I will confess to have not really known much about the Badlands South Dakota before we found ourselves bound for them so really didn’t know what to expect. One assumes from the name it will be a strange sort of place but it is truly difficult to describe the strange topographical landscape that befalls you.
Once can only marvel of how this land must have appeared to those hardy travellers of yesterday who ventured that way without the benefit of knowledge about the inherent dangers of the place. Likewise it is almost unsurprising that the Native American Indians treated the place with caution & respect.
So it was then we found ourselves at the gateway to this National Park ready to circumnavigate the scenic drive in Martha when a warning light appeared on the dash. We had no option but to push forward as garages are a little on the sparse side but with our tendency to travel circular routes anticlockwise we found a service station.
We espied a chap who looked like he may posses a modicum of mechanical knowledge & more importantly a tyre pressure gauge. Thankfully the pressures were fine & the warning light perhaps just a faulty switch. Bidding our ‘knight in jeans & a sweat shirt’ goodbye with many thanks we filled up & returned to our quest.
By the time we reached the furthest point the rest of the world was just getting going so we were able to glide in & out of the various view points with relative ease. At one stop we ventured on one of the short trails & it became evident how easy it would be to become completely disorientated in this strange pot holed place.
One false footstep could mean you slipping into a crevice that escape from would have been challenging to say the least. We had water bottles & a sturdy means of transport but to imagine the traverse of such a place on foot without seems impossible. The day was overcast but normally the climate could potentially mean searing hot clear days & there was precious little in the way of shelter.
We completed the loop & headed for our next destination Mount Rushmore & the impressive mountainside carvings.
Gaining a day called for a touch of re routing & altered potential stopping point as we headed for the Badlands of South Dakota. The day started out ok as we passed through yet another town called Boulder (just how many can one country have & I think we have now been to most of them) in our bid to avoid driving through downtown Denver, the weather started to turn a bit nasty.
Electric storms & heavy rain seemed to dog us & Denver was so large that we found we still had to navigate its outskirts. Google maps committed us to a section of new freeway which to our alarm proved to be some sort of toll road & given the volume of traffic & no discernible exit.
Driving in relentless rain is tiring so common sense prevailed & we found ourselves in the Cheyenne KOA for the night.
Once parked up the rain seemed to abate long enough for my buddy to utter something like ‘seems to have eased off a bit’ & took off for a long hot shower. I like a good shower so initially wasn’t concerned that she had not returned. Time flies when flute playing & hadn’t noticed the skies darken or the full blown electric storm kick off until Martha was literally rocking in the wind. Internet & phone signal were erratic & certainly not weather to be out in your nightie in so seemed like my mate was trapped in the wash house. Hours later a knock on the side of the van heralded her return accompanied by shouts of ‘let me in’.
Momentarily the temptation to sing ‘oh dear what can the matter be how long to be stuck in the lavatory’ were shelved, as grudgingly alighting from my bed grumbling that the side door was not locked I had failed to appreciate a small lake had formed beside it. Had my flute playing annoyed the weather gods? Don’t know but as she climbed through the drivers door I think I narrowly missed receiving a rigid sigmoidoscopy with it!
Next morning we woke up to a different world where the skies started to clear & we continued our quest for a gawp at the odd & unusual punctuating the journey.
‘Chimney Rock’ has long been used as a distinctive landmark however the original Native American name was replaced for fear it would offend the pioneers. Rattle snakes were the chief creature for us to avoid here & luckily none appeared so off we set set to Bayard where upon we were diverted by a sheriff down the backroads where cheery bunting prevented us from entering several roads. While google maps had a melt down trying to re route us we finally found a bunting less road to try. However our escape was once again thwarted by official looking folk on horseback.
Pioneer Day was clearly a popular celebration that we had inadvertently stumbled into & out of but did explain why the entry to the Chimney Rock visitor centre had been free that day.
Alliance home of Carhenge was next to make comparison to Stonehenge which not a million miles from were we live in the UK. Slightly brilliant in a barmy sort of way we chatted with the lady in the shop about the history & purchased a couple of keepsakes.
In my role as re router I realised we could with a minor detour visit Wounded Knee. Neither of us were completely au fait with its history & so decided to stop discovering a profoundly sad story of where the recording of events is largely in the hands of those writing it. Sadly it has taken a long time for the description of ‘Battle’ to be revoked & replaced by that of Massacre of Wounded Knee, the more accurate account of events there. Sobering stuff & makes you stop & think what other versions historical events that you have taken for granted to have been impartial accurate recordings are as it transpires not.
With the Badlands fast approaching & the light fading we were suddenly aware that we had not yet fixed any where to stay. Bolding knocking on what seemed the correct trailer for the site manager the man who answered embarked on the strangest dialogue of the trip but thankfully found us a pitch. It appeared that these spots were prone to flooding so with fingers crossed that a ‘no flute practice’ had appeased the weather gods we parked for the night. If we hadn’t been washed away then we were in pole position to embark on the scenic loop drive the following day.
Pulling into the Visitors Centre (not appreciating that post Labour day the opening hours change) it was getting late but despite having to wait while the person in front of me was sworn in as some kind of Ranger I managed to ascertain if we were quick pitches might be available.
After a bit of confusion we worked out that a number of slots were indeed free & nestled Martha into one. Realistically we knew that climbing to the top of the dunes was probably not sensible as during the day it would be too hot & we didn’t know the area well enough for long distance night hiking especially given the mountain lion warnings.
Taking a short exploratory walk around we headed back for supper & a beer where upon the notion of watching the sunset from one of the lower dunes struck us. Flinging the flute in the back pack we set off across the dry river bed & headed for the smaller mounds of sand.
The sunset was indeed beautiful which was probably more than could be said for my flute playing but we had a laugh given how windy it was & we only had phones to record the noise I was making on. Concluding ‘westernised’ music was not conducive to the surroundings trying to play the examples of native songs in the dark with no idea what they should sound like was more than challenging.
Like many ancient cultures the music originally would not have been written down & I have come to understand ‘playing the scenery’ was an accepted way of composing tunes. That is my excuse & I’m sticking to it! Later sharing this tale with my guitar teacher we concluded that this was a sound concept could be of use in any musical composition.
Heading back in the dark we picked our way carefully & amazingly found the track back using only our wits & natural moonlight. It truly was a magical place for as we traversed we were treated to calls of wild coyote that clearly were roaming in the mountains beyond the dunes not to mention other wild life that joined us at breakfast time the next day.
Pricey though the fuel here had been filling up lessened the risk of running out & meant we could get a head start in the morning.