I have a few favorite places in the United States that I return to whenever I have the chance.
The Badlands in South Dakota is one of those places. It’s linked to childhood road trips with my parents, when my dad never missed the opportunity to drive the loop. We always went in the summer, when there was car after car after car and it seemed like everyone with kids did a summer road trip. The Badlands was an early-morning stop on the way to Colorado over an October school break, when I was a single parent to my son Shawn and I wanted him to see this stark, other-worldly place. It was chilly then, the shadows sharp. The Badlands was a stop on the way home from my nephew’s Black Hills wedding the year before Mick and I got married. My father was still alive then and he seemed delighted to be there once more. The Badlands was the destination for a September girls-only trip I took with a friend when I had an entirely unexpected bout of depression about six years ago. There is nothing so head-clearing as hiking through the middle of the Badlands when most of the tourists have left for the season. Now, it is also forever linked to this year’s summer road trip with Mick.
We were lucky to have a reservation at Cedar Pass Lodge, inside Badlands National Park, for the last night of our 2016 road trip. When we arrived in the Badlands, it was 103 degrees. That was quite a warm welcome. It cooled off quickly as evening approached.
Since we had only one night in the Badlands, we made the most of it. We ate dinner at the Cedar Pass Restaurant. I tried the Sioux Indian Taco, which was amazing. If you’ve never had frybread, you are missing a whole bunch of deliciousness. After dinner, we went to the campgrounds next door to the lodge to listen to a ranger talk about national parks in general and hear a night sky talk from a volunteer. There are so few lights in the Badlands that the view of the stars is unimpeded. The volunteer who gave the night sky talk set up enormous telescopes and everyone lined up to look at the moon, and then at Jupiter and its moons. The one trick thing about setting up the telescopes was that people automatically reached out to touch them while viewing the moon or planets. It was especially hard for the kids to keep their hands away. The volunteer had to reset the telescope every time someone touched it. That was one of the most patient volunteers I’ve ever seen.
The most interesting thing about the night sky talk was when the volunteer used a laser pointer to show us the different planets and stars. I still cannot get my head around how that worked, but work it did. During the evening, the International Space Station passed overhead, which caused a little excitement. We could not, however, see the Milky Way because the moon had not set; its light completely washed out the Milky Way. So, back at the cabin Mick and I set our alarm for 1:30 a.m. and got up to see the Milky Way after the moon had set. There we were in our pajamas in back of our cabin, looking up at a glorious wash of more stars than we could comprehend. I’d get up in the middle of the night for that anytime.
The next morning, we ate breakfast on the back porch. The resident swallow was a little upset with us. She chattered at us angrily until she finally decided we weren’t after her nest. We even moved our chairs over a little bit so we were not directly under it. Come to think of it, that move may have saved the last clean clothes we had with us.
We had only the morning to look around before we had to be on the road back to Minnesota. The wind was gusting hard, but at least it wasn’t over 100 degrees anymore. We did a speed tour of the loop through the park.
And then it was time to go home. The 2016 road trip was officially drawing to a close.
And it was good.