Monday, September 11, 2017


We started on our road trip from Madison.

Sunflower fields
I mean we actually started from home, but we have become so used to the two and a half hour trip to Atreyee's house in Madison, Wisconsin that it didn't really feel that we had already started on our big road trip. But we had to drive through Madison to go to Badlands National Park anyway, so we decided to spend the night there so that we could make the ten-hour drive with a little less fatigue the next day. So we really started our journey into the unknown when we started from Madison on day two - August 6.

Seen on the roadside
Starting at 7 in the morning, we drove through Wisconsin and Minnesota to enter South Dakota. Rolling fields of neatly planted sunflowers stretched to the horizon in many places, but otherwise, the scenery was remarkable in its unremarkableness. We were entering the prairie grasslands of Midwestern US. This region didn't have mountains like we had seen in Colorado or Arizona or Utah. Unlike New York and Virginia there were few trees. Just the highway stretched over the slightly undulating land like an enormous snake. We also entered the Mountain Time Zone from our Central Time Zone and I was surprised to learn that the time zone doesn't change at the state line.

Approaching Badlands
We eventually did see some hills though. As the sky filled up with dark ominous clouds, the windswept prairie landscape gave way to low broken line of hills in the distance. We soon saw a sign welcoming us to Badlands. After entering the park and driving through those low hills, we finally reached our campground. As we later found out, these low hills are known as buttes and they are made of soft rock and hard earth laid down in colourful layers and eroded over the years.

Cedar Pass Campground is the most open campground that we have ever seen. It is right in the middle of the prairie with the buttes visible nearby, with a wind-sheltered picnic table at each site. Campfires are prohibited at this campground due to the threat of fires, but covered grills and camp stoves are allowed. There are no trees and this made some people on TripAdvisor complain about the lack of privacy, but we both loved it. But more on that later. At the moment, we put up our tent just in time to avoid a brief but heavy bout of rain. Afterwards, when the sun came out, we finished off dinner with the food that Atreyee's mom had packed for us, took a walk around the place, and settled down in the campground around sunset. I had driven for ten hours and wanted to rest. Besides, it was the night before full moon and I wanted to take photos of the moon rise over the buttes, and the campsite was the best place for this. After the moon came up, the moonlit prairie was almost bright as a day and even the inside of our tent was lit up.The night was uneventful and we slept soundly because we were not afraid of bears or any other animals like we are at other campgrounds. It was terribly windy though, and I was concerned that our tent might get damaged (it didn't).

Sunset near the campground

Moonrise over the prairie

Moonlit prairie
The next morning we cooked breakfast and lunch over our little charcoal grill and then started exploring. The best part of Badlands is that there isn't a terrible lot to see, and wherever you go, it's either just flat prairie, or prairie dotted with buttes. Still, there was this one road which snaked throughout the park and we were going to drive all over it. We wanted to see animals, of course, and the rangers told us we would need to drive over a dirt road for a few miles. We decided to risk it, even though I was driving my own old Honda Accord. In the end, we ended up seeing a coyote, a few lone bison and a group of bighorn sheep at the cost of covering our car in dust and ageing our tires a little. Prairie dogs, which are burrowing rodents, were everywhere. There were entire "towns" of these animals on the roadside. We had our lunch in the car at a viewpoint called Yellow Mounds. The name is pretty self explanatory. Then we came back to the tent.

Prairie dog town

Lonely bison on the prairie

Bighorn ram by the road

The campground had coin-operated showers and we were glad to be able to use them after our morning in the hot prairie. Then we explored the buttes nearby a little more. Badlands has the largest collection of fossils of any park in the world, and people are encouraged to look for fossils and report anything they find. We also looked for fossils, but in vain. Eventually, we gave up and went to have dinner at the restaurant next to the campground. Our dinner of pasta was too much for the two of us and we packed what we couldn't eat. Then, as the sun went down below the horizon, we gathered at the amphitheatre nearby to attend a ranger talk.

The ranger talk was nice, as ranger talks are. The ranger, an avid photographer himself, showed us photos of Badlands and the other national parks that he had visited. As an added benefit, we saw the International Space Station pass across the sky as the talk came to an end. Then the full moon poked its head over the buttes and we walked over the moonlit prairie to our campsite, listening to howls of coyotes in the distance. The coyotes were still howling when we went to bed, but we knew they were too far away to harm us. Coyotes hardly ever attack humans anyway. The horizon-to-horizon view of the sky was the thing that we liked most about this campground. We didn't see the Milky Way this time due to the moon, but we decided we wanted to come back some time around a new moon night to photograph the night sky.

The next morning, we were out on the road again soon after sunrise. Our next destination was Devil's Tower National Monument, and then we would drive to Yellowstone National Park. Overall, we were going to be on the road for over ten hours again. So we finished off the leftover pasta from the night before and started early.

( be continued)
Yellow Mounds, Badlands National Park

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