The Badlands

Roadtrip Day 3.

As the seas of corn on each side of us reluctantly gave way to mile after mile of prairie, some small signs of life started to appear. Here and there, rusty old oil wells dotted around the prairies slowly pumped away trying feebly to free us from the Middle East. Occasionally a coyote or group of antelope would come into view for a moment and then vanish. Even evil little rodents that I’m sure are somehow in collaboration with the squirrel’s plans to take over the world.

When it wasn’t my shift to drive, I was mesmerized by a bizarre and highly entertaining non-fiction book I picked up at a used book store called “Shen Ku — The Ultimate Traveler’s Guide. Check it out when you get a chance, take my word for it — it is not your usual traveler’s tips book by any means.

Around noon, we rolled past Rapid City, South Dakota, and directly into the Badlands National Park. Finally a state that has more to offer me than grain!

Wow. I knew the name probably more from Western movies than history class, but what a beautifully desolate place. It holds the same alluring gritty beauty that you would expect Death Valley to hold. The rock formations were alien and I might as well have looked up from my mysterious book and been sitting on the surface of Mars or something. With crumbly rocks giving way to huge canyons filled only with poisonous water, very little survives here save the rattlesnakes and outlaws. The place is actually full of fossils, some of them huge. The terrain was so brutal that not even the dinosaurs could survive…but then again, they weren’t too good at staying alive anyway it seems.

We managed to give the hyperventilating minivan a break and went walking across the cracked landscape. Stakes in the ground kept us from becoming lost and ending up as snake-food, but I can only imagine how tough the Native Americans had it camping out in a place like this. The sun baked down on us and the lack of humidity offered up a perfect blue sky. The feeling of the gritty rock against my hands was exhilarating….and a rush of solo climbing memories, both good and bad, filled my head for the first time in months. I can hardly wait to get up on the rocks somewhere, but to climb here would be certain idiot-tourist death.

As hypnotic as the scenery was I always had one eye on the shadows and cracks beneath the rock formations during our hike. This place was no doubt an orgy of rattlesnakes and I didn’t endure the drive across Iowa to end up watching my fang-punctured foot swell to size of a basketball in some small-town hospital.

Despite the barren loneliness of the place, it was actually breathtaking and my parents agreed that it deserved the credit as a miniature Grand Canyon. We alternated hiking, snapping pictures, and driving for a while and I actually felt a little sad about having to leave the park so soon. It definitely goes to the top of the motorcycle-tour list as soon as I stop putting off the inevitable and buy a bike.

Not bad for our first stop of interest along this 4200 mile journey…and yes, it was actually worth enduring three days of corn. 🙂

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2 Responses to “The Badlands”

  1. There are lots of things to see in the land of corn.
    Don’t forget Car Henge (a bunch of cars set up to look just like stone henge) Should you have ventured into the great state of Kansas we grow Wheat (However wheat harvest is over already), Sunflowers and Milo instead of corn corn and more corn. And you would have gotten to see the worlds largest ball of twine. Sounds exciting huh? Plus a quick stop to the geographical center of the Contential US. How many people can actually say they have been in the exact middle of the US?
    But enjoy the badlands, Mount Rushmore (I am sure you are heading there). Don’t forget a stop in Deadwood. Its not just a canceled series on HBO you know. 🙂

  2. Oh no….I missed Car Henge! That is exactly the kind of thing I look for when I travel…would have made some great photos. Oh well, will definitely look for it next time.

    I’m sure I passed lots of gems like that….unfortunately it seems that I74 and I-80 run nowhere near the fun stuff. (other than the corn palace, of course).

    Oh well…yet another excuse to ride a motorcycle out next time. 🙂

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