If you can imagine being teleported to an alien world in your vehicle and then driving across the landscape, that would come close to describing Badlands National Park in South Dakota. We pulled up to the campground on a muggy and humid afternoon. The campground wasn’t empty, but apparently everyone was out and about, so it seemed almost like a ghost town. We found the water spigot and tanked up the fresh water tank. After the setup we sat down on our front porch and enjoyed our drinks while looking at the tall barren peaks. Millions of years ago, much of this area was a shallow sea which later receded due to tectonic shifting of the plates as well as the ice age. What was left began to erode due to the wind and rain. With our luck, this mostly arid land had been experiencing unusually high levels of rainfall washing out many of the campsites in our loop. What a stran
ge contrast to see the line of storms approaching this desert-like environment. We would later come to appreciate the harshness of this land, and the struggle to survive in this part of the world. Fortunately for us, we were off the ground in our camper enjoying our drinks and tacos.
The next morning, after booting up the generator, and enjoying our coffee, we were off to explore. Our first stop was the Ben Reifel visitor center, named after a former park superintendent and Sioux native. The grazing animals -bison, bighorn sheep, and mule deer, have adapted over time to sustain their need for water through the grasses and clay saturated water. Life is no easier for humans, who must harvest and store rainwater, or import water from farther away. With so few wells in the area, it is amazing that anyone can survive here at all. Nonetheless, people seem to find a way, and one such story is epitomized in the town of Wall by Ted and Dorothy Hustead, who founded a thriving, must-stop drugstore literally in the middle-of-nowhere. Despite the harshness, there is beauty in this place. As the sun strikes the layered rocks, the place begins to glow. beneath the peaks, an ocean of grass waves in the unforgiving wind of the plains. One could get lost in the land, and regrettably, I didn’t think to plan a backcountry experience here. Perhaps next time.
In a strange juxtaposition to this fairy-tale land, we stopped off at the National Park Minuteman museum. Sentinels of the Cold War, missile silos once dotted the South Dakota landscape. In a moment’s notice, these missiles would launch their deadly payloads across the Arctic pole to utterly obliterate mother Russia and her people most likely resulting in total annihilation of the human species. Ironic that the land known as “The Badlands” would once again return to a desolate wasteland incapable of supporting human life. Of course, where there is great wickedness, there is also great comfort knowing that humans can create works of beauty such as whiskey to temporarily wipe these horrible thoughts from the mind, even if temporary.