the alien landscape.

The terrain was perplexing. Walking along the canyon, you could see that the rocks were little more than hardened mud, though some of the formations were literally as tall as mountains. Yet when you stepped along the ridges, they would simply crumble. It seemed like the entire Badlands would just melt away in the first rainstorm, yet the canyon has been around for millions of years. Life is so amazing!

When we got back to the car, we were pretty well heat-exhausted but it had been well worth it. The Badlands are truly one-of-a-kind. A terrible, brutal environment to live in, but a fascinating one to explore. One of the best days yet!

Part 4 will be posted tomorrow.

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