The Badlands… More Like The Awesomelands

I’ve been wanting to experience the Badlands for a few years now. I’ve seen several photos and heard nothing but good reviews, but that didn’t make the view upon entry into the park any less awe-inspiring. They are absolutely breathtaking. And they’re so much more than that first viewpoint when you enter the park that you usually see photos of.

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a viewpoint closer to the Sage Creek campsite

Sometimes they appear to be carved down into the earth, and other times they tower up like mountains. Some are graced with dusty pink stripes, others are a rich yellow and still others seem almost white.

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the yellow mounds

They are jagged and rocky, smooth and rounded, flat topped and grassy. Some are dotted with animals while others are barren alien lands. Sometimes it’s so quiet that the only noises that you hear are your own footsteps, there are times when the wind is so violent that it’s all you can hear, and at dusk and dawn the silence is punctuated with the songs of the coyotes.

As a photographer this range frustrated and inspired me. I love to tell the story of a place, journey or person to my audience, but here there is no definitive view and what you can get into the viewfinder on your camera is never enough to give the full picture. It’s a land that needs to be experienced. It cannot be contained in a single image.

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along the Castle trail

The national park is filled with opportunities to immerse yourself, if you take them. Driving all the way out to the campsite at Sage Creek takes you through a range of landscapes and hiking the 15+ miles of trails allows you deep into their heart. Mike and I took every one of those opportunities so we could learn, explore and enjoy the Badlands.

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Roughing It

I think I speak for both Mike and myself when I state that we have a new appreciation for our memory foam mattress pad on our bed at home.
As a child I loved sleeping on the floor, in fact I loved it so much that I would go for months on end sleeping in my sleeping bag on the floor in my bedroom. When I got to college, I spent the better part of a year sleeping on a loveseat under my lofted bed due to an allergy to my dorm room ceiling. I prided myself for having the ability to sleep anywhere on anything. Pride myself no more, at a few days shy of 26 my back is in pain after 1 night on a rock hard cabin mattress followed by 2 nights in a tent. We even had pads to go under the sleeping bags, but those made little difference.
The sleeping bags themselves were a whole other issue. We passed up normal sleeping bags that my in-laws lent us for my dad and brother’s heavy duty -20 degree mummy sleeping bags. Neither of us had ever slept in a mummy bag before, and what we learned was that we both sprawl out when we’re sleeping, a lot. Mummies do not sprawl out, and apparently neither do dad and Ian.
The last camping-related issue we encountered was the lack of daylight and the fire ban. Without a campfire the only thing we could do after dark was look at the photos on my digital camera (which we did each night) and go to bed at 7:30…for the next 12 hours til the sun came up the next morning. This usually resulted in being fully awake for me around 3:30-4am. As well as waking up around 11pm. Last night the wind was so intense and loud that I found myself laying awake for hours wondering if my shoes outside the tent had blown away.
But camping was worth it. Dad and Ian generously outfitted us with great supplies and shelter (not convinced that we set up the tent correctly though). We stayed at a primitive campsite for free. It was 25+ miles from civilization, the visitors center and the campsite with running water. The awesome part of that was that in order to get to our campsite we had to drive through parts of the park that most people seem to miss. And man oh man do they miss out: great views, varying landscape and close encounters with wild animals (more on that later). Also, due to our darkness-imposed early bedtime followed by early rising, we got to have nice full days and watch the sunrise.

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Saturday sunrise at our campsite

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Sunday sunrise at our campsite

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Sunday golden hour at our campsite