To Badlands National Park

June 25, 2017 - Badlands National Park, South Dakota, United States

We were “up and out” by 7:30 a.m.  The change in time zone was to our advantage since we didn’t feel deprived of much sleep.  We had decided to take a short scenic jaunt up NE-75 to Sioux City.  Our first stop was at the Lewis and Clark state park in Iowa.  It had a keel boat exhibit that Bill was very interested in.  At the park was a keelboat that folks could climb aboard and learn about how goods and people were transported up and down the Missouri River.  It was very interesting and I was just impressed that we could access it for free and unencumbered by restrictions.


By 11:30 a.m. we had arrived in Mitchell, South Dakota via US-90.  Mitchell is the home of the “Mitchell Corn Palace” established in 1892.  I first visited the corn palace 40 years ago with my parents; and then again, in 1997 with my children.  (Every 20 years is more than enough.)  The corn palace is decorated with different colored cobs of corn, and various corn “stuff” every year in corn-colorful murals.  This year’s mural featured “music” and had a corn cob rendition of Willie Nelson.  Interesting.  Or more accurately, interesting?  The town has built up a tourist industry over this facility that also hosts the high school basketball games.  It was fun to stroll through the interior and see pictures of previous decoration efforts.  Recently, the domes to the palace were modernized with metal.  I find it less appealing than the previous onion domes.  For that reason and (not) that reason alone, I will not likely return in 20 years.

There is a beautiful “Welcome Center” on a high bluff near Chamberlain, South Dakota.  It overlooks the mighty Missouri River.  There is a huge and impressive metal statue of a Native American woman there named, “Dignity”.  It was built to represent the pride and strength of native cultures.  It is of grand scale and stunning.  Dignity at Chamberlain, South Dakota

We stopped at the Minuteman Missile National Historic Visitor Center for a quick minute before arriving in Badlands National Park around 3:00 p.m.  With our two day visit now curtailed to one; there was really only one “must do” on my list.  This had been the weekend of the annual “Astronomy Festival” in the Badlands.  Volunteers from the University of Michigan and beyond had high-powered telescopes set up and after dark there was an opportunity to use them.  Our delay meant that we had only one night to enjoy the sky but we were off for a little “warm up” hiking first.

We decided to do the “Cliff Shelf Nature Trail” located near the Ben Reifel Visitor’s Center.  At the trailhead there are signs warning of rattlesnakes and (of course) I was thinking, “YES!”  The trail was easy and provided some good views of one end of the park.  At least once while walking along the boardwalk I asked Bill, “Did you hear that noise?”  I wasn’t sure what I’d heard but since he heard nothing we continued on.  Right near the end of the trail, a family ahead of us pointed and there, slipping on its way with its tail a rattlin’ was my very first live sighting of a rattle snake!  I was disappointed that I didn’t see its head.  Bill assured me that one should prefer to see the tale of a rattle snake, snaking away; rather than the head coming towards you.  Fine.  flower and bee


The one “must do” I was hoping we could manage was Notch Trail.  I knew it was somewhat challenging but was hopeful we could both manage. We started up the ¾ mile Notch Trail about 6:00 p.m.  The trail is difficult not due to length; but due to a “ladder” up one cliff side, sharp drop offs, and a very narrow, slope in another place.  From the top – the notch – the views were said to be awesome.  When we came to the ladder we paused.  It was like round 4” diameter logs spaced every so many inches up the wall face.  Sometimes, the rungs were against the dirt; other times there was nothing underneath them and the climber had to be quite sure about foot placement.  We both managed this without a hitch.  That was encouraging.  The hike was a little challenging for us non-hikers but certainly bolstered our confidence.  The views were lovely on the way to the notch and once there.  The sinking sun aided in providing shadow and color to the rock formations. bill ladder4comp


On the way down, we thought we’d found a short-cut that would eliminate the ladder.  We walked down a trail to its end which culminated in quite a drop down to the canyon floor.  Although that proved to be futile, there was a colony of cliff swallows nested just beyond the edge.  We enjoyed watching them swoop in and out, feeding their young who hung in mud nests from the underside of the cliff.  It was quite a production.  We had no real difficulty with the ladder in the end.  Kelly at NotchCompThe whole walk took about 80 minutes.  We spent a few more minutes looking around the area before heading back to camp.  It was cool and there was no breeze.  We planned to attend the presentation at the amphitheater later and then get some great views through the monster telescopes we had seen earlier.



When we arrived at the amphitheater all seats were taken.  Cool had turned to cold.  We listened to a guy from U of M do the presentation for as long as we could stand.  We were tired.  The pathway back to our campsite was lighted by glow sticks so as not to distract from the night sky.  I must say that the stars were incredible.  The Milky Way was in clear view as were a jillion stars.  We stood outside our camper and just admired the view before calling it a night.dusk


keel boat
View from Campground
Dignity at Chamberlain, South Dakota
flower and bee
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