Original Post: February 15, 2016
They say all good things must come to an end, and perhaps that’s why I’ve put off posting this last blog entry!
On day 21, we were up at 5:30 due to a crying baby in the camp site across from us (seriously – what is with these parents???) and while Nate packed up the tent, I headed to get sunrise photos. The sun was coming up quickly, though, and I only hoped I’d reach the lake in time! This may have been the only instance in the entire trip where I was behind the wheel of our car. Nate claimed the road for his own. Though I was briefly distracted by an elk, I did managed to make the lake in time for a sunrise shot. Whew!
The Badlands National Park in South Dakota was the last of our vacation destinations before heading back to rainy eastern Pennsylvania. Leaving the Grand Tetons, on what officially capped three weeks on the road, I knew we had quite the drive ahead of us and even though I’d hoped to get one of the camp sites just inside the park, my expectations weren’t high. Like Jenny Lake Campground, Cedar Pass Campground is first-come/first-served.
The drive was one of the most interesting along the way, particularly when we had to stop for a herd of cattle being driven across the road by a couple of real cowboys. People really do still have these occupations! I think I’ve been working in an office for too long! The only thing that would have made the sight better was if the cowboy’s horse hadn’t spooked, misstepped, and fallen. On the pavement. On top of his rider. You would think that since I had a camera in hand, I might have tried to capture this moment. Perhaps the fact that I didn’t means I have a shred of human decency and capturing the image wasn’t as important as making sure both rider and horse were okay. (Other than hurt pride and human anger, both seemed fine!)
We originally stopped for lunch at a Subway, but upon seeing the line that went out the door and around the side of the building, we decided to review our options. A good thing we did. We found the Trucker’s Outpost Cafe, where we learned that there was a festival or a rodeo in town (that explained both the number of people and horses in the direct area!), and had a better meal than we could have gotten at Subway anyway. The meal was surprisingly good and the rest from driving was a welcome change from hours in the car.
We arrived at Cedar Pass Campground in the Badlands around 5 pm, and even though we had figured it would be the case, I was disappointed that there was no spot left to pitch a tent. We instead turned around and booked a room in an ‘eh’ motel just outside of the park. (Yes, ‘eh’ is an official rating.) It wasn’t ideal, but getting a shower was an unexpected delight and very much welcome!
I’d always wanted to photograph the Badlands landscape at night and couldn’t wait for the opportunity to do so, but finding the right place to take a photo isn’t easy when you’re tripping over your own feet and hoping not to step on a snake. So, we gladly took a trip to the park during the daylight hours first, just to ensure that we’d get to where we wanted to go when we were ready.
The landscape is quite breathtaking and it’s easy to see why the park was named Badlands. It’s a lonely place and though it’s a national park, crowds don’t dominate here the way they do at the Grand Canyon, which gives visitors a hint of what it might have been like for the Native Americans who lived here centuries ago. There’s something very quiet and very spiritual happening here.
As we ate our dehydrated camp meal while watching the sun set from the parking lot of a lookout, we noticed thunderheads off in the distance. I fought the excitement building in my gut. A thunderstorm! In the Badlands!!
Since I’d first begun planning this trip at age eighteen, I had hoped to encounter a wild thunderstorm in the Badlands. How amazing would it be if Mother Nature actually obliged? A part of me hesitated, though. I wanted beautiful night skies, too! But you can’t have it all.
Or can you?
We returned to the hotel to work on loading photos to the computer and conversing with the outside world. Hooray for wifi. By 10:30, we decided it was time to venture out again. We were hardly out the door when we realized that the storm we had seen rolling in the distance was producing massive lighting strikes. This was nature demanding our respect!
But of course… I hadn’t brought the right camera lens. Nate insisted that we return to the motel to get the lens so that I could capture the sight, and we did, but by the time we were back to the park, the storm had more or less run out of steam and we were left with not much on film. But, oh the experience! It was worth more than any photo I could have taken!
Back to the lookout point for some night photography. The Badlands is, without a doubt, the perfect place to capture stunning silhouetted landscape and the Milky Way stretching far overhead.
In the end, I got both my thunderstorm and my clear night skies. It was the perfect way to end the vacation, and sure, it wasn’t quite over yet, but the heart of our trip revolved around the natural beauty that can be seen and visited throughout the expanse of this amazing country.
So, as election season begins to rile friends, family, and neighbors across the United States, I encourage you to remember that this country was built on much greater things than what politicians would have you believe are important.
See it for yourself!
And if you need someone to help you plan…I’m really good with Excel.