A Tale of Immediate Departures, Part I

Badlands South Dakota, 2016

// Mt. Rushmore Road had a new median: rows of bumbling motorbikes. Each with the heft of an antibiotic, force-fed cow. And the same went for their owners, who were parading around like Macaque monkeys in their cheek-perforated leather pants. One of every two bikers tramping around was grossly overweight and the same statistic was applicable to the quantity of bored, stupefied facial expressions on the passersby as they peered into Rattlesnake Jakes, Full Throttle Saloon, and Dakota Leather Outlet.

Cabo San Lucas t-shirt vendors had made the journey north for the month of August, and left behind their beachcombing, shot-sipping and sunburnt gregarious customers for, well, the same. Only this time their patrons digressed to hair metal instead of chicano rap.

They had reassembled their hawker stands with banners loudly pronouncing their menu del dia: Sleeveless Denim, and Gun Pocket Vests (which pictured a sinister pocket knife emblazoned with the American flag).

​Two Polaris mules pulled up and parked, three more inches and they would have made it inside. The drivers were clad in fuzzy house slippers and carried themselves with the implied attitude associated. As the man picked over the merch, he revealed the ink show on his arms: a hollowed skull bedazzled in a headdress next to a PBR. Thirty minutes later I would see them processing behind a skinny Indian boy carrying a wicker replica of a motorcycle.

The absurdity of Custer was soon to be trampled by the Crazy Horse Memorial – yet another monstrous human defection on the granite walls of the Black Hills. This memorial seemed even more outrageous and hypocritical than Mt. Rushmore as it ran contrary to the Native American tenant of good stewardship of natural resources.

Castle Trail, Badlands, 2016

// All night long, sleep was interrupted by the rumbling of motorbikes on their pilgrimage. I awoke the next day with an annoyance and desire of flight similar to how one feels at the end of a soured relationship. I had to get out and take refuge somewhere where the sound would not carry or a knife fight would be imminent. The strangeness had also reached another level as an 8 y.o. child had been running through the campground at the break of dawn wielding an axe shouting ‘DIE’. I peered at the map and headed to the nearest trail system and body of water, Sylvan Lake. After a nice respite, it was finally time to head west towards the Badlands.
Beheld on the drive west:

  1. In the town of Keystone alone, I passed the following: Presidential Wax Museum, Horror Antiques, Cosmos Mystery Area, Christmas Village + NFL Shop
  2. VIP Property Listing: 730 acres and Cave
  3. Reptile Gardens: Reptile Gardens houses the largest collection of reptiles in the world.  Look for the giant glass dome at the bottom of the hill.
  4. Bear Country USA: Enjoy the playful antics of bear cubs and other park offspring in the walk through Babyland. See where the animals roam free!
  5. Wall Drug: Plan a road trip through South Dakota, and do not forget to stop at Wall Drug, the ultimate South Dakota tourist attraction known around the globe for its American charm and FREE ice water.
  6. Dinosaur Park: Did you know there are dinosaurs looking over Rapid City? They’ve been there for nearly 80 years. The park contains seven dinosaur sculptures on a hill overlooking the city (not real dinosaurs).
  7. Corn Palace: Some 500,000 tourists come from around the nation each year to see the uniquely designed corn murals. ​

// Everything is gargantuan in South Dakota, the road signs, the parking lots, the baby blue sky. And then, at once, the vastness becomes meticulously fine-tuned. The Badlands is its own space, with its own canon. The sky grays, colors fade into a matte, dusty palette. The crusty earth exposed, frothing up, writhing. Soft yet stolid. Hints of green swaths providing the only depth perception.

If you go:
Horse Thief Lake Campground
Sylvan Lake – Cathedral Spires Trail
Sage Creek Campground – Badlands (enter from the east side of the park)
Castle Trail – Badlands’ longest trail, it’s easy to complete all the trails in one day/ one attempt

Other Notables:

  • Make sure to buy the food for the Badlands in Rapid City
  • Wind is pretty bad at the Sage Creek Campground but it allows for more seclusion and views of the night sky. The trails are at the other end of the park and it takes a decent bit of time to travel between the two sides, so keep that in mind.