Sunday, September 9, 2007

Day Seven -- A not-so-bad day in the Badlands

As promised it was cold this morning, but there was little wind and no rain. After a cobbled-together breakfast, I set out for the Badlands National Park.

I started out going on the unpaved road to the west. Someone told me that was the only place I might see the buffalo. I figured I would go as far as the prairie dog town -- five miles -- and then return to the paved loop heading southeast. I almost turned back because the washboard road surface was making the car vibrate and my teeth chatter. I had to concentrate on finding smooth ruts so I could avoid the shaking and couldn't really enjoy the scenery. The prairie dog town wasn't as active as the ones I'd already seen. Maybe the cold was keeping them all home, curled up in bed. And I never did see any buffalo, unless they were those tiny dark dots out in the distance.

Back on the paved road the traveling was better. I stopped at almost every view point and at many turnouts. I figured that with the not-hot weather I might have a better chance of spotting some wildlife. I was really looking for big-horn sheep. At the first view point, where there were quite a few visitors, I was amazed at the amount of scat -- right by the edges of the drop offs. Looked like deer. There are obviously plenty of animals in the park, but they have a lot of room to roam. At one point I did see a few antelope out on the prairie side of the road, oh, and a prairie rabbit. And I did get to see some more prairie dogs very close to the road. But that was about it as far as wildlife goes. That and the scat.

From a distance, the barren landscape of the Badlands looks like it's made of granite or some other hard rock. But look at it close up and you'll see that it's very crumbly. Like gravel held together by mud. The rain and snow easily erode the formations, which change shape in just a few years. At several points I could see what looked like animal tracks along the steep slopes near the road. The climbing hoof stock no doubt contribute to the erosion.

The eroding landscape frequently yields fossils. The final view point before the visitor center was the Fossil Trail, a short boardwalk path with fossil displays. You could almost picture a bone just beginning to protrude from a slope. But, no, I didn't spot any fossils except in the displays.

At that point I felt rain drops. By the time I left the visitor center -- after looking at the exhibits there -- it was raining. Not hard but steady. There was still a bit more park to see from there to the exit, but I didn't feel a need to get out of my car to see anything a few yards closer.

Soon I was back on I-90 heading east. I decided that I would aim for Chamberlain, about an hour west of Mitchell. I figured that I would get there about 4-ish and could have a long relaxing evening. Just as I was congratulating myself on this plan I spotted the sign: "You are now entering the Central Time Zone." I had just lost an hour. Wasn't expecting that. Then the speed limit went down through a very long construction area. I was lucky to get to Chamberlain before 5:30.

Quickly found my motel. The rate was a bit higher than listed in the AAA guidebook, but not bad. Older building. Interesting room. The ad boasts "Recliners," and there is indeed a recliner in my room. And interestingly the internet access in not wireless but with an ethernet connection.

I haven't figured out the mileage yet, but my plans for tomorrow are to stop in Mitchell to see the famed Corn Palace and then to go into Iowa for a stop in Le Mars, the self-proclaimed Ice Cream Capital of the World. Not sure how far I'll make it through Iowa, but I am on or ahead of schedule.

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