05 May 2016

May 5, Missives from Badlands

Driving through Iowa and South Dakota was rough.  The landscape is aggressively flat, and the vastness of the agricultural enterprise is just eerie.  Add to this rows upon rows of giant wind turbines.  Obviously I'm very pro food production and wind power but the whole place starts to look like a dystopian robot film.  For hours and hours and hours.

Plus, we were in an RV with two screaming children, so that helped.

We spent the night on Tuesday (May 3, for those keeping track) in a Jellystone campground just outside of Sioux Falls, SD, where we were mercifully reunited with Winnie the Pooh (thank you, Judy!) Benjamin dropped me and the kids off at the campground to play on the playground while he took the RV to the local big box store to load in provisions.  While he was gone, the campground office closed and both employees drove off.  There were a few other RVs in the park, but no signs of life in them.  The whole place had one tree. Anyway, I felt a little like Matt Damon in that Martian movie.

Wednesday we got up and had glorious hot showers (I will say this for Jellystone, they provide a fine restroom experience).  Then back on the road.

Traveler review: The Corn Palace of Mitchell, South Dakota is underwhelming, but the coffee at the nearby gas station is strong (and apparently free with $92 worth of gas).  I would like to take this moment to thank God for the gift of caffeine.  Facebook moms are always talking about wine, but that shit just makes me tired and I am already tired.  Coffee is what makes parenthood possible.  For me, anyway.  Benjamin is always complaining that it smells terrible and giving me side-eye about my chemical dependence. Whatever.

Back on the road.  Bear indulged in some Thomas the Tank Engine.  Pax slept.  Benjamin and I finished listening to The Fault in Our Stars.  One of the criticisms of this book has been that it's unrealistic - that teenagers don't really have such witty conversations or think so much about the nature of the universe or what makes a good life.  But reading (listening) this book, I was struck by a sense of nostalgia for adolescence as a time when I did spend time thinking about these things and discussing/debating them and generally having rich conversations and engaging with a landscape of ideas.

Now, less so.  My mental space is so occupied with parenting.  Work, too, but that mostly just replaces brain real estate formerly occupied by school.  It's parenting that has expanded to fill all the available space.  And time.  (RIE or Attachment? 123 Magic or natural consequences? Milk or juice? Diaper and then nurse or nurse and then diaper? Stroller or ergo? The fight over sweatshirts, hats, sunscreen, appropriate footwear - worth the effort today or nah?) Anyway, I'm not sure I actually miss all the contemplation.  I must have concluded at some point that life was worth living, because here I am in the trenches of propagating it.

North Dakota, it turns out, was saving up all its topography points for deposit in the Badlands.  I have been to many of our country's erosion-based attractions - Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion, Crested Butte - but this one is the first where erosion seems to be ongoing on a readily observable time scale.  The ground is soft and sandy.  The formations of striped rock are treated as temporary.  According to the ranger we spoke with you're allowed to walk around off trail wherever you want.  No named hoodoos getting kit glove treatment here.

Luckily, the Badlands have many stunning vistas accessible by car, because our attempts to hike have been frustrating at best.  Bear does not want to walk or be carried.  Or rather, he does want to walk, but only about 25 yards before sinking to his knees in the center of the trail and waling that his legs are broken and he can't possibly go on.  Pax, having been in the carseat all day, wants to catch up on nursing, which is also not terribly conducive to hiking.

Once we learned about the "you can go anywhere" rule, we also tried off-trail exploring a small side canyon.  Bear was very keen on this at first and it was actually going really well until he lost his footing and slid off a (small!) rock ledge, scraping his belly.

After that, we retreated to the RV and just pulled over at the scenic overlooks, officially becoming "those people," that I have smirked at all my life.  We followed the main road through the park to where it turns into a gravel road.  The rock formations sank back into the rolling hills as we descended into the valley.  At some point it was as if someone flipped the small rodent switch to the on position - prairie dogs appeared suddenly and were everywhere, scurrying all over, darting in and out of their holes, barking and yipping and doing that little jump into the air.  Basically they are the cutest prairie rats of all time.

Our campsite was 12 miles down the gravel road near a creek bed and looked like the cover of a Laura Ingalls Wilder book.  Though we couldn't see the rock formations (the Wall, it's called) there were gently rolling hills covered with rippling grass.  All you could hear were prairie dogs yipping and birds singing.  A fox (or possibly a coyote?) loped down the hill to the creek.  And then there were the bison.  Great magestic shaggy beasts so close I could almost touch them.

We parked the RV and Bear and I took a walk down to the creek by way of the prairie dog town.  He wore his too-big firefighter boots and ran at the prairie dogs, waving his arms and yelling.  They receded in waves, barking and then diving into their holes.  Bear investigated almost every burrow, shining his R2D2 penlight down into the darkness.

Unschooling lesson of the day: we worked on counting over ten by counting piles of bison dung between the creek and the campsite.  "Thirteen poops! Fourteen poops! Fifteen poops!"  There were 26 poops before we made it all the way back to the campsite, his legs miraculously unbroken. Benjamin had dinner waiting for us and we ate within five yards of a bison who was grazing in the center of the ring of campsites.

After dinner and bedtime, Benjamin and I sat outside looking at the stars and listening to coyotes howl.
Flatness and Turbines
Reunited and it feels so good!

Corn Palace. This Elvis mural is made entirely of corn cobs.  Because why the hell not?

First views of Badlands
Very pretty erosion
Adventure hats?
Double check.

Exploring a side canyon
Campground host

Home, home on the range
Walk to the creek


  1. I always regretted not going to the corn palace when I road tripped through that area.

  2. Three important comments:

    1. Ummm...that Elvis corn mural is amazing. I just go there.

    2. Don't put any wildlife in the rv.

    3. Like a prairie dog I rooooaaaaammmm....