Off the Grid, Pt. 2

I've taken a bit of a hiatus from Travel Tuesday posts, but now that the Permacloud has descended on Michigan for the winter, I need some blue sky eye-candy. In case you do, too, here's a post about our visit to the Badlands in October!

As you may recall, my 22 year-old child and I decided to take an autumn roadtrip to lesser-known National Parks. Our goals were simple: we wanted to 1) spend some time at places we'd only driven past before - ideally, places where we could load up on vitamin D, 2) get off the grid before the pre-election drama drove us to madness, and 3) stay far away from other people for Pandemic Safety. And so, after drying off from our literally but not figuratively 'splashy' visit to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (and a stop-off in Minneapolis to visit my sister and her family in a socially responsible way), David and I headed for Badlands National Park.

Of the three segments of our trip (Pictured Rocks, the Badlands, and Wind Cave NP), the Badlands was our favorite, hands down. Neither of us had ever been there before, and we were totally blown away. In fact, most of this post is just photos of the park. If what you're looking for is buffalo, prairie dogs, bighorn sheep, antelope, miles and miles of nothing to block your view of the sky, and/or truly breathtaking sunsets, well then! Wait until you've gotten your Covid vaccination and head out to Interior, South Dakata. (That's the tiny, tiny town just outside of the park that your GPS is going to hone on.)

David and I had stopped over in Minneapolis to break up the trip, and so we had an eight-hour drive, at least six straight hours of which looked like this - and it was glorious. After seven solid months in our house in Grand Rapids, the endless grasslands and open sky were exhilarating.

We hit the edge of the Badlands right as the sun was thinking about setting: we'd been driving over this flat grasslands, and then suddenly there were these patches where the ground just sort of disappeared. I'd always thought the Badlands stuck "up" from the grassland, but it becomes awesomely clear as you're driving towards them that in fact those rocks are mostly formations left from erosion of the plains. (Sorry if that seems stupidly obvious - I guess I'm too used to the Rocky mountains!)

I'd booked us two nights in the cabins run by the NPS (another one of my trip goals being to give as much of my money as possible to the Park Service), and this was our view walking towards the Visitor Center:

(I know, I know - it looks here like the Badlands are, in fact, jutting up from the grassland. You can see better how these formations fit into the larger scheme of things in other photos.)

I had rather hoped that our cabin wouldn't have wifi, so I wouldn't be able to obsessively check news about the upcoming election, but it turned out that I needed to employ active willpower after all, because our lovely cabin included internet access. Fortunately, this was the highly distracting view from the comfy chairs on our front porch:

Here we are being pleased with our cabin + view, if not with our selfie-taking skills:

The next morning, we set out to explore the park - a drive that involved quite a bit more gasping and stopping by the side of the road and/or slowing down to marvel at the view than my (terrifyingly cranky) driver's ed instructor would have ever let pass. (That man's voice shouting at me for being scared to turn left across a busy intersection is still what I hear in my head when I drive. And not in a good way - but the whole driver's ed experience is a story for another post.) Fortunately, we had the whole park almost completely to ourselves: turns out that mid-October during a pandemic is a fabulous time to look at rocks in the middle of nowhere!

Because of my hive-and-shock-producing Annoying Sun Reaction(tm), we couldn't spend too long out in the direct sunlight, but we still managed to get out on the trails (photo 1) far enough to be warned to watch out for rattlesnakes (photo 2) - at which point, the always-cautious David almost made me turn back. (He claims that he's developed a keen sense of caution in order to make up for my relative lack of any such thing. "Poppycock!" I say; "Go read this!" he says.)



Once on the trail, the complete lack of vegetation was almost disorienting for Michiganders like ourselves - especially since you only had to hike a few twists and turns of the 'path' (marked by cairns, since it's not like there's grass or other groundcover to have been worn away) to completely lose sight of the road.

It was staggeringly wonderful to be immersed in a landscape so different from our norm. I took far more photos of the blue sky and sun-soaked rocks than I would ever want to share, just for the sheer joy of the colors.


If you're here for the wildlife, I'm sorry, but you'll have to wait for the next post - which I promise will focus on the buffalo and prairie dogs and bighorn sheep we saw here and in Wind Cave NP. This post is all about our being astounded by the rocks and stuff, where the "and stuff" turns out to be the sunsets. Because HOLY CRAP, the sunsets!!! Here, instead of words, I'm (mostly) just going to let the photos speak for themselves. And I also hereby swear not to just drive past the Badlands ever again - it's going to be a regular destination for us in the future.



Ok, but for real - it's Tatooine, right?!




And then, as if that weren't enough, it was a full moon, and so we got to sit on our front porch and let the cool night air make us glad for our blankets. Good night, moon!


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Christina Van Dyke

scholar, mother, and proud owner of the largest couch in creation
  • here and there
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