Friday, August 03, 2012

Badlands - 1 August 2012

For a change, we were not awoken by rain or a thunderstorm, this morning it was a woodpecker; rat-tat-tatting away on a nearby tree that heralded the morning.  Since the temperature yesterday had peaked at 107F we decided that a walk in the cool of the morning would be preferable to in the baking daytime heat.

So, abandoning breakfast etc we set off to walk some trails in the Cedar Pass area.  The first one was 2.4km out and back walk to a spectacular view overlooking the White River valley. This walk included a climb up a steep slope aided by a "rope ladder" comprised of steel wire hawsers and sections of 150mm diameter logs as treads. It was much easier to ascend than descend.

The second walk was shorter, over a less well defined trail and equally but differently spectacular. While the first walk had been between peaks, the second walk was basically a plateau and the features and views were ravines.

With the sun rising (along with the temperature) we set off for the town of Wall, so named because of its proximity to the wall or escarpment that creates much of the Badlands scenery.  This drive took us through the rest of the scenic sections of SH 240 that is the main road through the Badlands National Park.

We needed to visit Wall for a number of reasons; fuel - the dashboard display told me I had 24 miles to empty when I parked on the petrol station forecourt - just a bit close for comfort in this hot and inhospitable terrain; breakfast for us (although it was nearly mid-day by now; and to visit Wall Drug for 5c coffee and free ice-water.

Wall Drug is advertised on billboards along the I-90 for the whole width of  South Dakota so there is no excuse for not being aware of its existence.  In 1936 a struggling drugstore owner's wife came up with the idea of offering the motorists on the nearby SH 16 (on their way to see the newly unveiled sculptures on Mt Rushmore) free ice-water (not a lot of air-conditioned cars back then!) and they came in droves.

Some just took the free water, but many purchased ice creams and other goods and the store has flourished ever since.  The son took over and offered the 5c coffee but the place is really a huge emporium of tourist tat - the donuts, however, are fantastic! It is set up as a wild-west outpost with lots of cheesy stuff and heaps of historical memorabilia, all in all quite a pleasurable stopping point.

Having had the free ice-water and a couple of cups of 5c coffee, we duly purchased something else - the donuts - and then found a regular store for some milk for what was now brunch.

We headed back the way we had come, stopped off at the ranger station to watch the video, came out 20 minutes later into fearsome wind, blowing in the direction which would be straight into our tent which we had left with the front flap open because of the heat.  We made a dash back to the campground to find the poor old tent being severely battered by the breeze and fastened down every guy rope and fixing point that we typically do not use.

The camp owners assured us that the severe thunderstorm warning that they had been monitoring was over in an hour and that according to the weather radar, the storm had passed so we left the tent up and set off for the White River section of the park.
This turned out to be a wasted drive as there was nothing extra to see down there.  We returned by a different route in the hope of seeing bison but had to be content with Prairie Dogs and Bighorn sheep.

By now the scattered clouds had cleared and the sunshine was illuminating the landscape brilliantly so we slowly made our way back to camp through the park once more, had a quick dinner and then set out to capture some sunset shots to round off a good day in bad lands.

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