Badlands National Park, South Dakota with Australian Adventurer Luke Hall (9-27-17)

Lucky Dingo!  Australian adventurer Luke Hall was staying with her.  For the second day in a row, Lupe was going to get to play host and tour guide.  That could only mean another brand new adventure!

Yesterday Lupe had taken Luke up to Little Devil’s Tower (6,960 ft.) and Black Elk Peak (7,231 ft.), the highest mountain in South Dakota.  Did Luke have any preference on what else he would like to see while still in the Black Hills region?  Yes, he did, actually!  Luke wanted to see Badlands National Park.

That was a great idea!  Although the W end of Badlands National Park is only a little over an hour’s drive E of the Black Hills, Lupe had never been there before, either.  Luke, Lupe and SPHP all piled into the G6.  The miles flew by.  It wasn’t long before SPHP turned onto Sage Creek Road a mile or two E of Scenic, SD.

The W end of the park’s N unit was still miles away, but Luke was ready to get out for a look around.

Australian adventurer Luke Hall on Sage Creek Road, a less frequented route into the W end of Badlands National Park’s most famous N unit. The park was still 10 miles away from here, but Luke wanted to take a look at the prairie lands typical of the surrounding area. Photo looks N.

Once Lupe reached Badlands National Park, a series of overlooks along Sage Creek Rim Road provided increasingly dramatic views.  The first views were of Sage Creek Basin.  The sharply eroded hills and bluffs typical of the Badlands were still a little way off in the distance.

Lupe at one of the first viewpoints inside the park along Sage Creek Rim Road. Photo looks SSE.
The badlands scenery grew more dramatic and impressive at each succeeding viewpoint heading E along Sage Creek Rim Road. Photo looks SE.
Lupe & Luke with another view of Sage Creek Basin. Photo looks SW.

Farmers, ranchers! Don’t let this happen to your property! Lupe stands next to a prime example of an erosion control program gone seriously awry. Photo looks S.

No one had to tell Lupe why this place was called the Badlands.  It was easy to see there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in you know where of finding a squirrel out here!  Most disappointing.  Why on earth had Luke wanted to come way out to this wretched, forsaken land?

The answer was soon apparent.  Hundreds, maybe thousands, of prairie dogs were living in large towns right along the road!  Hundreds, maybe thousands, of fat squirrels right on the ground that couldn’t climb a tree even if there was one?  It was an American Dingo’s dream come true!  Badlands?  Hardly, this place was a Dingo paradise!  Luke was a genius!

Hundreds of prairie dogs could be seen in towns right along the road.

Shockingly, SPHP was a total spoil sport.  This could have been the greatest day of Lupe’s life!  Instead, SPHP refused to let her go after those prairie dogs.  Not even one!  It was maddening.  Sure, those prairie dogs had burrows, but this ground was soft and Lupe is a great digger.  It would have been the most fun ever!

The Carolina Dog had to watch as a badger scurried across the road and disappeared down into a prairie dog burrow.  Luke saw a coyote nearby.  Poor Lupe could only stare out the window of the G6 and dream.  SPHP decided it was best to drive on.

Oh, what might have been, if SPHP hadn’t interfered!

At the Hay Butte overlook, a plaque told about how pioneers had gone to great efforts to hay the grass off of the top of a long, flat butte seen in the distance.  Why they felt compelled to do so was never fully explained.  The Badlands are completely surrounded by prairie.  What was so special about the grass growing on that butte?

It was a mystery of the universe.  Some things can’t be explained, like why SPHP sided with the prairie dogs against the loyal Carolina Dog, a lifelong friend?

A short distance E of the Hay Butte overlook, Sage Creek Rim Road ended at the paved Badlands Loop Road, which winds through the most frequently visited part of Badlands National Park.  Park headquarters and most trails, overlooks, and displays are located along the Badlands Loop Road.

Lupe’s first stop traveling E on Badlands Loop Road was at the Pinnacles overlook, where a couple of short trails led away from the road down to several viewpoints.  Luke went down to investigate.  American Dingoes couldn’t go on any of the trails, but the views were great right up by the road.

At the Pinnacles overlook. Hay Butte is the long, flat butte in the distance on the L with clearly badlandy sides. Luke is a mere speck checking out the views from the end of the trail on the R. Photo looks SW.
The view to the SE from the Pinnacles overlook revealed a sweet, happy Carolina Dog. Abundant weird landforms were seen in this same area, too. Photo looks SE.

Most of the dramatic eroded buttes and spires of the Badlands are horizontally striped with many relatively thin layers of gray, white, or pink soils.  At the Yellow Mounds overlook, however, a thick lower layer of yellow soil capped with red was exposed.  The grays, whites and pinks could still be seen higher up.  In some of the lowest parts of this region, the mounds were completely yellow, since the overlying layers had been eroded completely away.

While the soil colors can appear more dramatic near sunrise or sunset, or especially after a rain, even in sunshine at midday the Yellow Mounds were definitely worth a look.

Luke & Lupe at the Yellow Mounds. Here the yellow soil is seen as a lower layer at the bottom of a small valley. Photo looks NW.
Looking NNE directly across the same valley.
Looking ENE down the same valley. More of the yellow soil is exposed here. One of the smaller lower mounds in the valley is almost entirely yellow.
Yellow mounds were present on the S side of the road, too. Luke gives Lupe a lift to help get her more into the scene. Photo looks WSW.
Lupe enjoyed being toted around the Yellow Mounds area by Luke. Photo looks S.

10 or 12 miles E of the Yellow Mounds, Lupe arrived at a big parking lot next to the Fossil Exhibit Trail, a short loop trail where fossils are on display as originally found.  Luke went to check out the trail, while Lupe and SPHP visited with a park ranger who had just finished a talk on various fossils found within Badlands National Park.

The Badlands are full of fossil-bearing sedimentary rocks.  Fossils of many extinct animals from the Oligocene epoch 23 to 35 million years ago continue to be found here, including:

  • Leptomeryx – a small deerlike mammal
  • Oreodonts – common and sheeplike
  • Archaeotherium – a relative of pigs equipped with sharp canines
  • Mesohippus – an ancestor of modern horses
  • Hoplophoneus – an early saber-tooth cat
  • Metamynodon – a massive rhinoceros
Stark views of the Badlands like this one were common along the Badlands Loop Road.
People wander along the Fossil Exhibit Trail where fossils are on display as originally found. Luke took this trail while Lupe and SPHP stayed at the parking lot chatting with a ranger who had just finished a talk about fossils found in Badlands National Park.

After Luke got back from the Fossil Exhibit Trail, the next stop was at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center.  Lupe couldn’t go in, but Luke and SPHP did, returning with brochures containing maps of the park.  Several short trails were only a few miles away, so it was decided to go check them out.

Lupe had to wait in the G6, while Luke and SPHP went to explore the Window and Door trails.

The very short Window Trail ended at a metal railing at the edge of a deep gully. Across the gully was this view of steep, wild badlands. Photo looks E.
Luke on the Door Trail, which passed through a narrow gap to reach this large area of badlands. Photo looks E.
Luke farther along the Door Trail. A series of numbered posts showed the way. Photo looks SE.
Door Trail. Photo looks NW.
Luke stands near a twisting maze of steep, deep gullies typical of the badlands. Photo looks SE.
Badlands from the Door Trail. Photo looks SE.

The Window and Door Trails provided great views of some wild-looking badlands, but didn’t take long to explore.  After returning to the G6, Luke continued on to explore the Notch Trail. Meanwhile, SPHP stayed with Lupe near the start of the trail.

Lupe enjoyed being out relaxing in the dry grass, surrounded by the beauty of the Badlands.

Lupe relaxes in the dry grass near the start of the Notch Trail while waiting for Luke to return. Photo looks ESE.

Luke was gone quite a while.  People who had left after Luke did started returning.  When SPHP inquired, two groups they said they had been all the way to the Notch at the end of the trail.  Both groups had taken 40 to 45 minutes to make the round trip.

Lupe kept waiting.  Eventually Luke reappeared.

Luke returns from the Notch Trail. Photo looks SSE.

Of course, Luke had made it to the end of the Notch Trail, too.  He enjoyed the walk and the views, but especially the extra time he’d spent scrambling around on the Badlands formations.

The Badlands aren’t high at all by mountain climbing standards, but scrambling among them is tricky and potentially treacherous.  The very steep sides of the formations are often loose and crumbly.  Exercising considerable caution, Luke had successfully made it to the top of some of the highest formations near the Notch.

Near the start of the Notch Trail. Photo looks E.
View along the Notch Trail on the way to the Notch.
Luke up on top of Badlands formations near the end of the Notch Trail. Photo looks SE.
Looking SE. Most of the Badlands lie along a long, relatively narrow area. Views of the surrounding prairie are never far away.
Looking SW. The area near the Ben Reifel Visitor Center is on the far R.
Looking E.
Looking NW.

It was evening and time to start back when Luke returned.  SPHP drove W back along the Badlands Loop Road.  Lupe saw lots of animals to bark at from the G6.  Pronghorn antelope, a buffalo, and bighorn sheep all got the enthusiastic Dingo treatment as Lupe sailed on by.

Lupe got to make a few stops to enjoy the scenery along the way, too.

Scenery on the drive back W along the Badlands Loop Road.
Slanting evening light highlights the sharply eroded Badlands terrain.
Loopster enjoys a short outing along the Badlands Loop Road. Photo looks WNW.

The sun was sinking fast.  Lupe, Luke and SPHP stopped at Panorama Point for a final look at the Badlands before it set.  The evening was beautiful, and the sweeping views simply magnificent.

Approaching sunset from Panorama Point.
Australian adventurer Luke Hall at Panorama Point. Photo looks E.
Lupe, Luke & SPHP watched the sun set behind a distant jagged Badlands horizon.
Luke takes a photo from Panorama Point before the last rays of sunlight disappear.
Looking E from Panorama Point with help from the telephoto lens.
Lupe’s beautiful day in Badlands National Park draws to a close.

The sun disappeared from view.  Lupe’s beautiful day in Badlands National Park with her friend Australian adventurer Luke Hall was over.  It was her last big adventure with Luke before he would set out for Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks in Wyoming.

It was sad to think that Luke would be leaving soon, but Lupe and SPHP were both glad that he had taken the time to come and visit the Black Hills and Badlands of remote western South Dakota.

Lupe at Panorama Point, Badlands National Park, 9-27-17.

Links:

Black Hills, SD Expedition No. 208 – Little Devil’s Tower & Black Elk Peak with Australian Adventurer Luke Hall (9-26-17)

Luke Hall’s travel & adventure blog

Badlands National Park

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