Adventures, Travel

Wall Drugs & The Badlands, South Dakota

After 1880 Town, I stopped by Wall Drugs because….well you just have to. It’s an institution and the hundreds of billboards starting from the state line serve to create an insatiable pavlovian urge to visit. I took pictures of the inside last year so check out this post if you’d like to see them. Wall Drugs is basically a circus for consumers, making it all too much fun and easy to spend your hard-earned dollars on a rubber tomahawk. It’s a tourist trap but it’s infinitely amusing. Then I ambled across the street to eat at the Cactus Café. The buffet didn’t blow my mind but for $10.00 I was able to go competitive eater on the place. Once my belly was full and my head was aching from the sugary margarita my server talked me into, I was off to set up camp in Badlands National Park. I had no idea what to expect but I was up for adventure.Badlands National ForestBadlands National ForestBadlands National ForestBadlands National ForestBadlands National ForestBadlands National ForestBadlands National Forest
I decided to stay at Sage Creek, one of the two campgrounds in the Badlands. Sage Creek is a no-reservations, primitive campground with a wealth of covered picnic tables and two pit toilets. The feature I was most interested in is that it’s free to camp here. Aces! After a few death-defying moments on the winding, unpaved roads, I arrived in a valley to find the campground full of people from all over the globe just hanging out. I thought I was in a smaller, more vegetated version of Burning Man. It was glorious. Added to that were the bison just roaming around the tents, all laid back. The thought crossed my mind that one may decide to set up shop on me in the middle of the night but luckily they kept their distance. I set up my tent amongst the 50+ other campers and bison and fell asleep to the unsettling sound of coyotes howling nearby. I find coyote communication to be terrifying. Don’t ask me why, I just do. Despite the coyotes, I had the best nights sleep ever. It was perfect. In the morning, I tore down camp and went for a hike on a nearby footpath. Although it was glorious, I wish I had more time to explore because I only experienced the northern most edge of the Badlands. It would take at least two more days to do this place any justice.

Badlands National Park
This guy has it going on! I want his setup.
Badlands National Forest
The view from my tent.
There was a bison snoring just a few feet away. Nite nite.
yellowstone national park

Crossing the Country

DSCF2274Greetings from 7,744 feet! I made it safe and sound to one of the most glorious places on earth, Yellowstone National Park. Our very first National Park. It took me four days to get here from Cortland, New York but I took time to visit friends and just maintain a chill pace. I can’t say this enough, I love Big Horn National Forest. The drive through there made the entire, rather geographically boring, trip worth it for me. My last night on the road was spent camping in the foothills of the Big Horns in the town of Buffalo, Wyoming. It’s a quaint little place with a wealth of history but it isn’t like most of the tourist traps along the way. They didn’t re-make their downtown to look like the wild west or anything cheesy like that–which is much appreciated. The drive on Route 16 West from Buffalo through Greybull through Cody and on to Yellowstone was just lovely with all the canyons, snow-covered mountains, and rivers flowing throughout. I spotted two sandhill cranes wading in a ditch next to the road. There were a plethora of antelope and mule deer grazing and scampering about. And if you know me at all, you know I love cows. It was nice to see so many cows out grazing in the prairies. Being from the east, we just pack them into confined feeding operations like sardines and if we do let them graze, the land is usually a few scant acres and the vegetation is usually picked over. It was heartwarming to see the babies being cared for by their mothers. I spotted many mother and calf playing in the fields together along the way. On a sad note, just outside of Greybull, Wyoming there is a tiny town (population of 10…I’m not joking, that’s what the sign said) called Emblem. In the front yard was a dead calf. It looked like it had been dead for a few days and two cows were standing over it–presumably one was the mother. The rotting calf was about 100 feet from the house’s front steps. I don’t understand how that is okay to someone, to anyone. I’ve worked in the range lands of west Texas where farmers had hundreds of acres of grazing land and large herds of cattle to keep track of. I’ve seen several cows who’ve died from being entangled in fencing far away from the farm. All pain and suffering is terrible but what I saw in Emblem was even less acceptable to me. They only had two cows to care for (three if you counted the calf) and about an acre of grazing land. How could you miss a dead calf or do they just not care? How could you just leave the body of a baby to rot while the mother stands over it grieving? It just seems so heartless. Do people really believe that we are the only beings gifted with emotions? Anyways, I didn’t mean to depress you. Just some food for thought.

Sunday afternoon, I reached the Yellowstone gate, showed them my research permit, the ranger offered directions at which I politely declined (challenging myself to make it to the dorm by memory) and I was set free to roam. Yellowstone is just as I left it back in 2006, apart from a few more burnt areas–which is to be expected in this flammable ecosystem. I found my way to the dorm without a problem and that too was exactly the same. Researchers come and go but for now I’m living with four German geochemists studying the Park’s thermal features, one sociologist studying risk behavior at bear jams, and then there’s me and my field partner, Andrew. We just completed our first full week of work and besides the unpredictable weather, it went off without a hitch. We’re re-visiting many of the extremely rigorous sites Polly and I surveyed back in 2006, including one where we had to shed all of our gear and swim across a river. This should be interesting and I will do my best to keep you posted. There is no free internet access here and my cell service doesn’t work. However, they do offer internet service for $4.95/hour so I’m trying to streamline my internet use to only one hour/week. Thus, my blog posts may be limited. I’m choosing to embrace being cut off from the rest of the world. It’s a nice change of pace but I certainly do miss having my friends and family just a text away. I have a feeling this is all going to go by so fast though so I’m doing everything I can to savor each and every second. I’ve been keeping a journal to remember my experience here and so the rest of my posts will be my journal entries.

Below are photos from my trip to Wall, South Dakota. Home of the enormous store, Wall Drugs. It was certainly a sight to see!

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The blue skies of South Dakota.
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Does anyone else see a Phantom of the Opera mask in the upper left?
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One of the million road signs to Wall Drugs.
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Oooh reptile gardens.


Inside Wall Drugs.
The Wall Drugs chapel.
My new lady friend.
A hungry T-rex at Wall Drugs.


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My campsite in Buffalo, WY.