Fact #1: The Badlands are an explorer’s utopia.
Unlike most national parks who either limit or closely monitor the use of backcountry hiking, the Badlands have an open-trail policy. This means you can virtually go anywhere in the park, which is quite mind boggling considering the miles upon miles of maze-like formations that dot the landscape in middle-of-nowhere South Dakota. I took the Badlands up on their offer to venture off the beaten bath and had a grand ol’ time weaving my way around and through the terrain. I especially enjoyed scrambling upwards, saying silent prayers that the crumbly siltstone would hold beneath my shifting weight.
Fact #2: The Badlands are unbelievably beautiful at dusk.
When I first arrived at the Badlands, I was eager to see part of the park, even though it was rather late in the day. A park rancher suggested a sunset hike, explaining how the reflecting red/orange hues of the sunlight turn the panorama into a Mars-like illusion. The experience did not disappoint. While the daylight slowly dwindled, my senses came alive. The cool breeze brushed my skin and my ears picked up the sounds of an owl awakening for his nightly hunt. I found such a pleasant solitude as the night slowly settled and I sat there drinking it all in.
Now, back to the whole confession piece. What do you get when you combine a desire to explore and a propensity to be out at dusk? Ding, ding, ding! I got lost… in the dark. I was smart enough to have a headlamp and my Spot with me, but probably not quite smart enough to be overly concerned. The waxing gibbous moon provided a nice sheen of light that helped me spot some landmarks, but I still spent 45 minutes doing a hefty amount of backtracking. There are some deep slopes and crevices in the rock that need to be avoided. Also, I tried to stay away from the rattle-snake laden grasses that appeared in patches throughout the area. Eventually I found a road. Then it was just a matter of sauntering 3 miles back to my car. All in all it wasn’t a bad experience. In reality, being “lost” for such a short time was more of a novelty than something to write home about (yet here I am writing about it…?).
Final fact: I still plan on exploring the Badlands off-trail and staying out at dusk – just not at the same time.