Wrapping Arms Around the Badlands

If you’ve been to the Badlands and like to take photos, you know this: there are places in the world you cannot capture in a photo, and this is one of them. Sure, you can take lots and lots of photos (and you will), but each one will show a unique piece of this amazing place. Every trail is different; every view is special.

We hiked the Notch Trail first. It’s listed as one of the most challenging, and it did have this cool wooden ladder and some steep drop-offs along the side of the trail, but overall we found it more invigorating than challenging, and ended up hiking the Notch Trail twice in our visit.

Badlands_Notch2     Badlands_Notch1     BandE_NotchTrail

Along the way we met Brad, a national park volunteer who took our photo and gave us some insight into the vista through “The Notch” — an opening along a ridge that provided views of other parts of the park and prairie. Brad’s doing the right thing, we believe, which is spending his summers seeing as much of the country and its parks as he can, scrimping along the way. Oh, if we could have done it differently ourselves!

BandBrad_Notch

He told us we should be prepared to use our hands on the Saddle Pass hike, a shorter but more vertical climb than The Notch, and he was right. The Badlands is one of the few places we’ve been that allows hikers to venture off many of its trails, and once we reached the high plains plateau of Saddle Pass, Bob found his way up yet another peak. The scale is impossible to see, but here’s an idea:

B_SaddlePass  That speck at the top of the peak is Bob! I took the photo from the TOP of Saddle Pass, which started at the road level hundreds of feet below.

Was it scary at the top? Not if I’m anchored solidly on my behind 🙂

E_SaddlePass

In between these more challenging hike/climbs, we spent leisurely time on the Door and Window trails (don’t you love these names? They’re rooted in specific formations within the Badlands, but they sound cool anyway: “Today we’re doing the Door and Window….”).

And we took a drive along the Sage Creek Road, where we spotted these critters — prairie dogs, a bison, and a pronghorn (look closely and you’ll see the pronghorn behind and to the right of the bison):

Badlands_PrairieDog     Badlands_Bison_Pronghorn

We spent some of every day in the park, and though we had covered as much territory as we could and knew it was time to move on down the road, we were sad to leave.

On our last day, we passed by Brad again — too far away to chat, but close enough for a friendly wave. When we got back to the truck after hiking The Notch again, we found this note under our windshield:

BradNote

It’s always great to stand at the top of a peak and inhale an amazing, God-given view. But when we connect meaningfully — however briefly — with another person, we treasure the experience even more. Thank you, Brad, and may the Big Chief keep watching over you.

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About Ellen

Fiction writer and photographer, I travel the country with my sweetheart of a husband as a "full-time RVer."
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