Makhóšiča, es mauvaises terres à traverser, tierra baldía

‘…wild flowers should be enjoyed unplucked where they grow.’- Teddy Roosevelt

If you don’t understand the title of this post, allow me to translate: “Makhóšiča” is Lakota for – “bad land”, “les mauvaises terres à traverser” is French for – “the bad lands to cross” and the Spanish say tierra baldía – “waste land”. No matter which language you use to represent it, the Badlands of South Dakota may be ‘bad’, but are truly solitary in their spirit, tenacity and geographic location. Much like the hoodoos in Bryce National Park, the Badlands are home to sedimentary rocks that have been eroded over time to produce unique and other-worldly formations and are teamed up with the largest mixed grass prairie in the United States. The marriage between the two, vastly different terrains is a striking and beautiful pairing.

There are a few established trails by the visitors center, but the best way to see the Badlands is to drive through them. We proceeded to our back country camp site at Sage Creek, about an hour into the park on the west side. During our visit, we encountered several different forms of wildlife: mangy big-horn sheep, cattle (there is private land very close to the park road) and possibly the cutest animal in the prairie states, the prairie dog. However, none of our wild life sightings in all of our national park adventures could prepare us for what happened as we set up our tent for the night. I stood up to admire our tent-pitching handy work to see a bison walking 15 feet behind rw2! After blinking a few times to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating, I calmly asked him to turn around. At this point, the bison was between rw2 and the camera (in the car) so we waited for him to continue on before snapping a few photos. He proceeded to slowly wander through the campground and head for nearby Sage Creek. Wow.

We filled the morning with short walks along the established trail area, but soon ended up on a much different path. Notch trail is 1.5 miles of badlands hiking at its best. Through a canyon to a steep log ladder had us scrambling over rocks to the “Notch” that awarded us with a gorgeous view of the prairie from high up in the grayish Pierre shale. In the early afternoon, a ranger-lead fossil talk filled us with visions of long ago creatures that inhabited this area when it was a shallow sea.

From frightening creatures of 25 million years ago to a much more recent scare… the Minuteman Missile Historic Site just north of the park is a sobering look into the Cold War. 31 feet below the surface is the launch control center, Delta One (D-01) for the Delta Nine (D-09) missile silo located a mere 11 miles away. Several sites like this existed to deter a nuclear first strike from the Soviet Union. This complex was on alert for nearly 30 years until President George Bush and soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) in 1991. All sites of the complex, except a single deactivated launch facility (D-09) and deactivated launch control center (D-01) to be preserved as Cold War historic sites, were destroyed in 1996.

Unable to push on due to rain near Glacier National Park, our second day in the Black Hills area had us seeking an alternative to hiking on top of the mountains, crawling underneath them. To me, caves are one of the coolest geologic features in the natural world and as rw2 can attest, I just can’t get enough. Wind Cave was discovered by local brothers in 1881, but the opening has been known to the Lakota (Sioux) for centuries and is still considered a sacred site. It is the 4th longest cave system in the world at 119 miles of explored cave but it is estimated that they have only discovered a mere 5% of the total cave! Wind Cave is home to 95% of a unique form of calcite formation called boxwork and it is a prime characteristic of the cave.

We finished our trip in and around the badlands with a trip to Wall Drug. We hadn’t planned on visiting, but when we found ourselves in need of a spot to flight plan and have lunch, Wall Drug fit the bill perfectly. I wouldn’t say you should make a point to go out of your way to see Wall Drug, but if you’ve been there you know what I’m talking about and if you haven’t… you probably don’t need to.

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The Internet “Connection”

‘Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.’ – Ferris Bueller

So, traveling is a wonderful thing. The internet is a wonderful thing. Traveling with the internet can be an awesome thing. Obviously, rw2 and I have been greatly affected by the internet revolution. He works in the I.T. industry and I happily use the internet for, what seems like, every need out there. From shopping, to travel research, to social networking… I’ve got it bad. When he suggested we blog our trip to Alaska in 2008, I was a bit skeptical. Even though I tend to do a lot of talking, I’m fairly convinced that nobody wants to hear what I have to say. Turns out it doesn’t matter with a blog. You can while away the hours putting down your thoughts, opinions or ideas about anything and just ‘put it out there’. Anybody who wants to read it can and anybody who doesn’t want to read it, well, doesn’t. It seems that family members and friends alike have expressed an interest in what I say, so I guess I’ll keep on keepin’ on.

Our recent 2 week flying trip out west was a terrific time, but for those who follow along on Left Base, the posts were less than few and far between. That is to say, they were nonexistent. I would like to say that the reason for this was some spectacular event that prevented us from posting, like my computer was eaten by a bear or I needed it to fend off a mountain lion, but the simple truth is this: turns out that there is no internet access at the National Park campsites. (I know, right?) I have to admit, that while I had a small nagging in my brain that kept repeating “I should be blogging this.” It was extremely peaceful and the soul reason for our trip. Blogging while in a big city where the activities are urban based lends itself to the opportunity to record the day’s events while relaxing at the hotel/hostel. But, traveling through a 1,000,000 acre wonderland (Glacier NP) where internet service does not exist does not lend itself to this practice and I am truly grateful for it.

I often walk a fine line between what is important and what is not. The need to share information is a wonderful thing, but how do we get that information presented in an efficient manner that is helpful, necessary or meaningful to the reader and don’t miss what is important for you to pass on? Does it matter that people know what I had for lunch yesterday? Or for that matter, is it important that people know where the world’s largest ball of twine is? (Darwin, Minnesota) Probably not, but like everything else in life, it gives a sense of place, a sense of purpose and a sense of measure. So, despite the guilty feeling of not blogging as we went, I will offer a few posts to lightly touch on our trip this year. Perhaps that will be just enough to inform, entertain and inspire.

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