Day 1: Driving To The Badlands
Our energy and excitement were high when we packed up my car and hit the road to South Dakota! I think this is the most energetic we felt in the car on the entire trip. We were singing along with the songs on my phone, laughing practically the entire way there, and just having these ridiculous conversations because we were so happy and excited to FINALLY be going on this trip!
In our silly moods, we decided to stop and see the Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD. I'd never been before and was curious. Plus, it's free to enter, so what did we have to lose? There honestly wasn't much to see inside the building, but the outside was super neat because there was all of this art made entirely out of corn and other corn parts. We even got to see some of the art being created. There were some high school/college-age gentlemen who were up on scaffolding sticking the corn to the exterior wall, adding to the corn palace.
After our brief visit, we got Caribou (now that I think of it, this was likely our last chance for Caribou before leaving South Dakota) and then hit the road again. We wanted to make sure that we got to the Badlands with enough light to set up camp and maybe even do a little exploring.
One thing we did not expect on this trip was to deal with as much weather as we were dealing with. We did not realize that June is probably the rainiest time of the year for the Badlands and further out West. Just our luck. So we drove in the gray and the rain for a while and finally arrived in the Badlands.
The last time I was in the Badlands was in 8th grade when we went for our 8th grade camping trip. When we were getting last-minute arrangements made, I managed to find the same campsite my group stayed in. I remember it was very beautiful as the sun went down, even with a storm on the horizon, so I wanted to take Jenna there. Really, it's an amazing campsite! It's right in the Badlands and you're practically surrounded by all of these mineral formations (they're not quite mountains or hills... I'm not sure what to call them). But there was one problem, we quickly discovered, when we arrived:
We had a swimming pool! Yes, lots of rain prior to our arrival left a lot of standing water in our campsite. The picture above spoils the ending, but before this picture was taken, we thought that maybe we could talk to the people in charge of the campsite and they could find us another site without the swimming pool amenity. When we asked though, we were essentially told that no, we couldn't move and if we didn't like it, we'd have to go somewhere else. The leader of the campground was kind of a jerk, needless to say, and I don't say that because we didn't get our way. She was just a grouchy person. Ultimately, it was really important for us to camp in the Badlands (as opposed to outside of the park), so we made due and found ground somewhat within our allotted site that wasn't too soggy. We may have breached some of the surrounding campsites, but no one said anything, so we assumed all was well.
Once we set up camp, the drizzle had subsided, so we decided to go and explore for a little bit. We wanted to stay kind of close knowing that we were getting hungry, so we drove maybe 5-10 minutes down the road and already we were much closer to this mineral formation hill/mountain things.
It was nice to have that outting and in a way reaffirm why it is we were out here even in this miserable weather. We were determined to have a great trip, so we were going to make it so, no matter the circumstances!
I was really excited to cook dinner. We planned to have hobo dinners but there were a couple flaws in that plan, both of which we didn't anticipate. The first was that there were no fire rings in this particular Badlands campsite. I didn't know that and didn't even think to look for that when I made the reservation to camp here because I just assumed that a fire ring was a given wherever you camped. But campfires are forbidden in the Badlands. I'll know that for next time. So, okay, we couldn't make hobo dinners the traditional way, but we could still use the small stove I brought (a wedding present) in the event of an emergency. But there were a couple of problems with this solution too. The first was that I had brought the wrong fuel in the incorrect type of container. So the stove I brought was useless. So we went up to the Visitor's Center/General Store and got a stove that did fit the propane tanks I brought that I ended up really liking (not that particular night, but I'll talk about that later). But because it had recently stormed and it was due to continue raining, it was super windy and I couldn't even light the stove no matter how high I turned up the gas. There was no blocking that much wind.
From there, we went back to our tent, did a little journaling, and promptly fell asleep. Maybe that was me... it doesn't take much for me to fall asleep.
Day 2: Badlands and Off to Wyoming!
In the journal I kept while on this trip, I wrote, "This morning I woke up with a bit of perspective on camping... Part of enjoying camping is taking the challenges and frustrations in stride." So after dealing with all the rain and disappointment the day before, I woke up and was fully rested and realized that everything we had just gone through is just part of the story we'll tell later. They were things we could manage, we were safe, we had shelter, and we were fed. Our basics needs were met. Weirdly, no matter how much or how little you're roughing it when you're camping, I think it helps you appreciate having these basic needs met.
I woke up earlier than Jenna and weather-wise, things were really looking up. The clouds hadn't completely cleared, but there was certainly more to the sky than gray and you could even see the sun poking through the clouds, fighting to be seen. The wind had also died down significantly and so I thought it would be good to try cooking with my new stove. So I broke out all of our hobo dinner things and began cooking the hamburger patties and then cutting up all of the vegetables. Because we couldn't start a fire, I did cook everything in tinfoil on top of my stove, so it was good that a lot of things were pre-cooked before I put them into the tinfoil.
This was so relaxing to do. Yes, a lot of work, but it was nice to get lost in the beautiful weather, preparing the food, and just listening to the sounds of morning. I have so many favorite parts of this trip, but this, as simple as it was, was definitely one of my favorite moments when I look back.
When Jenna woke up, we ate our "dinners for breakfast," packed up camp, added a bumper sticker to my car, and then hit the road! But we took the scenic route in order to see more of the Badlands first!
Even though I've visited the Badlands before (many, many years ago... I sound really old...), I did not remember it being so big. Or so varied in elevation. At one point we were going up this really big hill that brought back memories of driving on Route 66 with Jack where there were steep parts and hairpin turns and then sudden vast views of the wider areas we were driving in. It was incredible. It's also worth noting that at this point, all of the clouds had cleared and there was the purest blue sky and bright sun for miles. Weather is an odd creature...
The further down the road we went, the more animals we seemed to come across. Our first new friends were these mountain goats or possibly bighorn sheep. We never could decide for sure. If you know, please let me know so we can solve this mystery. Whatever they were, they were incredible to watch and while they weren't close enough to touch, they didn't get startled the further down the hill (and closer to them) we got. But we still wanted to give them their space. Still, we stayed for quite a while just taking pictures and watching them interact with each other. Later on, we saw prairie dogs in their natural habitat, which I was really excited about! I think I got a little too close for their comfort because they started squeaking a lot when I started coming down the hill into their prairie.
It was not long after we finished watching the prairie dogs that we checked the time, saw how much time was left until we would reach our final destination (Cody, WY) that we realized that we ought to get going. At that point, we knew we'd be arriving in the dark, which wasn't ideal. But I do think we lived by the philosophy "The adventure is in the journey, not the destination," or however you say it. We did have a couple more places to stop along the way.
A couple hours later, we crossed over the border of South Dakota and Wyoming and decided to stop in the visitor's center there. Jenna's phone didn't have any service out on the road, so she wanted to take advantage of the wifi for a little while, and we also wanted to get information about other things to see while we were in Wyoming.
The lady at the desk in the visitor's center happened to be a former geography teacher, so she gave us the scoop on places we should try and see around Yellowstone and leading up to Cody. She was incredibly helpful. We would take two of her suggestions that very day. The first suggestion was to go and visit Devil's Tower. I'd never heard of this place before, but this was the location where Close Encounters of the Third Kind was filmed. I thought it was neat because of movies and folklore (despite not having seen the movie) and Jenna thought it was neat because she's a rock climber. She knows people who have climbed the tower before and knows how difficult that type of climbing is to do. It's called crack climbing. Apparently you have a metal tool (several of varying sizes are with you) that you hang on to and put into cracks on the side of the monument and pull yourself up when you find a space where your tool lodges solidly. There aren't any ledges for climbers to stop on that we could see. You can be on the ground or at the top. There's no stopping in between. Absolutely crazy.
I think if we could have, we would have stayed a little longer and maybe walked closer to the base of the tower. But we needed to keep driving and also, as soon as we walked back down the hill, there was thunder and lightning in the air and we knew it was time to go ASAP. So we drove back down the hill as pretty much as soon as we left the park and got a quick picture for Jenna by the sign, we hit the road and it immediately started downpouring. At first, it was enough to slow down and turn the wipers up to full blast, but soon after, even that wasn't enough. Eventually, we had to stop driving and let the rain subside just a little bit. It was raining so hard that no matter how slow I went, I could barely see out of the windshield and I didn't want someone to hit me because they were going too fast to see that we were going really slowly. But after a little waiting, it lightened up a bit and we were able to keep going. A while after that, the rain subsided entirely. Weather in Wyoming is WEIRD!
We took the geography teacher's second suggestion next. From the visitor's center, there were apparently two ways we could take in order to get to Cody. We could go through Buffalo or we could drive towards Montana but turn at the last minute and take a road through the mountains.
Things got really quiet while we were up in the mountains. It really felt like we were alone because very occasionally another car would go by. But we had enough gas, my car had recently been checked out, and even though we weren't sure just how long it would take us to pass through the mountains, we knew we'd be okay. We went into a cloud bank and stayed there for quite some time, but while up in the clouds, that when it seemed like all the wildlife came out. It probably helped that it was approaching dusk. We saw elk, a bobcat (so unexpected!), and two moose (even MORE unexpected!!).
I've only written about two full days, but already this trip seems so full! For now, I will end things here and post a part 2 hopefully soon!
Thanks for Reading!